Learning To Cope With Toxic Shame

Updated November 18, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you been struggling with feelings of worthlessness? This may be a sign of toxic shame. Toxic shame is a term that refers to the shame people feel from being treated poorly by others and internalizing that shame into a belief. 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 and can experience “survivor's guilt.” When we feel toxic shame, it may make us feel as if we’re worthless and manifest itself as self-loathing.

Ready To Throw Off The Weight Of Toxic Shame?

Strong negative emotions like this can take a toll on us. When we’re experiencing toxic shame, it can cause great distress and keep us from achieving life goals. We might feel incapable of moving forward in life due to the toxic shame that we’re feeling. If left unchecked, this toxic shame could cause us to develop additional mental health challenges over time. In this case, it can be essential to learn how to cope with toxic shame properly so that we can get our lives back on track.

The Challenges Of Toxic Shame

Toxic shame can be damaging 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 faith in themselves. They might feel wholly inadequate and like they can never do anything right. Toxic shame is often something that happens to children when they’re young. 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 feel intense toxic shame. These issues can percolate and become more pronounced when the kids grow into adults.

When left untreated, toxic shame may turn into depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, anxiety disorders, and general self-esteem issues. While the dangers of toxic shame are apparent, there can be ways to cope with it. 

Toxic Shame Stems From Other People

When it comes to coping with toxic shame, it’s important that we realize our feelings of shame don’t necessarily stem from us. These toxic shame feelings can come from other people. Situations like this may occur when others place their own feelings of inadequacy onto other people. They may treat others poorly and do things to humiliate them to try to make themselves feel better. Most of the time, those who treat others this way may do it to make themselves feel powerful. Therefore, the toxic shame we experience unfolds because of other people.

Once we accept that our feelings aren’t because of anything negative we did, it may be easier to feel better about situations. It may still take time to come to terms with feelings of toxic shame but knowing that we aren’t to blame for what is going on may be helpful. It’s possible to take control of toxic shame and release it once we feel strong enough. This isn’t something we can do with the support of mental health professionals.

Reality Vs Toxic Shame 

Generally, people may feel toxic shame based on some type of traumatic event that they experienced. Perhaps someone made negative comments to them or bullied them at some point in their life. These feelings we have may involve thinking we’re unworthy of love or that we’re a worthless human being. This can have challenging repercussions on one’s mental health.

It may be important to examine the reality of the situation and compare it to our toxic shame. We may find that our toxic shame isn’t based on logic or reality—it’s just a perception that we have due to what happened to us in the past.

Even if our toxic shame doesn’t come from anything that is true about us, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. For instance, someone could have been told they were annoying as a child and grew up to hold a very insecure view of themselves experiencing low self-esteem as a result. Another example of toxic shame could be if someone was humiliated for their weight growing up. This could lead to body image issues that could eventually develop into an eating disorder. Learning to overcome toxic shame may take time and may require the professional assistance of a therapist.

Turn To Your Support System For Help

Ensuring that we have a good support system in place can be beneficial for overcoming toxic shame. We shouldn’t feel like we must face the world alone when we’re dealing with toxic shame. Sometimes those feelings of shame can be strong, and we may want to reach out for help. Having family or friends to turn to that have our best interests in mind may be good for improving self-confidence. 

The Importance Of Self-Love And Self-Care 

We can use self-care to help ourselves feel more confident overall. Treating ourselves respectfully and working on making positive life changes can be a priority in this journey of healing. This can push us to be the best version of ourselves while helping us to overcome self-esteem issues that stem from the toxic shame. 

It’s 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. 

Ready To Throw Off The Weight Of Toxic Shame?

Get Help By Seeking Therapy

Online therapy can be beneficial for overcoming toxic shame. An internet-based therapist can help us to differentiate toxic shame from short-term feelings of shame. They can help us to let go of the toxic shame that may be holding us back in life. In the therapy process, feelings of shame may come and go, but having a therapist that provides guidance and comfort can make a huge difference. 

In these instances, a therapist may be necessary to help explore the origins of toxic shame and begin the healing process. For example, a study by the Nature Public Health Emergency, found that Trauma-Informed Guilt Reduction Therapy (TrIGR) was “efficacious in reducing” shame in veterans. Another study also found that internet-based therapy was successful in treating depression and anxiety suggesting the validity of online therapy for toxic shame.

With online therapy, clients can explore their feelings of toxic shame with a licensed provider in the comfort of their own home. Digital therapy is also accessible for people living in remote locations and it’s typically more affordable than in-person therapy because clients are not required to travel for an appointment.


Toxic shame can be distressing and impactful on our lives as it may create feelings of unworthiness and humiliation. Online therapy can be a convenient option for overcoming toxic shame from the safety and comfort of our homes. 

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