John Bradshaw on Shame

I have a huge to-be-read pile of psychology books by mental health writers and professionals–who I’ve never heard of before (Nancy Friday, James F. Masterson, Dr. Leonard Shengold), which is odd, given how extensive their bodies of work are…

Anyway, the books that I have finished are incredible, and yes, life changing.

A powerful moment was reading Healing The Shame That Binds You by John Bradshaw.

I keep re-reading segments where Bradshaw discusses Shame-Addiction and how it grows until adulthood.  Depending on the severity of it, shame can manifest into an illness or serious mental health problem, like an addiction to mood-altering substances, for instance.

He also talks about the hiding places of shame: rage addictions, activity addictions (like cutting or even work addictions), reenactments, or repeatedly entering into destructive relationships that repeat early abusive trauma.  (An obvious example would be domestic violence cases.  These victims often experienced or witnessed abuse as children.)

Like his popular peer, Brene Brown, John Bradshaw studies the effects of shame, but more specifically, toxic shame.  The book helps target origins of shame in society and how we may have developed our own personal source of it.  Great case studies, excellent resources, and his own therapeutic observations weave this book together, completely.

In the case of shame, the more we avoid it, the worse it gets. We cannot change our “internalized” shame until we “externalize” it. Doing the shame reduction work is simple but difficult. It mainly involves what I call methods of externalization. Externalization methods include:

  1. Coming out of hiding by social contact, which means honestly sharing our feelings with significant others.

  2. Seeing ourselves mirrored and echoed in the eyes of at least one non-shaming person. Reestablishing an “interpersonal bridge.”

  3. Working a Twelve Step program.

  4. Doing shame-reduction work by “legitimizing” our abandonment trauma. We do this by writing and talking about it (debriefing). Writing especially helps to externalize past shaming experiences. We can then externalize our feelings about the abandonment. We can express them, grieve them, clarify them and connect with them.

  5. Externalizing our lost Inner Child. We do this by making conscious contact with the vulnerable child part of ourselves.

  6. Learning to recognize various split-off parts of ourselves. As we make these parts conscious (externalize them), we can embrace and integrate them.

  7. Making new decisions to accept all parts of ourselves with unconditional positive regard. Learning to say, “I love myself for…” Learning to externalize our needs and wants by becoming more self-assertive.

  8. Externalizing unconscious memories from the past, which form collages of shame scenes, and learning how to heal them.

  9. Externalizing the voices in our heads. These voices keep our shame spirals in operation.

    -John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame That Binds You