Life threatening situations as well as repeated shame experiences can traumatise us.We lose our formerly healthy shame boundaries and develop toxic, chronic or traumatic shame. The discoveries of trauma research are extremely valuable when it comes to dealing with toxic shame.
A trauma is a strong emotional or mental shock that we develop in reaction to a traumatic event.
We can develop trauma through existentially threatenin and overwhelming experiences like natural desasters, violence, abuse or accidents. But also less “dramatic” experiences can traumatise us, like a disease, divorce, personal vilification, mobbing or a difficult birth.
The event that can create the trauma is linked to an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, horror and mortal fear. It surmounts our ability to adequatly deal with the situation. If the event repeats itself, it deepens the traumatisation. That way, even less “severe” experiences can build up into a bigger trauma.
Whether someone gets traumatised by a situation strongly depends on their inner perception and resilience. Therefore there are risk as well as protective factors.
Peter Levine, an american trauma expert, assumes that trauma gets created through blocked energy in the body. This can happen if the body does not shake after the event – like wild animal do – but remains in the typical shock freeze or fight/flight.
For the organism, an existentially threatening situation means massive stress. It reacts to this through mobilisation of enourmous powers. Those energies can either be used to flee or to fight. When this is not possible or does not promise success, the organism freezes. This is then the third archaic behaviour: a pretense to be dead.
Toxic shame invokes in someone a repeated or continuous feeling of mortal threat. Accordingly, he will react with the correlating instinctual survival strategies. This can have widespride consequences for the quality of their life and relationships.