What does toxic shame do to us? Why is it such a destructive thing? First, there’s a physical consequence. Our perspective on life and the feeling tone we are holding about ourselves affect our health in many ways. Our core beliefs affect not only the way we see ourselves and the world, but also affect our central nervous system. There’s a correlation between toxic shame and real diagnosable illness: not only addiction, but depression, anxiety syndromes, eating disorders, and the like. When a person has an identity of brokenness, it can create illness not only in their emotional and spiritual lives, but in their physical lives as well. Toxic shame can lead to literal cancer and disease in all forms. Another result of toxic shame, and of the secrecy, silence, and judgment that allow it to thrive, is that it drives people to try to fix or hide their brokenness with all sorts of unhealthy behaviors. When there is a sense of brokenness internally, we often look incessantly for something outside ourselves to assuage the pain of that brokenness or to at least make sure no one else can see it.
Thus, if a person has an unhealthy sense of self and their core false belief is “I’m not lovable,” then he or she may very well become obsessed with finding an impeccable relationship. If the core false belief is “I’m not good enough,” then the person may become an overachiever. If your core false belief is “I’m not safe,” then you may always be searching for stability and security. You may spend your whole life building walls, literal and figurative, in an attempt to feel safer. This external search for solutions doesn’t have to be conscious; as a matter of fact, it’s usually unconscious. But it’s there, an unending, insatiable need that you can’t stop trying to satisfy even though you’ll never be able to, at least not from the outside.
Another consequence of toxic shame is that it’s contagious. It gets projected outward. So, when we believe that there’s something wrong with who and what we are, we’re going to project that out into the world. We’re going to begin to experience the world as broken simply because that’s what we believe about ourselves. People with toxic shame begin to see that brokenness everywhere in their external reality for the simple reason that people tend to see what they expect to see. We unconsciously long for the brokenness in other people and situations.