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Overcoming toxic shame: a guide to maintaining a positive self-image

Permanently free from toxic shame: pathways to sustaining a positive self-image


Toxic shame has a profound effect on self-image. After successfully overcoming it, self-compassion and a focus on personal strengths and successes are important.

Treat yourself kindly and warmly for self-compassion, respect yourself and encourage yourself. Gestures such as placing a hand gently on your heart, soothing music or a cup of tea can also express self-compassion. Talk to yourself as you would to a friend or likeable colleague, and limit feelings of shame to a realistic level.

Another essential approach to maintaining a positive self-image is paying attention to your strengths and characteristics. Own qualities and successes rightly give rise to a feeling of pride, which counteracts shame. Justified pride strengthens resilience. Even if constant comparison with others is harmful, looking at your strengths at least allows you to realize that you are not the worst person in the world.

1 Positive thoughts as the key to strengthening your self-image

Transforming beliefs: from negative to positive

Basic beliefs are situation-independent and general assumptions, “mental working models” that originate from early childhood experiences and represent the view of oneself, others, and the environment. These basic assumptions are deeply rooted images in the subconscious that influence behaviour, thoughts, and feelings. At a preconscious level, they trigger automatic thoughts in certain situations, reinforcing the self-images. To identify and replace negative basic beliefs with positive ones, we start with the associated automatic thoughts, e.g. “I am bad, and it is my own fault what happened to me”. Firstly, these negative automatic thoughts are identified and critically scrutinized. Realistic counterarguments are then developed to modify the negative beliefs and build up an appropriate self-image (e.g. “I am a person with positive and negative sides and am worth just as much as others”)

To achieve this, those affected must learn to ask questions about themselves and find answers, recognize the discrepancy between an idealized self-image and reality and use it as a resource. Instead of losing themselves in self-deprecating thoughts, those affected must repeatedly “work on” their automatic thoughts and patterns through self-reflection and reality checks. In this way, changed inner convictions are gradually consolidated. Regular diary entries and even role-playing games serve to support this process.

2 The pillars of self-identity post-shame: authenticity and confidence

Harnessing emotional intelligence: emotions as your guide

Emotion regulation and acceptance of the authentic self are crucial for a positive self-image. They increase emotional well-being. By dealing with feelings appropriately, they lose their overwhelming terror. You are not helplessly at their mercy and can bring them into relationships without fearing they will damage the relationship with others. They also point the way to basic needs. Those who experience themselves as effective in dealing with their feelings and needs can allow closeness and enjoy it. Trust in yourself and others is an influential protective shield against emotional dysregulation and toxic shame and guilt. Knowing and accepting oneself will enable a benevolent inner attitude towards oneself characterized by self-compassion and self-acceptance. That, in turn, supports the maintenance of a positive self-image and healthy self-esteem.

Foundational values and norms: building your inner compass

Your values and norms play a decisive role in your identity and strengthen your self-confidence in dealing with other people and your social skills. Orientation towards these inner values and standards replaces the inner critic. It helps to perceive and accept oneself favourably despite all one’s faults. That is critical to develop a positive identity and build self-confidence.

In addition, new external values that are orientated towards social norms enable a healthier adaptation to social expectations and thus promote the experience of self-efficacy. Dealing with one’s own needs and values clarifies inner orientation on the one hand and facilitates the acceptance of differences in the social community on the other.

Acceptance of the authentic self is essential in developing a benevolent inner attitude towards oneself characterized by self-compassion and self-acceptance. By recognizing one’s own emotional experience and needs, a new inner distance is practised to promote positive self-care. That can help to build a positive self-image and support one’s emotional well-being. It also makes it possible to find access to the underlying needs, make resources accessible and implement self-care in favour of needs and emotions.

The power of now: embracing mindfulness for inner peace

Developing inner mindfulness strengthens the ability to distance oneself from activated emotional or cognitive processes and recognize them as creative achievements of the brain rather than taking them for unshakeable evidence of actual conditions. It strengthens intuitive knowledge about oneself and the world.

Meditation in everyday life contributes to inner peace and balance. It focuses on the here and now, reduces stress and supports self-reflection. They strengthen stress management and emotional regulation. The development of a better understanding and greater acceptance of oneself are also consequences of regular meditation.

The art of self-care: fostering self-compassion and acceptance

In addition to cognitive restructuring, positive self-centredness serves to develop self-confidence and self-acceptance. That is achieved through mindful awareness and evaluation of one’s own emotional experience and needs

It is also essential to identify enjoyable activities that increase well-being and to recognize one’s own (fundamental) value without pressure to perform. A benevolent inner attitude towards oneself, characterized by self-compassion and self-acceptance, forms the basis for a healthy self-image.

This positive self-centredness, including self-acceptance and self-confidence, enables a mindful approach to oneself and an appreciative perception of one’s body, senses, feelings, and needs.

Self-care strategies based on self-compassion and self-acceptance can promote one’s well-being and support the basic need for pleasure, fun, joy, and enjoyment by promoting a benevolent inner attitude towards oneself. Accepting the authentic self and developing self-compassion and self-acceptance enables positive self-turning, which supports emotional well-being in approaching emotions. This emotional inner readiness and attitude are crucial to practising self-care appropriately and achieving positive feedback that affects one’s well-being.

Integrating self-care and healthy behaviour into everyday life is crucial to strengthen self-esteem and promote personal well-being. If you can allow yourself to see yourself as valuable and promote your well-being in everyday life, this, in turn, boosts your self-esteem and self-acceptance, which in turn contributes to a positive self-image.

3 Practical exercises for everyday life without toxic shame

Reshape your thoughts: The path to a positive self-view

The process of self-reflection and reality testing to scrutinize and change automated thoughts and schemas initially involves working out the underlying cognitive assumptions in detail with the patient. Through cognitive restructuring, all arguments that support the basic assumptions are collected to develop realistic counterarguments through critical questioning.

Regular written reflections and the “empty chair” also help to consolidate the changed inner convictions so that automated schemas can be slowly modified and an appropriate self-image can emerge.

The cognitive restructuring of negative basic assumptions involves several steps.

Firstly, automated thoughts are identified, such as: “I’m not allowed to speak my mind, I’m not allowed to defend myself, I’m not allowed to refuse sexually”, or: “I’m not doing anything right”.

Then, the underlying basic cognitive beliefs are worked out, such as: “I am not lovable” or: “I am bad, and it is my fault for what has happened to me”.

In the cognitive restructuring of negative basic beliefs, all arguments that support the negative basic assumptions are first collected. Critical questioning is then used to develop realistic counterarguments that question and correct these negative basic assumptions. That can be achieved through diary entries, role-playing games such as the “empty chair”, and concrete experiences to change inner beliefs and develop an appropriate self-image slowly.

Journaling, therefore, plays a vital role in correcting negative basic assumptions and developing an appropriate self-image. After the basic cognitive assumptions have been worked out with the patient, written homework is given to consolidate the changed inner beliefs.

One option is to write down and critically scrutinize automated thoughts and beliefs regularly. By compiling arguments that support the basic assumptions and developing realistic counterarguments, patients can learn to break through their negative thought patterns.

Another approach is creating reminder cards focusing on alternative, healthier behaviours. For example, you can create a card that summarizes your typical reactions in certain situations and contains instructions for different, healthier behaviours. These cards make you aware of behavioural patterns and reinforce alternative options for action.

In addition, written self-observations can help to substantiate the information gathered in everyday life. Check all assumptions and reactions. It will help you discover patterns, coping reactions and their developmental history.

This process supports your appropriate self-image and changes automated negative schemas.

Mastering self-control: self-instruction according to Donald Meichenbaum

As Donald Meichenbaum conceived, this self-control exercise is a cognitive-behavioural approach that aims to improve self-regulation and coping with stress and challenges. This method is particularly suitable for sufferers who want to learn to manage their thoughts, emotions, and actions more effectively.

  1. Problem identification:

Start by identifying a specific challenge or situation you want to overcome better. Describe the problem precisely, including the associated thoughts and feelings.

  1. Development of positive self-instructions:

Develop a set of positive, motivating self-instructions that you can say to yourself in challenging moments. These self-instructions should be positively worded and focus on what you can do, not what you want to avoid. Examples could be: “I can do this”, “One step at a time”, or “I am focussing on the solution, not the problem”.

  1. Practising the self-instructions:

Start practising the self-instructions you have developed in less challenging situations to gain confidence in their effectiveness. Repeat the self-instructions quietly to yourself when you start to feel stress or anxiety.

  1. Application in challenging situations:

Once you feel comfortable with the self-instructions, apply them to the specific challenging situations you have identified. Use the self-instructions to guide yourself through the problem, regulate your emotions and apply effective coping strategies.

  1. Reflection and adaptation:

After you have applied the self-instructions in a challenging situation, take time to reflect on the process. Ask yourself what worked well, what could be improved, and whether certain self-instructions must be adapted to be more effective.

  1. Continuous practice:

The effectiveness of self-instructions increases with regular practice. Make it a habit to use positive self-instructions in different areas of your life to strengthen your self-control.

Self-instruction is a powerful tool for better managing your thoughts and reactions in difficult situations. By consciously applying positive self-instructions, adults can learn to deal more effectively with stress, regulate their emotions and ultimately achieve their goals.

Inner friends: the benevolent inner companion in everyday life

Everyday positive self-care can be practised, for example, through a “benevolent inner companion” who takes the place of the inner critic and is compassionate and tolerant. He helps to deal with the emotional experience and train social skills by providing a cheerful inner voice of dialogue that offers support, comfort and self-compassion to those affected. He reacts compassionately and tolerantly to his emotions. It also improves social skills, as a more positive inner dialogue can strengthen self-confidence and communication skills.

There are various exercises and techniques to use the inner dialogue voice of the benevolent inner companion to strengthen self-confidence in social interaction. The encourage facing emotional experiences and practise social skills.

One example of an exercise is the REST technique. This involves mindful awareness of the body, senses, feelings, and needs. Through the steps of pausing, evaluating the situation, experimenting with alternatives and finding a viable solution, appreciative self-centredness is practised. The aim is to create a pause between the feeling of being overwhelmed and the reaction to it, to replace self-damaging patterns with conscious and healthy behaviour.

  1. Relax:

Interrupt automatic reactions through deep breathing or other relaxation techniques to create distance.

  1. Evaluate:

Analyse the situation objectively to understand what is going on inside you and how you are responding.

  1. Situational intent:

Formulate a positive intention to act based on your values and needs.

  1. Take action:

Act consciously according to your intention instead of reacting impulsively.

Practice makes perfect, even when applying the REST strategy. Think back to a problematic situation that recently overwhelmed you emotionally. Remind yourself exactly how you could have silenced your inner critic to cope better with the situation. Replace it with a benevolent inner companion. For example, by calming yourself down or communicating better during an argument. Answer the following questions to your benevolent inner counsellor:

What happened in this awkward situation?

How did you feel?

What did you do?

Did you engage in self-harming behaviour? If so, which ones?

Now apply the REST strategy. Imagine what a benevolent inner companion might have advised.

How would you have been able to relax in this situation so that you can convene with your companion (relax R)?

If he had made an assessment (E), what would he have advised you to do?

If he had suggested an intention (S), what would it have been?

If he had devised a course of action in this situation, and you would have followed through with it (Take action T), what do you think would have happened?

What would have been the overall benefits of following the strategy of your benevolent inner guide?

Practising presence of mind: Mindfulness practice for everyday life

Specific mindfulness exercises can help to practise appreciative self-care. Mindfulness exercises, for example, aim to develop an appreciative awareness of the body, senses, feelings, and needs.

Mindfulness meditation is a unique technique that can be particularly effective for emotional regulation and increasing self-awareness. The basic principle is to concentrate all attention on a single focus to detach oneself from constant thoughts. After regular practice, patients can develop a new balance between feeling and mind, strengthen intuitive self-awareness and relativize emotional schemas.

Visions of the future: The future self as a source of inspiration

The imagining exercise: “Your future self” uses the power of visualization to connect with goals and promote intrinsic motivation. Discover how visualizing your future self supports the development of a positive self-image and improved self-direction.

Daily self-love: self-care as a routine

In everyday life, however, this also includes health-promoting behaviour as self-care that serves the basic need for pleasure, fun, joy, and enjoyment. You can also:

  • Be mindful of yourself and your body,
  • Accept your limits and plan time out,
  • Practise tolerance, allow yourself exceptions,
  • Treat other people with empathy and
  • Grant yourself wishes.

Keep at it: overcoming toxic shame permanently

Overcoming toxic shame is an ongoing process that allows you to live agreeing with yourself and your experiences. It is the key to a fulfilling and authentic life. In a world characterized by comparison and competition, it can be challenging to accept yourself as you are — with all your strengths and weaknesses. But this is precisely the core of a healthy self-image and emotional well-being.

The importance of self-acceptance

Self-acceptance means accepting yourself without reservation or judgment. It is about recognizing humanness and understanding that mistakes and shortcomings are a natural part of human existence. Through self-acceptance, we free ourselves from the burden of perfectionism and open up the space for personal growth and genuine satisfaction.

The path to self-acceptance

Self-acceptance begins with recognizing our thoughts, emotions, and experiences. It requires that we permit ourselves to feel our feelings without judging or suppressing them. Through mindful self-observation and conscious awareness of our inner world, we can begin to treat ourselves with compassion and understanding.

Reflection and reality check:

Critically scrutinize your automatic thoughts and beliefs. Replace self-judgement with more realistic and benevolent perspectives.

Appreciation of the authentic self:

Allow yourself to recognize and celebrate your unique qualities, skills, and achievements. Remind yourself that your value does not depend on external achievements or the approval of others.

Positive self-instructions:

Use encouraging and self-soothing phrases to deal with emotional challenges and strengthen your resilience.

Mindfulness and meditation:

Integrate mindfulness exercises and meditation into your everyday life to establish a deeper connection with yourself and cultivate an inner dialogue characterized by kindness and acceptance.


Integrate self-care practices into your everyday life that promote physical, emotional and mental well-being.


Encourage yourself to honour yourself every step of the way, and recognize that growth and self-discovery are hard work. Stay committed to self-acceptance; it is the foundation for a fulfilling and authentic life without toxic shame. Exploring and accepting yourself in all facets means learning to accept yourself without judgment and living a life full of meaning and genuine joy.


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