Feeling Healthy Shame and Releasing Toxic Shame

“What is this fragment of humanity that I love and fear?
Some may say that human beings are cruel and stupid creatures.
The time has come to end the crucifixion.
This fragment perpetually pulls me in and repels me.
When trauma and drama takes the space of beauty and presence.
I see it in others and
I want to expose it
I want them to own it
Claim it
Melt it
To dissolve it
Humans live for reflection
And wallow in projection.
Yet in all honesty,
I know that it is there
when I look in the mirror.” ~ Baba Dez Nichols

Healthy shame is energy in motion which allows us to know our limits and boundaries and mobilises us to get our needs met. When healthy shame is not felt and owned, it goes into the psychic shadow and is projected on to others as toxic shame. Toxic shame is the root of so much dysfunction, including emotional illness, addiction and co-dependency.

Many years before founding the International School of Temple Arts (ISTA), Baba Dez Nichols had a vision of how the temples of old came crashing down. The fall was fuelled by envy, greed, resentment, competition and misuse of ritual within the temple. Spiritual dogma polarised us and created separation. The rhetoric of guilt, fear and shame backed up by force created mass trauma and dissociation. A huge gap in our individual and collective emotional embodiment was the result.

The threat is not so external these days. It has been internalized through toxic shame. Toxic shame is a desperate form of control passed on through generations. It gives us the illusion of safety and yet also keeps us powerless. We believe and follow societal norms, striving for more money, more success, more sex, more possessions etc. continuously looking externally to fill the unbearably large void that lies within.

"We are all in a posthypnotic trance induced in early infancy." Ronald Laing

Toxic shame begins in childhood when the vulnerable aspects of self are exposed before we are ready and we have no choice or ability to protect ourselves. These vulnerable parts are then pushed away and hidden from the self, dissociating us from our core feelings and allowing us to emotionally bypass our suffering, accountability and responsibility.

"The split off parts of our internal experiences (our feelings, needs and drives) clamor for expression. They are like our hungry dogs locked in the basement. We must find some means to quieten them. One way is through feeling conversion […] we convert what is forbidden or shameful into another more acceptable or more tolerable feeling." John Bradshaw

Other common ways of quietening our hungry dogs include the ego defenses of identifying with the aggressor to incorporate their traits, denying what is going on, numbing out, projecting onto others, and disassociating by denying, regressing and engaging the imagination to distract us.

"People in authority often use shamelessness to avoid their felt sense of toxic shame, which includes ‘perfectionism, striving for power and control, rage, arrogance, criticism and blame, judging, envy, people-pleasing and being nice. Each behavior focuses on the other and takes the heat off oneself." John Bradshaw

Instead of union, honoring and leaning into love, separation, domination and violence is normalized. Toxic shame maintains entitlement that reinforces power over the other.
It has been passed down though all aspects of life including religious, social, school and family systems. It is now considered normal and acceptable in almost all cultures. Toxic shame permeates throughout our modern culture and rarely gets challenged because we have internalized it.

“Internalized patriarchy is the basis of competition and comparison. Internalized patriarchy is why toxic masculinity (whether in men OR women) feels the need to slight or cut down others to feel powerful. Healthy masculine energy asks how can I use my power to help? Truly sovereign people feel no need to compare themselves with others. They are on their own paths, paving their own way forward through their own internal moral compass.” Kali Kat

Those not able to own their fear of being unworthy or unlovable which is underneath judgements, unkind actions, and attacks are covering their toxicity with authority, righteousness, arrogance and strategic shaming of others.

This extends to the shame of sharing a purpose. When we are running on self-importance, anyone who shows up in their power is seen as a threat. The toxic shame asserts that “I am the only one who can do this. I am the only one who can run this retreat/project/country.”

Attempting to hold toxic shamers, and those in collusion with them, accountable for their inappropriate behaviors and actions is virtually impossible. Toxic shame is part of their identity, their state of being which influences the whole of who they are. This is incredibly painful because the toxic shamers feel flawed deep within. Masked by self-importance, not only do they hide their shame from others, they also hide it from themselves. To acknowledge and feel this toxic shame feels like death to the false self they created to protect themselves.

Toxic shamers feel terrorized by anyone who attempts to hold them, or those in collusion with them, accountable. In a culture of toxic shame they will garner overwhelming support to keep the delusion alive. Anything to keep the unconscious false self image intact. Anything to avoid the death of the false self.

"Toxic shame is true agony. It is a pain felt from the inside, in the core of our being. It is excruciatingly painful" John Bradshaw

Rejection is akin to death for most toxic shamers. It reconnects them to their buried wounds. They will criticize and blame in an attempt to offload their difficult feelings, which they try to avoid at all costs. Responding with defensiveness causes the shame to be passed on. Understanding the alarming pervasiveness of Toxic Shame is the first step.

What can be done to heal the shame that binds us?

These & many other powerful tools & techniques are explored in the workshops & private sessions offered by
Baba Dez Nichols & Sonalle LaMariposa, & also shared at the ISTA weeklong retreats offered in over 40 countries around the world. It is through the lived experience of heart & soul embodiment that we can start to break through the veil of toxic shame.
After we educate ourselves, the key is through Embodied Love.

More from the authors:
Baba Dez Nichols
Read More: The Call of the Soul: Embodied Love, Shadow Stalking, and Total Integration
Sonalle LaMariposa
Embodied Moves
Sonalle Coaching & Creative Therapies


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Opening Flower

Opening to Vulnerability

“Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present & abiding under-current of our natural state. To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to be something we are not & most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others. More seriously, refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence & immobilize the essential, tidal & conversational foundations of our identity.”
~ Poet David Whyte (2015)

Vulnerability is derived from the Latin word “vulnerare” which means, “to be wounded”; a common expression of how most societies tend to perceive vulnerability; as something negative, a weakness to be avoided. In the UK, we are conditioned not to show vulnerability but to keep the British ‘stiff upper lip’ by not showing our emotions.

“There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community. “ ~ M. Scott Peck (2010)

Society tends to shun feeling & vulnerability. It promotes escapism through consumerism to distract us from feeling our truth. By avoiding our truth we let go of our autonomy. We eat, drink, shop, surf the Internet & take whatever chemicals are available to avoid feeling what lies below the surface. For us to truly connect with our vulnerability, we need to let go of the distractions & busy-ness. We need to create a container to give ourselves the time & space to feel.

“To feel is to be vulnerable.” ~ Brene Brown (2012)

We are born into this world open & vulnerable to our environment & caregivers. This vulnerability is essential to allow us to learn both consciously & unconsciously so as to increase our chances of survival.
From the age of one, we learn to modify our response to “negative cues” such as anger, disgust & fear (Hertenstein & Campos, 2001; Moses et al., 2001). Research shows that our brains are hard-wired to learn from anger & fear even more than joy when communicated by our caregivers. Although the communication of these emotions can increase our survival chances, they are frequently based on our caregivers’ own deep held fear, guilt & shame.

As we grow older, our caregivers are often unable to meet our needs, be those emotional, physical, psychological or spiritual. Instead of having our emotions validated, we are told not to feel, “Don’t cry!” “Be quiet!” or “Don’t be a baby!”
We are left feeling disappointment, anger, sadness, anxiety, shame & guilt without having the necessary tools to process them. In the absence of having the essential support & tools to notice, feel, breathe & move through these emotions, we build barriers to protect ourselves from feeling. Although conscious to begin, these barriers soon drop into the unconscious, impacting on our day-to-day lives & limiting the vast spectrum of emotions available to us. Life can become mundane, without depth & without the richness that life deserves. The subtle nuances of emotions are lost forever unless the necessary guidance is sought & the vital tools gained.

“When we feel safe enough to expose our shadows, that’s when we become free.” ~ Gabby Bernstein (2020)

When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable & expose our shadows, we open to feeling. As we let go of ego defences such as numbness & disassociation, we allow ourselves to feel the emotions that may challenge us so moving the repressed emotions to the conscious. Bringing awareness to our shadows, we gift ourselves the opportunity to heal the pain. As we feel & identify the emotions, we can breathe deeply, vibrate & let the emotions go.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” ~ Brene Brown (2012)

~Let us move from the shadow into the light
~Let us drop away the unnecessary layers
~Let us discover our hidden strengths
~Let us Open to Vulnerability


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Glittered eyelid

Transforming Trauma ~ From Surviving to Thriving

"If you're going through hell, keep going” ~ Winston Churchill

Many years after Freud named traumatic symptoms “hysteria”, a diagnosis given only to women, the impact
of traumatic experiences is finally becoming more widely understood. Studies have found that 1 in 3 adults
in England report having experienced at least 1 traumatic event in their lives (Mental Health Foundation, 2020).

Research from King’s College London suggests that 1 in 13 young people in the UK have had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) before reaching age 18. A UK-based study found that 31% of young people had a traumatic experience during childhood, & those who were exposed to trauma were twice as likely as their peers to have mental health disorders (Lancet Psychiatry, 2019).

“You are not responsible for anything that happens to you as a child but you are 100% responsible for your own healing.” ~ Johnnie Dent Jr.

Potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood are known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which include violence, abuse, & growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems. Toxic stress caused by ACEs can change brain development & affect how the body responds to stress. Although the ACEs don’t consider stressors outside the household, protective factors or individual differences, they have been found to cause chronic physical health problems, mental illness, & substance misuse in adulthood.

The clinical diagnostic tool (DSM-5) requires “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence” for an event to be classified as a trauma. However, Francine Shapiro (1997), defines two types of trauma:
• Large-T trauma is an event that is considered traumatic for most people & qualifies for a medical PTSD diagnosis e.g. car crash, rape, war, natural disasters
• Small-t trauma is an event that is traumatic at a personal level e.g. death of a pet, relationship break up, emotional blackmail or medical crisis. If left unhealed, can lead to PTSD type symptoms

Fundamentally, an experience is traumatic when we don’t have agency over our response to the perceived threatening situation.

Stephen Porges (1994) identified the following responses to traumatic events:
1. Initially we reach out for help & support
2. If no one comes to our aid or if there is an immediate danger then the fight / flight response is engaged where we try to defend or get away from the threat
3. Recent research demonstrates that if the above fails, then we can experience the collapse or freeze response; shutting down or numbing out

Bessel Van Der Kolk (2014) shows how the Body Keeps The Score; that trauma, if not processed, remains in the body on a cellular level. Following the terrorist bomb attack in Manchester in 2017, Ariana Grande showed the physical effect of the trauma in her brain scans posted in Instagram. People suffering from trauma experience an increase in limbic system function including the amygdala, which alerts our fight/flight response & holds emotional memories. Also neocortex function decreases, reducing our ability for logical reasoning, understanding & production of speech, willpower & self-development.

“Our brokenness summons light into the deepest crevices in our hearts.” ~ Shauna L Hoey

For those suffering from trauma, trauma has shut down their inner compass & robbed them of the imagination they need to create something better.
Medications only blunt sensations & do nothing to resolve them or transform them from toxic agents into allies (Bessel Van Der Kolk, 2014). Although providing short-term relief, the blunting also impacts on the ‘positive’ sensations & limits our connection with Self.
“Sometimes we use our minds not to discover facts, but to hide them. One of things the screen hides most effectively is the body, our own body, by which I mean, the ins & outs of it, its interiors. Like a veil thrown over the skin to secure its modesty, the screen partially removes from the mind the inner states of the body, those that constitute the flow of life as it wanders in the journey of each day.” (Antonio R. Damasio, 1999)

This is often the case with traumatised people, who are often afraid of feeling. It is not so much the perpetrators… but their own physical sensations that are now the enemy… Being traumatised is not just an issue being stuck in the past; it is just as much of a problem not being fully alive in the present (Bessel Van Der Kolk, 2014). The imagination of the trauma sufferer becomes wired to detect in the present any similarity to past traumas, so causing hypervigilence & hyperarousal.

Mindfulness supports us to be alive in the present, calming down the nervous system so we are less likely to be thrown into fight or flight (J. Kabat-Zinn, 2011). Technique is key, focusing to slow down & extend the out breath, which encourages the nervous system to relax.

“The breath is like a river & is our path to the ocean of peace that lies within.” ~ Michael Brant DeMaria

Refocusing of attention & relaxation allows dominance of the nervous system, one of the active ingredients for healing trauma (Gentry, 1999). Imagination is absolutely critical to the quality of life (Bessel Van Der Kolk, 2014); incorporating the imagination refocuses the attention in a deep state of relaxation, allowing real healing to occur.

“Healing doesn't just take a little time, it also takes commitment to get started & to complete the process.” ~ Sereda Aleta Dailey

Tell me, are you ready to heal?


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Panic Attack

Panic Attack ~ A Toolkit

My 1st panic attack. I awoke from a night terror; heart pounding, covered in sweat & unable to breathe. I felt like someone was covering my mouth to stop me breathing.
Every muscle in my body felt tense. My heartbeat was banging loud throughout my body. My nervous system was wired in a hyper-freeze response. Fight or flight was not an option.
After a few moments fearing that I was about to die, I realised where I was. I told myself that it was only a nightmare & forced myself to breathe. The 1st breath felt almost impossible to take, like my body no longer remembered how to breathe as it prepared for the end. “Focus, breathe, you can do this.”
I told myself.
Each breath needed my undivided attention. Slowly, gradually, it became easier. My breaths became deeper & longer.
With each breath, the muscles slowly relaxed & the racing thud of my heartbeat slowly returned to its familiar regular rhythm.
I turned on the bedside lamp; bringing light to the darkness. I kept reminding myself that I was safe, in bed & that nothing was trying to kill me. I placed a hand on my heart to connect with the pulsating life within, gently supporting my body & mind to let go of the terrifying experience.
As my nervous system slowed down, I tried to return to sleep, but the fear of terror kept me awake.
When I turned the light off & dropped into the darkness, the fear of panic & helplessness returned with a vicelike grip.
My inner little girl could not completely separate the night terror from reality.
“What if I suffocate & die? What if I have another panic attack?”
The thoughts repeated round & round in my mind. I felt the fear grow & my body became tighter with each thought.
“Bring it back to the breath. Breathe. Let go of the thoughts. Let go of the tension.”
With long deep breaths, I exhaled the tension away from the muscles, visualising them relax. And with the relaxation came mental & physical exhaustion. A welcome relief. I felt my body supported by the breath. I felt my mind & spirit supported by the light. Staying with the breath & with a hand on my heart, I slowly surrendered to sleep.

The next day, I realised my body & mind were screaming to be heard. There had been various triggers to this episode, creating a constant state of hypervigilance & inability to sleep for weeks.

Although I have supported people with anxiety & panic attacks for over a decade, this lived experience stirred up so many questions… How would someone deal with this if they have no experience of mental health & no knowledge of the resources that are available? Where would they go? How would they cope?

Research shows that people with anxiety disorders are more likely to contemplate suicide (Kanwar et al. 2013). I thought of friends who ended their lives this year & wondered; Did they have panic attacks? Did they feel anxious & isolated even though they had people around them?
I wondered how else I could support people impacted by panic attacks & anxiety. Below I offer some powerful strategies to prevent & overcome panic attacks / anxiety (below)

Panic Attack & Anxiety Toolkit

∼ Deep breathing into the diaphragm: Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Extend the exhale so its longer than the inhale. You can count in your mind as you breathe e.g. counting to 7 as you inhale, counting to 11 as you exhale. Practice this every day so it becomes automatic.

Diaphragmatic breathing & extending the exhale engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which supports you to relax.

∼ Focus on the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, & touch. Find one example for each sense. E.g. what can you taste in your mouth right now? What can you smell?

∼ Splash your face with cold water: this activates the mammalian diving response; an innate physiological reflex that will slow down your heart rate

∼ Create space: connect with your emotions & let them move through you. Our unconscious wants suppressed trauma & emotions to be seen & healed, so make time to feel what your unconscious is communicating to you.

∼ Our body holds much wisdom: allow it to express. Your body may want to shake, dance, jump, scream, shout or hit a pillow; allow it.

∼ Create a self soothing kit: include things that appeal to your sense of touch, smell, taste, sight, sound e.g. smelling salts, essential oils, cuddly toy, soft or heavy blanket, favourite relaxing music.

∼ Come back to the present moment: where are you? Look at your surroundings. Identify the objects in your surroundings.

∼ Exercise regularly: Even 10 minutes of aerobic exercise a day can completely change how you feel. Find what works for you; perhaps a fast walk, running, dance or yoga.

∼ Avoid alcohol, caffeine & smoking: Research shows they increase the risk of anxiety & panic attacks.

∼ Regular healthy meals: Keep your blood sugar levels stable.

∼ Express: If you have the same thoughts going round & round in your mind, express them in an image or write them down then put them away for another day. If they are things you need to get done, make a list of things to do, then put it away e.g. in a drawer, cupboard or somewhere else that feels right for you.

∼ Worry time: If you need to find solutions to a problem & keep worrying about it, set a fixed worry time to focus just on that one thing. 10 minutes works wonders. Just make sure you time yourself.

∼ Focused attention: meditation, mindfulness, & visualisations can relax our nervous system & guide our attention away from our worries.

∼ Reach out: connect with people who you think may understand. Connection supports the nervous system to relax through the social engagement system.

~~ Take care of yourself: If the above strategies like too much, seek a therapist, friend or mental health professional to support your journey ~~


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Coaching & Creative Therapies