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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

Getting over toxic shame

Even though I have been working as a coach for six years, I managed to avoid having regular coaching myself. That’s not to say I wasn’t coached, I was, just in training settings and the odd peer session. I guessed the reason I had avoided it was because I somehow believed I needed to be able to solve my own problems, that they were my responsibility and no one else’s. I also thought that if I couldn’t figure it out for myself, then that somehow reflected on me as a person, that somehow, I had failed. These types of narratives are not new for me, fear of failure and believing I was the only one who could care for me, have been with me my whole life.

In the past 2 years I have worked with 3 different coaches. Each bringing their own unique style and insight and each one moving me on in the right direction, the direction I have chosen for myself. My most recent work has been on helping me develop a strong self-concept and figuring out how do I tell the story of me, so as to help people who need to hear it and to give me the opportunity to help people through my coaching and teaching.

This has been quite challenging as it has forced me to uncover all sorts of limiting beliefs and programming that, although shaping who I am in positive ways, has also been my downfall. Many of you will know that in the past few years I came to discover I have Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, thankfully there are many aspects of this that I have the ability to handle, and through my own self-awareness I am often quick to spot when it begins to rear its ugly head. One of the challenges I must face quite regularly are feelings of toxic shame.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, it was first coined by Sylvan Thomas in the 1960s as a description of how some people internalize shame, shame being about who you are and not what you do, which is more associated with embarrassment or guilt. The feeling of shame for me is overwhelming and I physically feel it as pain in my body.

My personal narratives associated with my toxic shame are that people will think I am stupid, that they think I am a horrible person or that they won’t trust me. Thankfully the stupid one and that horrible person one I dealt with a few years ago using a combination of mindfulness, cognitive behavioural, and NLP techniques. The people won’t trust me one is stickier and one I still need work on weekly. Another one I experience it a fear of hurting people. This is driven by an unconscious belief that I am responsible for other people’s feelings. Now, I know rationally that this is not true but shame is not something that comes from my conscious mind, it is embedded in my body and my unconscious from childhood trauma.

And so, this leads me to where I am now trying to figure out how do I tell my story without triggering my shame or hurting others. There is no part of my story that doesn’t involve others. Thankfully I feel no sense of blame or anger towards those who are part of my story but I am conscious that in telling it, even if I protect people’s identities, as best I can, that people will judge me for it, that I can handle, but hurting them is another story.

In my most recent coaching session I had an ‘a-ha’ moment when I realised that part of the reason this is so hard is because I was raised to keep my pain and heartache secret, to keep everything hidden behind closed doors. This is very reason I was hurt so many times, because I was ashamed to speak up, to speak out and so the next stage of my journey to healing is to speak out, to show others that there is nothing to be ashamed of in your story and that human beings by their very nature are flawed. Sadly, we have created a world today that prizes the perfect when what we should be doing is celebrating the wonderful imperfections that make us all unique.

I will tell my story over the coming months, I am not sure how or even where I will start but if there is some skill or technique that I possess that you would like to know about, ask me in the comments and I will start there.

Thanks for reading. I hope our paths cross again in future.


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