Toxic Shame and Codependency- Know All about It!

Written by: Shruthi Chacko – M Sc

Last updated date : April 25, 2022

Toxic shame and Codependency can affect your life. In fact, toxic shame can really drain the energy out of yourself and your relationships. Codependency is like a two sided coin. One is the “giver” and the other is the “receiver. The giver steps in to help the loved one who is having a hard time and becomes their caregiver. This stems from a good intention- after all, helping others is a strength. But, things go haywire, if this love and care is not mutual. This can cause imbalance in the dynamic of the relationship.

If you are someone who battles with codependency, these phrases might be relatable-

” I don’t recognise the person I have become. The person who is so controlling, perfectionistic and so obsessed with what others think. I don’t know how it all began. I feel a strong need to fix everyone. Why do I sacrifice my own needs for others? I hate the idea of conflict. I am always taking care of people. But, never taking care of my own needs and desires. I know, that it is high time I stop being codependent.”

Reading these phrases might have got you all worked up. It does get quite hard to feel like this. But, here’s the rub. You have a choice to not feel like this anymore. There is way you can stop feeling like this. There is a beautiful quote by Penny Reid: ” Don’t set yourself in fire trying to keep others warm”. It is only a journey of self acceptance and self love that can get you there.

Chapter 1:
Toxic Shame and Codependency: Guilt Becomes Your Friend

Not in the way that a friend is supportive and caring. But, in the sense that feeling guilty seems to be the first and almost only emotion you feel in difficult circumstances. The fact is, toxic shame and codependency can create a lot stress, drama and pain. It can emotionally drain you out. Guilt becomes second nature. It becomes ready to come up in any stressful situation.

You avoid conflict because you don’t want to lose someone’s approval. You are terrified of rejection and abandonment. Because of this fear, you become a people-pleaser. There is a lack of healthy boundaries. This leaves you feeling more disconnected in life. You master the needs, wants, and likes of others while neglecting your own. In fact, you know how to manage other people’s lives, but you’re unsure and insecure about managing your own. You feel tired when you devote all of your attention and care to the other person.

Hence, you become codependent, when you fear abandonment and loose touch with your authentic self. You feel that you can’t trust yourself, your thoughts, or your opinions. Hence, you find it hard to stand up for yourself when toxic shame and codependency seeps into your life.


Chapter 2:
Toxic Shame Is Often Confused with Guilt

First things first, toxic shame and guilt are two different things. These two terms are often used interchangeably. Guilt is the horrible feeling you get after doing something wrong. Probably, you were driving, and you crashed into your neighbours wall. Guilt is useful in some situations because it motivates you to apologise and take lessons from your mistakes.

Shame, on the other hand, is the anguishing feeling that makes you feel that- you really are wrong, inadequate, or unworthy. Instead of feeling guilty about crashing into your neighbours wall, you go on to believe that you are a terribly flawed person and is not as good of a person that you thought you were. Additionally, toxic shame and codependency are interlinked. It may lead to toxic shame in relationships. The next section talks about how this works.


Chapter 3:
Are Toxic Shame and Codependency Related?

Codependents feel the need to be a ” good person”. This can be deep rooted that mostly stems from childhood experiences. In fact, most of them feel ashamed of their feelings and wants due to emotional abandonment during childhood. They grow up to be adults who deny their wants due to the need to avoid shame. Toxic shame leads to low self-esteem and a majority of codependent symptoms such as- pleasing, substance abuse, control, caretaking, anxiety, lack of assertiveness, problems with intimacy and perfectionism.

Hence, it is important to overcomes this internalised toxic shame and codependency. It begins with setting healthy boundaries. Learn to become assertive with your needs and try to avoid to please people around you. Yes, seeing and acknowledging shame in itself can a very shameful experience. But, learning and accepting is the start of your journey of healing.

Remember, if you want healthy and loving relationships, the first step is to learn how to create that with yourself. Hence, the way to do it involves accepting and working with your own internal shame.


Chapter 4:
Moving past Codependency

There’s good news! You can work on your toxic shame and codependency. You can overcome it. Here are few tips that can help you out:

Understand Codependency

The first thing, you need to identify is to know which side of the coin are you on? Do you find that your spouse, friend defines your mood, joy, or sense of self? If this is the case, you might feel upset, when your spouse or friend feels upset. Do you find yourself running away from conflicts to avoid confrontation with your loved ones? Recognising codependency in your relationship helps to identify your own relationship patterns. This further helps to begin the healing process needed to move past them.

Establish Boundaries In The Relationships

Setting strong boundaries can help you in saying “no” to a friend or partner’s requests. On the other side, this will help your partner in understanding that your independence does not imply that you do not love them. It can also help to decide how and when to leave situations that aren’t healthy for you. Hence, this can help to get rid of toxic shame in relationships.

Try To Stop Yourself To ” Fix” or ” Save” People

Codependency commonly feeds on an imagined sense of control. We may believe that we know what the other person desires, and that it is our responsibility to help them in gaining it. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong by being helpful. But, doing too much – exerting your energy on “mind-reading” and attempting to solve problems before they occur, could lead to something of a toxic shame/codependency dynamic. It is also easy to become trapped in this sort of pattern.

Prioritise Your Growth

If you ever find yourself in a “helper” mentality, remind yourself: “I can’t always truly know what another person needs or wants; only they do.” Whereas, you can be compassionate and helpful when somebody you care about is in need. You shouldn’t assume you know what they need before they even ask you for help.

That is not to say that you cannot be empathetic and helpful when somebody you care about is in pain. It simply means that you should not presume to know what somebody else requires before they ask. Consider this ability to be like a radio: if you play it too loudly, it won’t be as pleasant as when you play it at just the right volume.


Chapter 5:
End Note

Trying to work with a mental health professional can help you to figure out how your toxic shame and codependent behaviours come from. Also, even how to resolve and heal them. Therapists are specially trained to identify relationship dynamics that are damaging to their clients. Additionally, they will instruct you the skill sets, you need to maintain a healthy balance with your friend / spouse. Hence, this will help you to get rid of toxic shame and codependency in relationships. Thus, it is a path towards self-acceptance and self-love. Also, it is letting go of the need to please everybody. Learning to keep yourself happy and at peace. This might be a long and tough journey. But, you will eventually reach a point where you will achieve your authentic and real self.