Understanding The Important Role Of Toxic Shame In Addictive Behaviors

Understanding The Important Role Of Toxic Shame In Addictive Behaviors

Toxic: poisonous

Shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior

Toxic Shame: painful feelings of humiliation or distress which can feel like a poison

Toxic shame is venomous. Getting caught in a spell of toxic shame can feel like getting stung by a stingray or a bee. The pain is timid at first, then rapidly spreads and intensifies until it feels like it’s taken over everything. We can’t see past the pain. Such is the same with toxic shame.

Role of Toxic Shame


Understanding toxic shame as playing an important role in addictive behaviors is important. Shame and guilt, both of which can be toxic, are driving factors in addiction. Addiction is in many ways a symptom of obsession and compulsion. We obsess over the painful feelings of humiliation and distress which were given to us somewhere in the past. Eventually, that obsessive thinking becomes too painful to bear, compelling us to take part in a familiar behavior. Addictive behaviors of any kind, from substance abuse to eating disorders, are often coping mechanisms to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Even if they don’t start that way, they usually end up that way. Substances, along with non-substance reliant behaviors, produce a feeling of euphoric relief. Surging levels of dopamine help calm the anxiety, panic, pain, and negativity produced by toxic shame.

According to Shannon Bradley-Colleary, an online 12 step coach who often works with individuals in codependent relationships, “toxic shame is always learned in childhood.” The “consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior” which comes with shame has to be learned. When we are young, we learn best from our parents. Shannon writes that “one or both of our parents either neglected us, or abused us, or made us feel we were somehow wrong or that we should never express or even have negative emotions.” In such homes, difficult feelings like anger, sadness, or fear are often shamed, rejected, and ridiculed. This isn’t because there was anything wrong with our feelings or why we were feeling them. Unfortunately, that is the message we receive. Truly, we had people in our lives who were insufficiently prepared to handle such feelings coming from a child. Most likely, they were ill-equipped to handle those feelings themselves.


Healing shame and codependency or other manifestations of shame is important for recovering from addiction and other addictive behaviors. Enlightened Solutions uses a range of clinical, 12 step, and holistic healing treatments to aid the grief process, create new coping mechanisms, and heal the pain of toxic shame while supporting recovery. For information on our partial care programs of treatment, call 844-234-LIVE.