Learning To Cope With Toxic Shame

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated September 21, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many people experience feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, and negative self-talk. These feelings may be a sign of toxic shame, particularly if they are constant and chronic. 

Toxic shame can be defined as a persistent, debilitating feeling of worthlessness that negatively impacts how an individual perceives themselves, often manifesting as self-loathing. Many people who are coping with toxic shame may have experienced traumatic events in childhood, but some people develop toxic shame challenges later in life.

 It can be helpful to lean on your support system, practice self-care and self-love, and seek help from a licensed professional, such as a therapist, to overcome toxic shame.

Dealing With The Weight Of Toxic Shame?

The Challenges Of Toxic Shame

Toxic shame can be damaging to someone’s self-esteem because it can create feelings of unworthiness and humiliation. When someone has been put in a humiliating position by others, it may cause them to lose confidence in themselves. They might feel wholly inadequate and as if they can never do anything right. 

Toxic shame may develop in children when they’re young. For example, parents might transfer toxic shame onto their children by communicating with them in negative ways or mistreating them. Sometimes, even nonverbal cues can cause children to experience intense toxic shame. These feelings can become more pronounced as children grow into adolescence.

If left unmanaged, toxic shame can manifest through depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety disorders, and general self-esteem challenges. While the consequences of toxic shame can be apparent, there can be ways to cope with it. 

Toxic Shame Usually Stems From Other People

When coping with toxic shame, it may be important to realize that our feelings of shame don’t normally begin from within. These toxic feelings can come from external sources. For instance, other people may place their own feelings of inadequacy onto someone else. They might treat others poorly or do things to humiliate them to make themselves feel more powerful. 

Once we accept that our feelings of toxic shame are likely unwarranted, we may be in a better position to move on from them. It may still take time to come to terms with feelings of toxic shame, but knowing that we aren’t to blame may be helpful. It can be possible to take control of toxic shame and release it once we feel strong enough. This is something we can do with the support of mental health professionals.

Reality Vs. Toxic Shame 

Generally, people may feel toxic shame based on a traumatic event they experienced. Perhaps someone made negative comments to them or bullied them at some point in their lives. The beliefs they develop from this experience may include that they’re unworthy of love or that they’re worthless human beings. These negative emotions and thought patterns can have serious repercussions on one’s mental and physical health.

It may be important to examine the reality of your situation and compare it to your perceived toxic shame. You may find that toxic shame isn’t based on logic or reality. It could be a perception that you have from your past. Even if toxic shame doesn’t stem from any real truth, that might not make it any easier to cope with. For instance, someone could have been told they were annoying as a child and grew up to hold an insecure view of themselves. This individual might experience low self-esteem as a result. 

Another example of toxic shame could involve someone who was humiliated for their weight growing up. This could lead to body image issues that might eventually develop into an eating disorder. Learning to overcome toxic shame may take time and professional support.

Ilona Titova/EyeEm

Turn To Your Support System For Help

Ensuring that you have a good support system in place can be beneficial for overcoming toxic shame. Sometimes, feelings of shame can be strong, and you may want to reach out for help. Having family or friends to turn to who have your best interests at heart may be beneficial for improving self-confidence, which can help you work through your toxic shame in turn. 

The Importance Of Self-Love And Self-Care 

We can use self-care to help ourselves feel more confident. Treating ourselves respectfully and working on making positive life changes can be a priority in this journey of healing. For example, maintaining a balanced diet, getting adequate exercise, and spending time on activities we love can all be examples of self-care. These acts can raise our self-esteem by reminding us that we are worth extra care, and they can motivate us to be the best versions of ourselves.

It can be possible to learn to love ourselves for who we are and stop the cycle of toxic shame in order to move forward with full confidence. We can learn to recognize our self-worth and feel confident about ourselves through self-love and self-care.

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Dealing With The Weight Of Toxic Shame?

Get Help By Seeking Therapy

Therapy can be beneficial for overcoming toxic shame. A therapist can help you differentiate toxic shame from short-term feelings of shame. They can also help you let go of the toxic shame that may be holding you back in life. During the therapy process, feelings of shame may come and go, but having a therapist provide guidance and support can make a difference in your overall well-being.

Benefits Of Online Therapy

You can connect with an online therapist who has experience treating toxic shame through BetterHelp. With online therapy, individuals can explore their feelings of toxic shame with a licensed provider from the comfort of their own homes. A web-based environment may help people who experience shame open up about these painful emotions in a secluded setting. 

Effectiveness Of Online Therapy

More research may be needed regarding the efficacy of online therapy for overcoming toxic shame. However, existing studies generally suggest that online and in-person therapy are similarly effective, and both can be valid treatment options for a variety of mental health concerns.


Toxic shame can be distressing and create lasting feelings of unworthiness and humiliation. These persistent negative feelings can impact your physical and mental health. Online therapy can be one convenient option for overcoming toxic shame from the safety and comfort of your home. You may also find it helpful to practice self-love and self-care and to turn to your support system.

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