How Toxic Shame Keeps You From Forgiving with Dr. Chip Dodd

How Toxic Shame Keeps You From Forgiving with Chip Dodd

Today we’re talking about how toxic shame gets in the way of forgiving. To help us understand this important topic, we interviewed Dr. Chip Dodd who is an author, a speaker, and a counselor. He holds a PhD in counseling and is the author of many books including The Voice of the Heart, which has been a cornerstone resource for us here at Solo Parent.

Talk to us about guilt as it relates to forgiveness.

If I had to put a subtitle on the podcast today, I would say that the healing of the pain is in the revealing. Unless there's a revealing, there ultimately won't be any healing. And we also know that if you don't feel it, you can't heal it. There's the topic territory that we can frame everything around today.

Guilt is a blessing that we hate because who wants to feel guilt.  It’s very painful and thank God for it because it awakens us to a need to be relieved from pain. And guilt is a feeling that we don't want, that is there to set us free. Guilt is a feeling that says, “I've done something.” And the big word there is done something. I've done something. An action or a plan that I've enacted or a plan that by God's grace I didn't act on, but still, I'm guilty. And guilt is a feeling I get whenever I've done something that I ultimately regret.

If someone had done it to me, it would've left me with a great deal of woundedness. Doing unto others as I'd have them do unto me. Guilt is the recognition that I've done something to someone. And if it had happened to me, I would be in a great deal of pain or sadness or hurt. Guilt is the opportunity to recognize my capacity to mess up and also to have enacted something that I wish hadn't happened. Simply put, I can reveal that I intended to do it, I wanted to do it, I felt justified in doing it, and now I regret it. It is the ability to say, “I'm sorry.” It is the ability to reach across the chasm that harm creates and just say, “I'm sorry, I wish I would have done that differently. It didn't happen that way. And is there a possibility that you and I could be in a relationship again?”

At that point, I am literally giving up. I'm handing over my heart for you to make a decision as to what you will do with it. Forgiving. I'm giving over my own vulnerability, my tenderness, that which affects me most. The thing out of which the issues of life flow is the inner being of me to do with me at this point what you will. And you may say, “I'll never trust you again. Go away.” And even if I hear that this is a consequence, I'm still free. I may lose what I could have had because of what I've done, but at the same time, I'm free because the burden of guilt is no longer on me. I've given it over. I've released myself from it. Guilt is good because it allows forgiveness to occur.

That same scenario in which I get rejected could also be a confession in their lives to say, “What you said hurt me and I'm so angry with you for having done it, and yet I still want to be in a relationship with you, but can I trust you? Well, are you going to do it again?” I hope not, but I'm still human. But I promise you, I will let you know where I am as much as possible so that these things don't happen because trust is earned, love is not. It’s the love and the recognition of the need for it and the ability to have it in us that allows forgiveness to occur, but trust has to be rebuilt.

Guilt is a feeling you have whenever you've done something wrong and you’re in need of having it unburdened or off of you. And once it's done, it's done. Now you can have some regrets, but you don't have the guilt. And that's where toxic shame confuses everything.

How do toxic shame and pride can keep you from being able to forgive?

When a person says internally, “I will do everything possible to never have to hurt, never have to be sad, never have to be lonely, never have to be fearful,” means that person is going to build a wall around his heart to make sure that he never has to experience vulnerability. So that's where the pride comes in. Pride says, “I will make sure I don't have to be human and I don't have to experience life happening to me.”

A wall of pride around I shouldn't have to feel this, I shouldn't have to go through this. I shouldn't have to. I'm a good person and they're a bad person. We build walls around the “I shouldn't haves.” Pride and toxic shame make us have contempt towards ourselves for hurting, makes us have contempt for vulnerability and makes us have contempt towards others who put us in the position of having to feel. Because toxic shame says, “I'm defective if I'm human.” And the marker of being human is feelings and needs and desires to be connected and belong and matter. So toxic shame says, “I am weak because I need to belong and matter. I have feelings.”

How do you break through the contempt?

The amazing thing about toxic shame is that every human being comes into this life, and they have a hunger to connect, and they have the neediness of knowing that I can't do life by myself, the basics. And little children have no hatred towards themselves or contempt for being human. They just assume, well, of course I'm human. You're human, so let's share, let's do this together. Or I'm crying now because you didn't share. They bring the truth of themselves into their life, but somewhere along the way, a wound is rejected. They end up experiencing this for themselves somehow. I'm not acceptable when I cry or if I laugh too much or if I have needs. So, they start developing this thing called toxic shame. They're ashamed of their healthy shame.

In other words, somebody told them, it's not okay for you to be human, it's not okay for you to bring your heart to this, so stop it. And that's like pouring oil on gold. And then you throw iron filings on silver, and then you take a beautiful color of blue and green, and you throw mud on it and then drop chicken feathers on it and smashed eggs. And then when the child has life happen, they look into the mirror of the faces around them and they see a reflection of what's happened to them, and they see themselves as grotesque. They look into a mirror of relationship and they see iron filings and oil and chicken feathers and old paint, and they're horrified. And now they know this is the reason they treat me this way. This is the reason I'm not acceptable. This is the reason they look at me like that.

This is the reason they're mad at me. And so, they say, “I still need to connect and belong, so I better become somebody else.” So, then they develop a fake superman skin or superwoman skin, and develop a fake self to hide what they think is really grotesque, sickening, and unlovable. And then what they’re toxically ashamed of is how God made them the need to connect and the need to confess and the need to reveal. And in the revealing is the healing. And now they can't be healed unless they do the daring, courageous, supported work.

You can't do it alone. You have to embrace the shame. And literally every time you have a struggle with toxic shame, you literally need to put your arms around that, what you think of as the ugliness. And then take a look.

I've done the work in the treatment center on many occasions, and I will have someone do the imaginative work, embrace the shame, directing them to touch your face, wipe your face, touch that ugliness you think is the horror, and look at your hands. And they look at their hands and they go, “I'm coming apart.” And now look in the mirror again. What's happening? It's like, what do you see? I see an eye. And what color is the eye? And it's the color of your eyes. And then what else do you see? It's like skin. What does the skin look like normal? And I say, keep embracing, keep touching. And what are you experiencing? It's like this person discovers that feelings aren't bad, that needs aren't weakness, that desire isn't wrong. That longing for life to be a certain way isn't pathetic and that hope isn't foolish. So, embracing your shame, you are underneath your shame. The thing we run from is the thing that we need to embrace so it'll give us our healing.

Toxic shame is basically when we associate something we've done with our identity and that's who we are, versus just something that we've done. And toxic shame gets confused with guilt because I make a mistake. Toxic shame says, “I am a mistake. My being is a mistake.” You can't ever be forgiven for being alive.

Toxic shame as it pushes us towards the death of isolation, the death of not revealing, the death of pride that keeps us from being vulnerable. There's no relationship in this because relationship requires hurt and sadness and loneliness, all of it, and the ability to join each other. Toxic shame says, “Well, you shouldn't let me feel that way. Or you should have done so-and-so.” It's always judging and condemning and apologizing. So, you live a life of total apology. It's a life of criticism and trying to merit love.

How does blame play into our ability to forgive?

So many of us can get caught up in blaming someone else rather than looking at our own faults. We assess ourselves as being better than we are. Number one, I would never have, that's first, I justify me. I would never have. There's no way. I would never, so I wouldn't do so-and-so, and then we look at the other person and say, you could have and you didn't. In other words, our blame is a contempt towards them for making the mistake and not being sorry enough.

How is it different than me acknowledging that you've done something to hurt me. Is that not blame?

No, that's not accurate, because what you're saying is I feel hurt about something you did. Okay, so you're sharing your insides with my outsides. You're revealing what has been hidden. So you're caring enough to confront, you're not creating conflict, you're creating opportunity. You said, “I feel hurt.” You're the one who's taking a giant risk. You're the one that's injured and you're looking at me saying, I feel hurt. Your hands are out. I feel hurt. You're revealing pain about what you did. You're sharing your insides with my outsides. You're not saying I feel hurt because you're a bad person. I feel hurt. You're meant to do that. I feel hurt. You don't care about me. You're saying I feel hurt and you're naming the behavior, bringing the vulnerability of the need. But you're staying outside my skin. You're not judging me. You're telling me what you saw.

Blame is judging. Blame is judging the inside of the person. Intention and confrontation is acknowledging the need for reconciliation. It becomes blame when the other person can't look at you. When you say to the other person, “I'm sorry I said that and I wish I hadn't and I regret it, I apologize.” This is seeking forgiveness. And then you're going to do what you're going to do. Now at this point, you can say, “Well I could have done the same thing.” And all of a sudden, we walk off with our arms around each other and go back to life as it needs to be. It's amazing how my confession, truth telling, and acknowledgement of being human can give you softening of your own heart. But if I defend myself by saying, “I'm sorry I did that, but I had a right to, I did this because…” Then what I'm hearing you say is that forgiveness is almost impossible if you hold onto this blame because you're assessing the other person's identity and their intentions and so you can't forgive.

Think how hard it is. It's harder for you to seek forgiveness from me in terms of you acknowledging I did something to you than for you to seek forgiveness from me because you did something to me. That's a big one, isn't it? Huge one, because you're saying, if I don't get this, I could build walls around my heart against you. And I don't want to live imprisoned by my own resentment, my own inability to say, I feel hurt or sad or lonely. That's your toxic shame taking over. I shouldn't feel this. I shouldn't let them know that I'm tender. I shouldn't let them know that it bothered me. And toxic shame is always trying to make us stronger than humans are.

Let’s say you've dealt with an addict and you're in a place where you can have conversations, but you’re not safe enough to go to him at this point. It's not safe to go to him and say, “You did this, it hurt me, and allow him to respond appropriately.” Because you get the same song and dance every time, there's a lot of blame, there's defensiveness. It can be really easy to place blame on someone else for their portion of how things go wrong in a relationship, especially when addiction is involved. It can be hard to turn the mirror on yourself and say, “How did I contribute to this?” To look at the part you played. A lot of single parents may have come out of abusive situations, may have come out of relationships with an addict.

How can we take the first steps toward forgiveness in abusive situations?

Blame in and of itself is justifiable. The truth is if the drinking had stopped, it would've been different. If somebody had gone for help, it would've been different.  If they'd stayed in treatment long enough, it would've been different. That’s the truth in terms of reality. But that's describing the outside. Blame is an accurate description usually of the outside. Blame is not a bad thing. It's a trap if you don't go inside. When you say if he had stopped drinking, things would've been different and they're not different. What do you feel about there being no difference? What needs to be healed? The outside world is never going to heal us. Our inside battle dealing with our inside world will. You finally had to say the truth is the outside world can't fix this.

But the inside world; loneliness, hurt, sadness, need for connection and a longing for life that's better than the one I've had, requires that you grieve, that you hurt, that you feel angry, that you talk to the right people because at that point you're fighting for yourself. You've gone to your side of the street and you're staying over there instead of trying to get fixed by going to the other side of the street. So, you start doing your work on your own heart and you start setting yourself free because hurt leads to healing if it's done with people who know what that is. Sadness does lead us to acceptance, which is letting go of that person and facing that you may always have a love for what could have been or a love for what was, but you can't trust. Trust is a requirement for love to be sustainable.

And so, it's like you're letting go of their choices by walking through your own pain. Then the thing that happens next is through the admission of my own parts, my own pieces, my own involvement I'm taking ownership of myself and at that point I start to release the person because but for the grace of God, I go. In other words, in another circumstance, it could have been me. That's where you really keep going to meetings like 12 step meetings, recovery of heart meetings, until you look around the room and you no longer say, “Not me.” You don't look at a guy and say, “That guy's not like me at all.” Until you look around the room and no longer say, “Not me,” you don't have your freedom because we are everyone, but it doesn't mean we have to trust everyone. There are people in my life I don't trust, so they only get what's in my garage. They don't get what's in my kitchen or den. They don't get invited in to eat, but also that doesn't mean that they're not in some relationship with you.

I am not safe. It’s not healthy to trust. And that's the hard thing about being a single parent. You are always in a relationship with someone that has harmed you or you wounded because you have kids together, you are always in their life.

And their inability to reveal or them being stuck in blame or their toxic shame, their own contempt towards their own vulnerability will become your enemy and that becomes harmful. And by the way, this isn't all about everybody getting healed. There are some bad actors out there. That's the phrase I hear used all the time, bad actors. But there are some people out there that will do anything it takes to not feel okay. And that means anything. And those people are cowards because a coward is possibly the strongest human being on earth because a coward will do anything to not be exposed as human. They will kill, steal, and destroy. And it's a horrible thing to be tied to someone for life.

I love Solo Parent so much because it's a place to go to have a continuing sorrow for something that won't change, but you can still have healing in the midst of it. But ultimately we can relate to each other because life doesn't change either. We change.

How does the phrase, “They did the best they could,” harm us?

Well, when we excuse a person, justifying their harm, their sin, or their actions that were painful, when we support justification of pride or defensiveness or rationalization, we're participating in ultimately their slavery.

They did the best they could, is my excusing them for not making vulnerability, confession, and truth telling a part of the relationship. I'm excusing someone for staying stuck in pride and blame. Real relationships are built on forgiveness. That is forgiveness says, “I'm sorry, and I did do that, and I wish I hadn't.” Justification is different from forgiveness. It says, “I'm sorry I did that, but I did the best I could.” What we're doing is seeking them to give us cheap acceptance. And so, the best I could do is being fully human. The best I can really do is deal with guilt. The best I can do is have healthy shame. And as long as toxic shame is ruler, which means let's not feel this, let's not deal with this, so that we don't really have to ever have healing. Let's pretend forgiveness is far off. If you don't deal with it, “I did the best I could” is a cheap form of living in a relationship. The best I can do is seek forgiveness. It's a confession of being human.

The true version is uncomfortable. The cheap version is comfortable. The stepping into the real relationship is uncomfortable. And being able to be okay in the discomfort is a really good first step. Like agonizing. It can be agonizing to just say, “I'm really sorry I did that.” And then just let it sit. To really have genuine regret, without defending yourself, without explaining, just sitting there. And what that does, it lays it at the feet of another person, an opportunity. And will they pick it up and put it on their hearts to see if their hearts are open to it. And if it goes in, this person's going to say, “My heart is softening, and I cannot help, but wish to give you mercy and be close to you again.”

Stepping into vulnerability is so important. If we don't show up with our hearts and our brokenness, there isn’t an opportunity. It's not a wall that we hit. So much of what we're about with Solo Parent is stepping into the uncomfortable because we realize that it’s a pathway to peace. That is the opportunity that we're afforded.

Why is forgiveness necessary?

What makes forgiveness so important is that it is an expression of my own humility. It's an expression of me having a conscience of sensitivity towards the recognition that when I look at you, I am looking at me. When I look at you, I'm looking at me. We're 99.9% identical emotionally and spiritually. We crave to connect with the universe and hope that there's a being called God that is personal to me. I look across hoping that I'm not alone with you. Forgiveness is the recognition that I will do things that will harm me and you, that I'm capable of harming myself. I'm capable of harming you because I'm mistake ridden.

The need to say, “I made a mistake, I regret it, I wish I hadn't.” And it was a mean mistake versus just tripping over the mistake because those are two different things. Then if I don't do this, I am alone. I am not connected, I’m isolated. And isolation is the devil's tool. We are created human beings to find fulfillment through connection to God and others. God says, it's not good for you to be alone. God wants you to have more than even Him. The devil's playing card gives it to us in a multitude of ways. Forgiveness sets us free to be with each other because we both know we’re going to mess up. I've got a heart that recognizes I'm like you and I'm going to mess up. Do you have a heart that recognizes you're like me? And so, the blame is gone, humility takes over and we have room for mercy. I can say to you, “You keep doing this over and over again so I'm hoping you'll deal with it.  I can't be close to you until you deal with it.”  Do you have enough humility to deal with it? Are you willing to get help? Are you willing to be in need? It’s freedom.

Listener Question

Hi, I am Bethany, a single mom. What is something you had to do because you were a solo that you never believed you could accomplish until you did it?

We actually both started businesses. We both left our cushy corporate jobs and steady paychecks. It was a real risk because leaving a steady paycheck when you're a single parent is not something a lot of people do.

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