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50 Best Quotes From “Healing The Shame That Binds You” by John Bradshaw

quotes from "Healing the shame that binds you" by John Bradshaw
“I came to see that shame is one of the major destructive forces in all human life. In naming shame I began to have power over it.”

In October of 1988, the late John Bradshaw published his classic work “Healing The Shame That Binds You,” which remains one of the most widely read books on addiction and mental health. What does a book on shame, you might be thinking, have to do with integrity, especially sexual integrity? The answer is “a lot.” Bradshaw expresses his conviction that “Neurotic shame is the root and fuel of all compulsive/addictive behaviors.” He defines compulsive/ addictive behavior as “a pathological relationship to any mood-altering experience that has life-damaging consequences.” Indeed, stress, loneliness, boredom, anger, and yes, shame, are common drivers of a pornography habit or addiction.

Shame is particularly potent as a driver of addiction becomes it informs identity. As Bradshaw explains, “Once shame is transformed into an identity, it becomes toxic and dehumanizing.”

This book is sober but hopeful. I recommend you grab a copy from Amazon or the library–it may be the most important book you read this year. In the mean time, I saved 50+ quotes that I found particularly insightful/ provocative! Meditate on these and consider whether healing from shame can be a key strategy to overcome in the areas that are holding you back.

The healing of the shame that binds you is a revelatory experience. Because your shame exists at the very core of your being, when you embrace your shame, you begin to discover who you really are.

John Bradshaw

50 Best Quotes From “Healing The Shame That Binds You” by John Bradshaw

What I discovered was that shame as a healthy human emotion can be transformed into shame as a state of being. As a state of being shame takes over one’s whole identity. To have shame as an identity is to believe that one’s being is flawed, that one is defective as a human being. Once shame is transformed into an identity, it becomes toxic and dehumanizing.


Since one feels his true self is defective and flawed, one needs a false self which is not defective and flawed. Once one becomes a false self, one ceases to exist psychologically.


Toxic shame is the greatest form of learned domestic violence there is. It destroys human life. Toxic shame is the core of most forms of emotional illness.


Toxic shame becomes the core of neurosis, character disorders, political violence, wars and criminality. It comes the closest to defining human bondage of all the things I know.


The Bible suggests that the origin of human bondage (original sin) is the desire to be other than who we are . . . to be more than human. In his toxic shame (pride), Adam wanted a false self. The false self led to his destruction.


The unconditional love and acceptance of self seems to be the hardest task for all humankind. Refusing to accept our “real selves”, we try to create more powerful false selves or give up and become less than human. This results in a lifetime of cover-up and secrecy. This secrecy and hiding is the basic cause of suffering for all of us.


Total self-love and acceptance is the only foundation for happiness and the love of others.


Shame is a healthy human power which can become a true sickness of the soul.


Limitation is our essential nature. Grave problems result from refusing to accept our limits.


There is shame about shame. People will readily admit guilt, hurt or fear before they will admit shame. Toxic shame is the feeling of being isolated and alone in a complete sense. A shame-based person is haunted by a sense of absence and emptiness.


Any human emotion can become internalized. When internalized, an emotion stops functioning in the manner of an emotion and becomes a characterological style. You probably know someone who could be labeled “an angry person” or someone you’d call a “sad sack”. In both cases the emotion has become the core of the person’s character, her identity. The person doesn’t have anger or melancholy, she is angry and melancholy.


Shame is internalized when one is abandoned. Abandonment is the precise term to describe how one loses one’s authentic self and ceases to exist psychologically. Children cannot know who they are without reflective mirrors. Mirroring is done by one’s primary caretakers and is crucial in the first years of life. Abandonment includes the loss of mirroring. Parents who are shut down emotionally (all shame-based parents) cannot mirror and affirm their children’s emotions.


To be shame-bound means that whenever you feel any feeling any need or any drive, you immediately feel ashamed. The dynamic core of your human life is grounded in your feelings, your needs and your drives. When these are bound by shame, you are shamed to the core.


When one suffers from alienation, it means that one experiences parts of one’s self as alien to one’s self. For example, if you were never allowed to express anger in your family, your anger becomes an alienated part of yourself. You experience toxic shame when you feel angry.


Finally, when shame has been completely internalized, nothing about you is okay. You feel flawed and inferior; you have the sense of being a failure. There is no way you can share your inner self because you are an object of contempt to yourself. When you are contemptible to yourself, you are no longer in you.


Pia Mellody’s definition of co-dependency is “a state of disease whereby the authentic self is unknown or kept hidden, so that a sense of self… of mattering . . . of esteem and connectedness to others is distorted, creating pain and distorted relationships.” There is no significant difference in that definition and the


I used to drink to solve the problems caused by drinking. The more I drank to relieve my shame-based loneliness and hurt, the more I felt ashamed. Shame begets shame. The cycle begins with the false belief system that all addicts have, that no one could want them or love them as they are.


The Narcissist is endlessly motivated to seek perfection in everything he does. Such a personality is driven to the acquisition of wealth, power and beauty, and to find others who will mirror and admire his grandiosity. Underneath this external facade there is an emptiness filled with envy and rage. The core of this emptiness is internalized shame.


The paranoid defense is a posture developed to cope with excessive shame. The paranoid person becomes hypervigilant expecting and waiting for the betrayal and humiliation he knows is coming. The paranoid person interprets innocent events as personally threatening and lives constantly on guard.


Sexual abusers are most often sex addicts. Sometimes they are reenacting their own sexual or physical violation. Sexual abuse generates intense and crippling shame, which more often than not, results in a splitting of the self. Incest and sexual abuse offenders are fueled by internalized shame.


The kingdom of heaven is within,’ says the scripture. Toxic shame looks to the outside for happiness and for validation, since the inside is flawed and defective. Toxic shame is spiritual bankruptcy.


Toxic shame has the quality of being irremedial. If I am flawed, defective and a mistake, then there is nothing that can be done about me. Such a belief leads to impotence. How can I change who I am? Toxic shame also has the quality of circularity. Shame begets shame.


As Judith Bardwick says so well, “Marriage and thus family are where we live out our most intimate and powerful human experiences. The family is the unit in which we belong, from which we can expect protection from uncontrollable fate, in which we create infinity through our children and in which we find a haven. The stuff that family is made of is bloodier and more passionate than the stuff of friendship, and the costs are greater, too.”


One of the devastating aspects of toxic shame is that it is multigenerational. The secret and hidden aspects of toxic shame are the wellsprings of its multigenerational life. Since it is kept hidden, it cannot be worked out. Families are as sick as their secrets. The secrets are what they are ashamed of. Family secrets can go back for generations. They can be about suicides, homicides, incest, abortions, addictions, public loss of face, financial disaster, etc. All the secrets get acted out. This is the power of toxic shame.


Emotional sexual abuse results from cross-generational bonding. I’ve spoken of enmeshment as a way that children take on the covert needs of a family system. It is very common for one or both parents in a dysfunctional marriage to bond inappropriately with one of their children. The parents in effect use the child to meet their emotional needs. This relationship can easily become sexualized and romanticized. The daughter may become Daddy’s Little Princess, or the son may become Mom’s Little Man. In both cases the child is being abandoned. The parents are getting their needs met at the expense of the child’s needs. The child needs a parent not a spouse.


Our sadness is an energy we discharge in order to heal. As we discharge the energy over the losses relating to our basic needs, we can integrate the shock of those losses and adapt to reality. Sadness is painful. We try to avoid it. Actually discharging sadness releases the energy involved in our emotional pain. To hold it in is to freeze the pain within us. The therapeutic slogan is that grieving is the “healing feeling”.


Fear releases an energy which warns us of danger to our basic needs. Fear is an energy leading to our discernment and wisdom.


Guilt is our conscience former. It tells us we have transgressed our values. It moves us to take action and change.


Shame warns us not to try to be more or less than human. Shame signals our essential limitations.


Joy is the exhilarating energy that emerges when all our needs are being ‘ met. We want to sing, run and jump with joy. The energy of joy signals that all is well.


As anger is shamed, two things happen. First the anger is shame-bound. Every time the person feels angry, he feels shame. Second, as anger is shamed, it is repressed. Repression is a primary ego defense. Once it is set in motion, it operates automatically and unconsciously. As the anger energy goes unconscious, it clamors to be expressed. As more and more anger is repressed, it grows more and more.


Even joy is shamed. When we are happy, excited and rambunctious, we are curtailed. We are told things like, “Don’t get too puffed up; pride comes before a fall.” Or “Just remember — there are starving children in Latin America.” This comes out later in the experience of feeling shame every time you feel really happy, or in feeling shame when you’re very successful.


High achievement is often the result of being driven by toxic shame. Feeling flawed and defective on the inside, I had to prove I was okay by being exceptional on the outside. Everything I did was based on getting authenticated on the outside. My good feelings depended upon achievement.


To heal our toxic shame we must “come out of hiding. As long as our shame is hidden, there is nothing we can do about it. In order to change our toxic shame we must embrace it. There is an old therapeutic adage which states, “The only way out is through.”


Embracing our shame involves pain. Pain is what we try to avoid. In fact, most of our neurotic behavior is due to the avoidance of legitimate pain. We try to find an easier way. This is perfectly reasonable. However, as Scott Peck has said, “The tendency to avoid emotional suffering . . . is the primary basis for all human mental illness.”


The excruciating loneliness fostered by toxic shame is dehumanizing. As a person isolates more and more, he loses the benefit of human feedback. He loses the mirroring eyes of others. Erik Erikson has demonstrated clearly that identity formation is always a social process. He defines identity as “an inner sense of sameness and continuity which is matched by the mirroring eyes of at least one significant other”. Remember, it was the contaminated mirroring by our significant relationships that fostered our toxic shame.


Since it was personal relationships that set up our toxic shame, we need personal relationships to heal our shame. This is crucial. We must risk reaching out and looking for nonshaming relationships if we are to heal our shame. There is no other way. Once we are in dialogue and community, we will have further repair work to do. But we can’t even begin that work until affiliative relationships are established.


Shame-based people also do not believe that they have the right to depend on anyone. This is a consequence of the violated dependency needs which were ruptured through the abandonment trauma. To turn one’s will and life over to God is to restore a right relationship of dependence. To go to meetings and trust other people is to risk depending again.


One of the significant lessons in my life was given me by Abraham Low, the founder of Recovery, Inc. He said that intellectualizing about our problems is complex but easy, while doing something about them is simple but difficult. Shame-based intellectuals love to discuss and complexify.


Leaving home is the second phase of the journey to wholeness. I call it the Uncovery Phase. What it involves is making contact with the hurt and lonely inner child who was abandoned long ago. This child is that part of us that houses our blocked emotional energy. This energy is especially blocked when we have experienced severe abuse. In order to reconnect with the wounded and hurt child, we have to go back and re-experience the emotions that were blocked.


Our lost childhood must be grieved. Our compulsivities are the result of those old blocked feelings (our unresolved grief) being acted out over and over again. We either work these feelings out by re-experiencing them, or we act them out in our compulsivities. We can also act them in as in depression or suicide, or project them onto others as in the interpersonal strategies for transfening shame.


In order for grief to be resolved several factors must be present. The first factor is validation. Our childhood abandonment trauma must be validated as real or it cannot be resolved. Perhaps the most damaging consequence of being shame based is that we don’t know how depressed and angry we really are. We don’t actually feeloxa unresolved grief. Our false self and ego defenses keep us from experiencing it. Paradoxically, the very defenses which allowed us to survive our childhood trauma have now become barriers to our growth. Fritz Perls once said, “Nothing changes ’til it becomes what it is.” We must uncover our frozen grief.


The greatest tragedy of all of this is that we know grief can naturally be healed if we have support. Jane Middelton-Moz has said, “One of the things we know about grief resolution is that grief is one of the only problems in the world that will heal itself with support.”


Each dream represents instinctual energy that has been disowned. Dreams are a wonderful way to get in touch with those disowned parts of ourselves. These parts are trying to get our attention. The disowned part of self is an energy — an emotion or desire or need, that has been shamed every time it emerged. These energy patterns are repressed but not destroyed. They are alive in our unconscious. Jung called these disowned aspects of ourselves our shadow side. Without integrating our shadow, we cannot be whole.


As forms of energy, the disowned parts of us exert considerable influence on us. Shame-based people tend to be exhausted a lot of the time. They spend a lot of energy holding on to their false self-masks and hiding their disowned parts. I have compared it to holding a beachball under water. Virginia Satir compares it to keeping guard over hungry dogs. The repressed parts exert lots of pressure by forcing us to keep their opposites going.


Toxic shame’s greatest enemy is the statement I love myself. To say “I love myself can become your most powerful tool in healing the shame that binds you. To truly love yourself will transform your life.


Another action and work of love that will enhance your self-love and heal your toxic shame is to become more assertive. Assertiveness is based on self-love and self-valuing. This is different from aggressiveness. Aggressive- ness is usually shame-based behavior. To become aggressive is to win at any cost. It often involves shaming another person. Shaming someone else cannot enhance one’s self-love.


A shame-based person tries desperately to present a mask to the world that says, “I’m more than human,” or “I’m less than human.” To be more than human is to never make a mistake. To be less than human is to believe that you are a mistake. Dealing in a healthy manner with our mistakes is crucial for the maintenance of self-love.


The fear of mistakes kills your creativity and spontaneity. You walk on eggs, always afraid to say what you think or feel. McKay and Fanning write, “If you’re never allowed to say the wrong thing, you may never feel enough to say the right thing, to say you love someone or that you hurt or want to give comfort.”


Mistakes are the result of a later interpretation. Hence, mistakes have nothing to do with self-esteem. If you label your choice “bad” because it was a mistake in the light of later awareness, you end up punishing yourself for actions you couldn’t help performing. Better labels for your past mistakes would be “unwise”, “not useful” or “ineffective”. These terms are a more accurate assessment of your judgment.


Overreaction Diary: Each evening before retiring, think back over the events of the day. Where were you upset? Where did you over-react? What was the context? Who was there? What was said to you? How does what was said to you compare with what you say to yourself?


Intimacy requires the ability to be vulnerable. To be intimate is to risk exposing our inner selves to each other; to bare our deepest feelings, desires and thoughts. To be intimate is to be the very ones we are, and to love and accept each other unconditionally. This requires self-confidence and courage.


When I counsel people in destructive relationships, they usually are relating through their disowned parts. Generous men often marry selfish women; perfectionistic women many sloppy men; nurturing women fall in love with emotionally unavailable men. Instead of learning from each other by incorporating their disowned selves, they live with these selves expressed in their mates. Since each disowns the pan expressed by the mate, they are judgmental and angry about that pan in their partner.


Fear of exposure lies at the heart of shame. As we allow our shame to be exposed to others we are exposed to ourself. As the writer of the book Shame says: “Exposure to oneself lies at the heart of shame: we discover, in experiences of shame the most sensitive, intimate, and vulnerable parts of ourself.”


In this sense, the healing of the shame that binds you is a revelatory experience. Because your shame exists at the very core of your being, when you embrace your shame, you begin to discover who you really are. Healing toxic shame is also revolutionary. As you truly feel your toxic shame, you are moved to change it. This can only happen by being willing to come out of hiding. We have to move from our misery and embrace our pain. We have to feel as bad as we really feel. Such a feeling moves us to change ourselves. It is revolutionary.


The courage to be imperfect engenders a lifestyle characterized by spontaneity and humor. Once you’ve accepted that mistakes are natural products of limited human awareness, you stop walking on eggs. You take more risks and feel freer to explore and be creative.


Most importantly, you will laugh more. A sense of humor may be the ultimate criterion for measuring a person’s recovery from internalized shame. Being able to laugh at events, other persons, and ourselves requires true humanness. To have a sense of humor you have to straddle the more than human, less than human polarity. This demands that you be a paradox juggler.


For more, see Shame Is Fuel For The Fire Of Lust (Managing Emotional Triggers).

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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