I want to share something that gets confused, often.

The link between shame and depression.
(Or, depression and shame)

This is on my mind because a few weeks back I was responding to a question in my Facebook community, Healthy Nervous System Revolution.

The question was in reference to an article they had read titled, It’s Not Always Depression. Sometimes It’s Shame.

(BTW: It is a great article and I suggest reading it!)

This was the question from my community member:

“This really resonates with me, I have always felt like my anxiety feels more like shame and guilt… in my adult life, when i wanted to explain the feeling I had most of the time as a child I would call it shame, and that shame would separate me from all of my life. I also called it the separator… Now I tend to call it anxiety, but it still feels like shame… Irene Lyon?”

Here was my response. It ended up providing a lot of clarity for many in the group, which is why I wanted to share it with you all here:

Shame, toxic shame, that is experienced during our lives, usually first as an infant, then as a child, adolescent etc., is typically (mostly) because a parent is not aware of their own trauma. Therefore, they’re carrying this trauma from their own childhood, which (sadly) leads to them passing it on in their parenting style (their attunement and attachment style), which then infects their kids.

Toxic shame, is a cellular (body) quality of defeat.

It displays as having our life force energy squashed out of us.

We shrink. We feel like we mean nothing. That we are nothing.

Typically it is our parents who dose this out. But it can be other family members, bullying siblings, bullying school mates.

And sadly, usually, bullying siblings go hand-in-hand with parents who dose out toxic shame.

Because the parent can NOT feel, or see, that bullying, and that causing humiliation to their offsprings is a BAD bad thing … and should be stopped!

So, the siblings get away with it and a vicious cycle continues to be fed.

But, I digress!

And … if WE don’t heal (which rarely happens at the biological level, at least these days) … we WILL attract shame to us — and/or — we will self-loathe, have low self-esteem, self-hate … all those lovely things that keep people really stuck and sick [read: depressed] … which then, leads to internalized anger.

We attract this unconsciously by being with people, situations, work environments that keep us in this pattern of defeat, low self-esteem etc.

It can be VERY tough to break out of this as well but, thankfully, with work and consistency it DOES work and a person can heal for real.

So ALL that to say that toxic shame IS what causes depression (and all the pieces that go with it) because it hosts a whole cocktail of biological shutdown, trapped anger and aggression, which in fact creates a depressed neurophysiology.

Finally, the physiology that comes with toxic shame (the depressed system; no expression of healthy anger; low metabolism etc.) can then turn on a person’s genetic predisposition for depression (whereas others might have a genetic predisposition to addiction, or fibromyalgia, gut issues, autoimmune disorders, mental illness and so on.)

It’s pretty much accepted by those who are in the new traumatology fields, meaning those who understand how the survival responses get STUCK in a chaotic dance between fight, flight and freeze [read: mess] which can leave a person unable to process much of life, plus its varied experiences of feelings, sensations and thoughts …

They believe …

That the bulk of mental illness is a “mere” symptom, byproduct, fall-out … call it what you like … of poor circumstances early in life, and then, not a lot of help to move a person towards more goodness, safety and processing of the original traumas and/or rebuilding of faulty wiring patterns.

For some added references and resources, Bessel van der Kolk dives into this in detail in his book, The Body Keeps The Score, as does Gabor Maté in his books (I personally recommend Scattered Minds and When The Body Says No), as does this brilliantly written book, Scared Sick which dives into the results of The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (The ACE Study).

And, I’ve written about this here and here.

* * *

As I said above, this helped a lot of my community members understand why they have struggled so much throughout their lives and I wanted to make sure you saw this commentary in the case that this might help you, or someone you know.

Please don’t forget that these trauma imprints from toxic shame can be healed and shifted. I won’t deny that this is not an easy path! It takes work and a full-on commitment to doing the heavy lifting that is required to shift old toxic imprints that may have been carried along for generations upon generations.

But, I believe it is well worth if you are keen to help this planet heal.