Learning to Live with Shame


A friend and I were talking the other day about co-dependency and shame. She said, “Co-dependency is what creates shame.” I thought a moment and realized it’s just the opposite. It’s toxic shame that creates co-dependency. Toxic shame, which is referred to as soul murder, causes us to split off from ourselves and ultimately from others. When we believe something is wrong with who we are, we develop a false self, and this pseudo-self spends its life looking for approval. This is the basis for co-dependency, which is defined as:

The denial or repression of the real self based on an erroneous assumption that love, acceptance, security, success, closeness, and salvation are all dependent upon one’s ability to do “the right thing.” The co-dependent is a spirit divided from itself. Reprinted from Lost in the Shuffle by Robert Subby

While doing my “Healing the Child Within” work with my therapist, I watched and read a lot of John Bradshaw, Alice Miller, and others who were pioneers in this healing movement. One thing Bradshaw said that still sticks with me, was his explanation of the two types of shame. There is nourishing shame, which is about learning we have limits,  and toxic/life destroying shame, which shows up as a hole in our soul.


Toxic shame is feeling like something is wrong with me, as opposed to thinking I did something wrong. One we internalize (something is wrong with me, I’m flawed) and the other we externalize (I did something wrong, I made a mistake). To live with toxic shame is to live with a deep sense of inadequacy, incompetence, and worthlessness. Since these are deep wounds that are not easily seen, we can go through life filled with toxic shame, and never know it.

Until we  identify that we are shame bound, we continue to work at trying to be better, or have more, or meet the right person, or buy a bigger house, or be perfect, or get a better job, or slink in the shadows for fear of being seen. There is nothing wrong with wanting more, the problem is, when we’re driven by toxic shame, we never seem to have or be enough. There’s often just one more thing we need to do, be, or have.  Always striving to be better keeps us from our inner peace. The truth is, who we are at our core is already the best. The journey is, finding the who we are that we left.

When we’re shame based, we spend a great deal of time trying to cover up what we think is a flawed self. Others tell us how unique we are, how we are beautiful, brilliant, wonderful, successful, and important.  And, we can say “thank you” without being able to accept what’s being said, because in our gut, we believe we’re flawed. Healing toxic shame is an inside job, and all the compliments in the world, though nice to hear, will not heal the hole in our soul.

Co-dependents grow up in  dysfunctional settings where there are messages and behaviors that create shame. Dysfunctional parents usually are not able to clearly see their children, much less mirror to them the magnificent beings that they truly are. I’m a product of a dysfunctional home, as my parents were, and as my children are.  Did my family mean to shame me, and did I mean to shame my children? Absolutely not. I know my family loved me, and they did not wake up every morning and get busy devising a plan on how they could shame me on that particular day. Just as I didn’t do that to my children. It’s just what we do when we’re living our life out of unhealed soul wounds.  WE DON’T PLAN ON WOUNDING OUR CHILDREN. It just happens, when we’re parenting from a place of unrecognized and unhealed pain. And it’s what we continue to do to ourselves and to generations to come, until we are ready to acknowledge our wounds.


A few messages that may seem innocent, but that help to create shame and feelings of inadequacy in children are:

Big boys don’t cry… 
 If you don’t stop that crying I’ll give you something to cry about…  
Look what you made me do…
 You’re driving me crazy… 
I don’t know what I’m going to do with you…
 Calm down and stop acting like an animal…
 Children should be seen and not heard…
You made your bed, now lie in it…
Of course I love you, but…
What’s the matter with you? Are you stupid?…
You’ll never amount to anything; You’re just like your mother or father or…
Don’t you dare tell anyone what goes on in this house.


A few caretaker behaviors that create shame in children are:

Teaching children to stuff their feelings with food; not allowing them any privacy (no closed doors, no locks etc.); physical, emotional, mental, and sexual abuse or molestation; abandonment; ignoring their needs; belittling them, and not being a champion for them.


A few co-dependent behaviors are: Being afraid to make a mistake or look like we don’t know something; always putting others needs before our own; fear of saying no; being what others believe we should be; fear of confrontation; need to control others lives (children, mates, parents, siblings etc.) and perfectionism.


In 1989, when I began to recognize how co-dependent and dysfunctional I was, I sought help.  I found a good therapist who had done her own co-dependency work, and I stayed in therapy until released. I quickly realized what a deep soul sickness co-dependency is, which opened my eyes to the importance of spirituality. Having a deep relationship with creator energy has been a vital part of my healing journey, as I have developed the practice of communing with my god throughout the day, every day.

Because my hunger and thirst were for authenticity, I used every method I came across that dealt with healing co-dependency issues. I enrolled in seminars and workshops, and  I read everything I could get my hands on about soul healing, I wrote about my journey on a daily basis, I found women and groups of like mind to hang out with and be supported by, and I gave myself permission to have quiet time to go within. I began to move away from being who I thought I was, or who I thought I was supposed to be, and started stepping into my true self. What others thought about me and my life lessened in value, and I learned to say NO, and to move away from what was not good for me.

The healing path is a lifelong journey. My wounds did not happen in one day or one year and they won’t heal instantly. It takes time, attention, and willingness. What I know today, is that I saved my life when I got help for my many issues. I’m grateful to all who  have showed up for me and who continue to be present to my healing journey.



About brendamarroy

blogger, and author
This entry was posted in Consciousness, Family, inspirational, personal, Reflections, spiritual and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Learning to Live with Shame

  1. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words says:

    I always wander when I am wondering what I did to have someone leave
    tonight I ended here once again…another pull you magickally have
    as i see me…..in your words….
    Thank you Brenda
    Take Care…

    • brendamarroy says:

      Isn’t it such a loving act of universal energy that we find each other at just the right time? We’re in this thing together, maryrose, and your words work magick in my life also. Goddess bless. Brenda

  2. Patricia says:

    Your experience and thoughts are very well expressed and in them I have recognised myself and sadly now too, my children to some extent. I am going to pursue this with an objective of amelioration please God. Thank you.

    • brendamarroy says:

      Thank you Patricia. The first step in healing is awareness. We have to see and feel before we can heal. Blessings to you and thank you for reading and for leaving a comment.

  3. Alex Tran says:

    Thank you

I'm interested in what my readers think. Please leave a Comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s