Toxic Shame

How To Get Rid Of That Feeling That You’re Not Good Enough

Ever have that feeling that there’s something wrong with you?

Not that you did something bad, but that you are bad.

That feeling is called “toxic shame” and it is at the root of shyness and social anxiety.

Join Dr. Aziz in the second part of his interview with Sean Cooper, where you will learn exactly what toxic shame is and how to free yourself from its grasp.

Click below to hear this episode!

Show Notes

Get a copy of Sean Cooper’s powerful program here.


What Is “Toxic Shame”?

Hey everybody! Welcome to today’s show. Today, we’re going to be getting in to the big question, Good versus Evil. That’s actually what I want to start with. is a question. How do you see yourself? Do you perceive yourself as good or as bad, as admirable worthy of love, a good person? Or do you see yourself as a bad person, defective, unworthy of love, less than, inadequate? Somehow there’s something wrong with you.

And I’m asking this question because I know the answer from my own perspective, for many, many, many years when I was stuck in that place of shyness was I was bad. I was defective. There’s something wrong with me.

And now that I work with people, that is one of the first questions that I start to uncover with them and invariably, if they’re stock with shyness or social anxiety, the answer is I’m bad. There’s something wrong with me. And that’s going to get us into the topic of today’s show which is called Toxic Shame.

So I’m going to introduce this idea of toxic shame to you. You’re going to learn exactly what it is so you can uncover what’s holding you back and ultimately, how to be free from that sense of, there’s something wrong with me, there’s some badness in me.

And as part of the show, I’m really excited because we’re having another segment from my interview with Sean Cooper where we’re going to get directly into this topic of Toxic Shame and more importantly, how do we relieve ourselves of this feeling. How do we become free of it? Close jump into that right now.

First of all, what is Toxic shame? Toxic shame is a consistent or persistent sense of badness, of there’s something wrong with me, I’m not good in someway and therefore people are going to not love me. They’re going to judge me. They’re going to reject me. They’re going cast me out or ostracize me. And there’s a sense of being isolated. Or alone in that.

And that’s toxic shame. So the difference between toxic shame and regular shame or guilt for example, is that it’s persistent. It happens no matter what your behavior is. The average person might feel guilty if they, I don’t know. They say they’re going to hang out with a friend and then they don’t show up. They just kind of disregard it or forget about it. Maybe they’ll feel guilty to say, oh, man. I’ve disappointed my friend there. That sucks. We turn it into shame then we say, oh man. I’m a bad person for standing up my friend. But toxic shame goes even beyond that.

Toxic Shame is I am a bad person all the time. I’m a bad person when I’m hanging out with my friend, when I do show up to my appointments, when I am doing good work in my job, when I am there for my friends, when I do go talk to that person. It doesn’t matter. There’s a persistent feeling of, there’s just something not quite right with me. Can you relate to this? Is there something that seems to ring true for you?

It absolutely did for me and I just didn’t understand where it was coming from or what it was. In fact, I was kind of like the fish in the fish tank where I just didn’t know there was water around me because that’s I’d ever seen and all I’d ever known.

I didn’t know that there is any other way to be in the world. I thought that this is just how I am. I am bad so of course I feel bad. I didn’t realize that it was toxic shame. So I’m hoping as you listen to this, that you are starting to question, is this evaluation of myself really true? And it could be helpful to know where it comes from.

Because if you know where it comes from, you can start to challenge it a little more strongly. So what are the origins of toxic shame? Well, I hate to say it but it’s going to go back to your childhood.

Being A “Good Boy”

No, no, I know. We all don’t want to go back there. Geez. Do I have to think about that? Isn’t that the past and I understand that, that reluctance to go back there. We’re not going to spend forever. We’re not going to spend five years psycho analyzing your relationship with your mother. We’re just going to look at the general trend that you notice growing up. And what that is, is an environment where we are scared of being punished. We’re scared of doing the wrong thing because something bad happens to us.

Parents yell at us. Parents withdraw love. Parents tell us that we’re no good. Parents send us to our room. And on the flipside to that, there’s a lot of reinforcement to be a good boy or good girl, right? So if you clean up your room, your parents like, wow, what a good boy you are. Or you are respectful with an adult. They say, you’re being such a good boy. And what’s amazing is how young this starts. I have a four-month old so he is four-months old yesterday, actually. Hooray! His name is Zaim, so he has just a strange of a name as his dad, Aziz.

I was strongly pushing for Aziz junior so that I could live on indefinitely, because hopefully there will be a Aziz the III, Aziz the IV, all the way down to Aziz the VX which is a goal of mine, to have an Aziz the VX. But my wife said that, no, I’m not going to call our son the same thing as you. That’s ridiculous. I’m actually playing. I don’t really want him to be named me. But I said, well how about we just take the letters of my name and rearrange them, and change one. So now, Zaim instead of Aziz.

Anyway, he’s an amazing little guy, what an incredible experience to be a dad, and none of this would even be possible for me when I was stuck in shyness. So I’m just grateful everyday that I can be blessed to be free in some ways and that’s what I want for you. And it is possible for you. And that’s what’s you’re going to get, listening to me in the show and really trying the stuff out. Anyway, the other day, I was at work and my wife went to some breakfast with some friends. And she told me this story and it was fascinating.

So they’re sitting around the breakfast table and I don’t know if you’ve ever been around a baby, a four-month old, but when you go out to breakfast, it’s kind of like rolling the dice whether you’re going to have a meal where you can sit and enjoy it and leisurely talk and have conversations or it’s this kind of, shit storm where everyone’s passing the baby back and forth, and he’s screaming, and one person is trying to shovel food in their mouth as quickly as possible and it’s just a total mess, right?

So you never know what you’re going to get? Well, anyway, when my wife went to out to breakfast with these people, it turns out he was really calm. He was sitting in her lap and smiling. Then she handed her to one of her friends and her friend held him, he was smiling. And she said, it must’ve happened at least five to ten times that someone in the group commented, wow! He’s being such a good boy. He’s being such a good boy, which is totally harmless, right? Totally innocuous, no one’s meaning anything bad by saying that. But listen to the subtle programming there. Why is he being a good boy? What is he doing that is good?

He is not interfering with the adult’s desire to do what they want. He is being compliant. He is not interfering with our own desires and wants. And that is the programming that almost every single one of us got growing up. Hey, if you do what I want you to do then you’re a good boy. If you don’t do what I want you to do, you’re a bad boy. And that happens again and again and again. And I don’t mean your parents are bad people, mine did the same thing, this is just how they were parented themselves and how would common wisdom says you should do with your kid.

And this isn’t, I’m not going to go to the rabbit hole of how anyone should parent, but I’m helping you realize that you got a pretty strong dose of conditioning that you got to comply and do what other people want in order to be good. Now, what you can start to see unfold is what happens if you do something bad. Well, you get scared, right? Because that means your parents are going to be upset with you, your people are going to withdraw their love, they’re going to yell at you. So what do you do? You hide it. You hide this in a term, toxic shame comes from a book called No More Mr. Nice Guy, which you’ll hear more about in my interview with Sean.

But he describes the example of when he noticed toxic shame in himself as a kid which is fascinating. He’s sitting at a table of some sort in their house and he’s hammering, he’s doing some crafts project and he’s hammering some little nails into this little, I don’t know piece of wood or something. And all of a sudden, he slips and one of the nails goes into the table. Not that far but it just makes a little hole in the table. And you know what he did? He said he pulled the table cloth in such a way or he did something to hide it and not tell anyone.

And he said that is fascinating because his own son, well, what happened is his own son would do something like that and he go get his mom or his dad and say, ugh! I poked a hole in the table. Now, why would his kid be able to do that? Because his kid doesn’t associate making a mistake or doing something the parents don’t want as being a bad person, bad boy and you must hide that. And so that’s what we, unfortunately most of us have been condition with that, are struggling with. A sense of toxic, shame, a sense of there’s something wrong with me and if you got that message consistently enough, then I’m displeased with you because you’re not doing what I want you to do.

If your parent was neglectful or not around very much or worse, they were drinking or alcoholic or erratic or abusive or critical, I mean you would not believe some of the backgrounds that I’ve heard people have when I’ve talked to them. Then what’s the residue, is a sense of toxic shame or a continual sense of there’s something wrong with me and I’m not good. Now, this is not all doom and gloom, this is actually a tremendously powerful, liberating insight because A you can identify it. And that’s going to be the first step is to label it, if this is toxic shame.

And then, you’re going to learn how to be free of it. And that’s where we’re going to get into in the second part of this episode, in fact we’re going to be jumping into an interview, the day with Sean Cooper more segments from that where we going to get right into this topic of toxic shame and how to start to liberate yourself from that. So let’s get into that right now. Let’s take a quick break and we’ll be back in just a moment with Sean.

Expert Interview With Sean Cooper

Sean: The old confidence or self-help materials, they focus a little bit too much on improving people’s current states instead of helping people who have shyness and social anxiety resolve their deeper issue. And I think the core issue is in dissolving feelings of shame which I know you talk a lot about in your book The Solution To Social Anxiety two. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about like what you think about this idea of shame. There’s been book called, No More Mr. Nice Guy. He called it toxic shame. So in my new version of my system I kind of stole or copied that from him, I called it Toxic Shame. What I see a lot of people have more extreme social anxiety have. So like what do you think about this idea of shame and like how guys can get over shame to become more confident?

Dr. Aziz: Yeah. I think you absolutely hit it on the head about too much focus on changing your state and just doing something different. I think that there are specific applications for that like any tool or any medicine. And there’s a time when it’s most effective and then there’s times when it’s not the right tool for the job. And there is a much deeper issue with social anxiety and shyness and many problems and difficulties that relates to shame. And this concept of toxic shame in that book, No More Mr. Nice Guy, if someone’s listening and you haven’t read that book and you’re dealing with shyness and social anxiety, incredibly valuable information because it will help you.

Once you overcome that initial hump and you can start talking to people more then there’s navigating real relationships with friendships, dating, romantic relationship but you really have to find your power and be assertive in a way. And that book is a great resource. But in it, he highlights the idea of toxic shame which I believe, honestly is at the roots of all social anxiety. And the way I captured in my book is I described it as this belief, this deep seeded, full bofy experience of I’m not enough in some way, there’s something wrong with me. And therefore I am not worthy of love and belonging.

And that’s an adaptation of a researcher named Brene Brown. I don’t know, have you heard of Brene Brown, Sean? Yeah, she’s gotten kind of viral and big. I mean in which I’m really happy about because her message is so important right now. I mean she talks all about shame. And so I think that if someone really truly wants to overcome shyness and social anxiety, that is where they have to go. They have to start doing some deeper work on shame. And there are some basic ways to start doing that. One is to acknowledge it and to indentify and label what is that because sometimes we can just feel like it’s true.

I’m just bad. I’m defective. I’m messed up. But if we could start saying, wait a minute, this is shame. This is not me. This is just shame. This is something that I’ve picked up and learned. And that’s the first step. But then the next step is we have to learn how to soothe or help ourselves when we’re feeling shame. And several ways, the one is sort of like a self-soothing which is being able to find out what is the voice of shame saying to me and can I develop an alternative voice, a voice of self-compassion which I think is one of the most powerful antidotes to shame.

And like a lot of the stuff I teach, it’s very effective but the only reason not to do it is it’s a little weird, it’s a little unusual. You might feel a little self-conscious at first but my philosophy is always been, I don’t care if it’s weird, if it helps heal me or helps me gain more success in my life or fulfillment in my life then I’ll try whatever. And so, let me give a real practical idea so it’s not just theoretical. Like when you’re feeling that shame, then you might be feeling it after an interaction you’ll leave and you’re thinking, h God! You’re replaying it in your mind like I was stupid, I sounded nervous, I messed up there or I didn’t even go talk to those people.

What’s wrong with me? I’m too nervous. I’m too messed up. Right in those moments, the best thing you can do is just like, if you can get home or whatever, just close your eyes and just put your hand on your heart, right on your chest. And just take a moment and just breathe directly into your chest. Close your eyes. Feel your hand on your heart. There can be a sense of warmth. And then just pay attention like what is this voice of shame saying? And what could I say if I wanted to help myself right now? How could I soothe myself? How could I be kind to myself?

And that’s a huge leap, just to go from self-criticism to self-compassion. And just practicing it, it’s a skill. At first, it’s awkward. I don’t even know what I would say. And I always encourage people to say well, what would you say to a good friend? Or better yet, imagine you’re hanging out with a nephew and he’s five years old and he does something or he’s hurt or he’s crying, like what would you say to him? And usually people can then access a different way of being. And you say things that may sounds strange, like hey as ease. I’m sorry you’re hurting. I’m sorry you’re suffering. I love you. You’re doing okay.

And this is a totally, radically different way of talking to ourselves than most of us have learned how to do. And there can be some resistance to that which I get into my, in my book and I don’t want to go too far on that subject but that’s a way of self soothing. And I’ll say one final thing about shame resilience is the third thing, and what I found to be the most powerfully transformative and healing, and it’s the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling shame, is to find someone to talk to about it. Because shame, I think the Latin root actually means to cover or to hide, and so there’s that impulse from our feeling shame like I don’t want anyone to see this. I’m a mutant, don’t look at me.

But we have to kind of challenge that impulse and say no wait, this is healing. And I know I benefited tremendously from being an immense group for three years where I could talk about some things. And I don’t mean like deep, deep, horrible, dark secrets, I mean that could be someone’s dealing with. But I mean just the day-to-day shame of feeling less than a toxic shame. And so being able to share, yeah I was at this party and I didn’t talk to anyone and I just left, with a good friend who can support you, who can be like yeah that sucks. I’ve been there too or that’s tough.

Not the kind of friend who says, well just man up! I think so many guys have really poor friendships where they can’t get support so that’s an essential thing, is to find that support of friends that you can be real with and get help with. And then if you want to get that support through counseling or something, that’s a very powerful healing option as well.

Sean: Yeah, I think you made some really important points for sure, definitely. And I love the way you talk about in your book how the most people kind of default to is trying to like almost give themselves tough love or they think that the best way to improve is to try to nitpick and try to figure out everything they could’ve done better in every little social situation they go into. But what they’re not realizing is that when they’re too self-critical and too perfectionistic about some past social situation then it’s like they’re kind of, every time they rewind or replay that situation in their head and they feel bad about themselves. They’re kind of reinforcing that neuro-pathway in their brain of shame, of not feeling good enough and feeling bad about themselves. So it’s actually hurting them more than helping them.

Dr. Aziz: Absolutely, absolutely I mean that is one of the worst ways to try to learn is replay mistakes and shame yourself for them. I love the idea of a metaphor of a coach and that is the style for some coaches. Monday morning quarterbacking, why you do this, why’d you do that, and sure, being able to analyze a gross error or something is important but that’s really not what we’re doing. When we’re replaying something, we’re really just kind of grinding through, putting ourselves through the meat grinder.

And you know the difference. You really feel bad when you’re doing it and that’s a great sign so just pay attention to what Sean just said there is saying, hey wait a minute, this is not helping me learn. I have another question that I wanted to ask you about this because this is one of the most common things that I hear with shyness social anxiety. There are people that really hung up on which is this is, you know what I’m most afraid of, when I go to talk to someone or whenever I approach someone, what I’m most afraid of is that the other person’s going to see that I’m nervous or afraid.

Because if I’m comfortable with someone I trust that they’ll like me, and they have some degree of belief of themselves as lovable. But like the worst thing is if I speak up on that meeting and everyone hears that I’m nervous or I talk to that woman and she sees that I’m nervous, that’s the thing that I’m most terrified of. And so it’s like a fear of being seen as afraid. And I’m curious. It said something that you have dealt it with on your own or how of you… what would you say in response to that? How would you help someone through that?

Sean: I think it kind of goes back to something you briefly mentioned few minutes ago about how vulnerability is really the antidote to stuff like shyness and social anxiety and the path to becoming to confident even though it doesn’t appear to be. You mentioned Brene Brown too and one of the things she talks about is how for guys, I think most of the people you worked with are guys usually?

Dr. Aziz: That’s correct. Yeah.

Sean: Oh yeah. So for guys, one of the biggest triggers for shame is being seen as weak. So a lot of guys feel like if they appear to be weak or nervous or anxious then other people would see them as weak which is bad. I think there’s this kind of like Hatch 22, I’m trying to figure out the right way to explain this. The way that shyness and social anxiety works that most people don’t realize is that it is based in shame. So when you try to hide something about yourself like feeling nervous or anxious then you think this is like a good strategy for appearing more confident in the short term.

But it’s actually messing you up in the long term because even though you may not be able to, in this moment, control and directly altered the way that you feel now. If you were able to be vulnerable in this situation then it would actually help you in the future. So I’ll give a practical example of what I’m talking about. I remember I approached a girl or this probably happened a handful of different times and I was feeling nervous but I did it anyway, so I trouble making eye contact.

I think one specific situation, I approached this girl on the mall and I was like looking away and she was asking me if somebody dared me to do this and I actually told her I’m like no, I just feel nervous. I’m looking away. So I was just honest about it and then what I noticed is that I actually talked to her for a few more minutes, I became more relaxed and then I ended up getting her phone number. So I think, the thing with like this it’s like most guys would be scared to death if they’re nervous to actually admit they’re feeling nervous. But by being able to be vulnerable and admit it, admit it, then they’re taking out that outer layer of shame around the feeling of anxiety.

And by taking out that outer layer of shame, in the long term like in future situations, they’re getting proof that they’re not unacceptable as they are. So by wiring in this new good belief it’ll actually make them more confident in the long term by admitting a weakness in the short term. It’s kind of a paradox I think.

Dr. Aziz: Absolutely. And it’s a hard cell when you’re really deep in shame because I think the most compelling or sort of convincing thing about the voice of shame is that it says, if you do X, if you are nervous and people see that then they’re not going to love you. They’re of course going to reject you because that is utterly unlovable and the most ever kind of maddening thing about this voice is it can persist even when the evidence you get form the outside world is not fitting with it. So you can say, well if I reveal that I’m nervous to her she’s going to reject me.

And then you have a story here of, hey I revealed that I was nervous and actually led to a better conversation, I got her number. And still, the next time you go on into that situation there can be that voice that says this is unlovable. And so really, what you’re saying is you have to peel that later and you just got to keep doing that and eventually the shame will start to melt. And you really start to realize like hey, the world is not ready to pounce on me for weakness. People aren’t out there waiting to jump and attack me if I show any vulnerability like that’s what we fear. But the reality is, that nine times out of ten you’ll get a good response and even if you don’t, I really believe in living our values.

And if you value being authentic and vulnerable and real and doing personal growth and healing yourself then sure that one time out of ten or two times out of ten that someone can’t handle you being real, that’s their problem. Or that’s the environment if you’re in a toxic environment in a company where no one can reveal any vulnerability and if you (inaudible25.28) and people attack you for that then that’s a messed up place to work. And it might be worth considering finding a place that’s more supportive of that versus trying to keep digging a deeper pit into shame.

I love that story by the way about talking to the woman.

Time For Action

That’s all the time that we have today for the interview with Sean and what I want to get to in the last few minutes of this show today is your action step. Like anything that you learn, it’s most effective when you take it out of the intellectual idea realm and put it into practice. Put it into your actual behavior that you’re carrying out. So the same applies for the stuff around toxic shame. Even though it might seem abstract or intellectual, it really is practical.

So today’s action step is how to put something that you’ve learned from this show and the interview with Sean into practice. We covered a lot. We covered the practice of shame resilience and there were some of the basic things about self-compassion, putting your hand on your heart, learning how to speak to yourself with greater compassion. These are basic things that you can do and the most important thing that you can do as an action step today is to think about this question.

Who in my life can I talk to about what’s really going on? Who can I share if I have an experience where I go to a party and I freeze up or I give a talk and it feels like it goes badly? Who can I really talk to? And you might find that this is such a common pattern of people with shyness and social anxiety and for me as well as you wanted me to talk to anyone. I’ll manage it myself. I don’t want anyone see my weaknesses. And I know I was working with a guy who had a panic attack. He had several panic attacks before these meetings at work.

And he was really worked out about it. When I asked him, he was actually married, and I asked him. So did you talk about this with your wife? He says, no. No, I didn’t. That didn’t even cross my mind. And so we have these resources. We are social creatures and reaching out to someone and giving some… listen to us and see us and support us and love us, is so essential in overcoming this toxic shame stuff. So I encourage you to think about who in your life can you talk to right now?

There’s probably some friends that you’re not as deeper open with as you can be. Maybe it’s a girlfriend or spouse or significant other or a husband, if you’re a woman listening. Who are these people and if you literally don’t have anyone, really? Then two things I would suggest. One is really focusing on developing those connections and two, in the short term, find someone that you can talk to. Maybe you want a counselor. There’s options out there or you can find someone through your insurance, something like that.

But really, it’s so important to find someone to help you through these processes because we can’t do it all alone. So that is your action step for today. And that brings out to the end of today’s show. So thanks so much for listening. Until we speak again, may you have the courage to be who you are, to see through the ideas and stories that tell you that you’re bad or wrong in some way and to ultimately, know that you’re awesome.

Music Credits

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