Healing Toxic Shame

When you make a mistake and someone is disappointed in you, do you feel like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs? When dogs experience shame, their bodies automatically respond with this behavior. 

People don’t have tails to tuck, but many of us highly sensitive introverts feel shame and humiliation when we make mistakes.

When you were young, did your caregivers correct your behavior with an aggravated tone such as: “Shame on you. You should have known better! I taught you better than that!” That might have been followed by more criticism, hitting you, or icy silence. Either way, you felt the pang of not feeling securely attached. That’s what we call “toxic shame.” It damages your sense of personal identity.

Children should be corrected, but the caregivers should convey unconditional love and remain emotionally connected in a health way. Many of us did not experience that.

I had an ah ha! moment when I realized that shame isn’t so bad in itself, but when we feel rejected, that’s when shame really hurts. 

Humans were created with a basic need to feel securely attached. Most animals are like that. When we don’t experience safe attachment, we feel despair because we are cut off from our loved ones. When we’re isolated, we are at more risk for physical harm, dis-ease and emotional anguish.

The sense of estrangement hurts so much that when we’re young children, we develop coping strategies to try to avoid distress.

If you are a highly sensitive person, you felt the pain of attachment breaches much more than non-highly sensitives. If you were raised in a dysfunctional family where you didn’t feel secure emotional attachment much of the time, you probably carried unresolved wounds into adulthood. You may not even realize it.

That’s what happened with my client, Donna (a pseudonym used to protect her confidentiality). Even though Donna was a competent team leader, she suffered from low self-esteem and anxiety. Our job was to get to the root of this and heal it.


Donna (now in her 40’s) suffered her entire life with feeling scared of making mistakes. This led her to try to be perfect. She predicted the outcome of her choices so people wouldn’t be disappointed in her. Anxiety used up a lot of her energy and left her body tense and tight.

In the anecdote below, the painful memory of Donna’s mother’s repetitive shaming behavior was still impacting Donna. We both acknowledged that her mother had done the very best that she could at the time. Her mother had emotional problems of her own. 

We used Brainspotting and Internal Family dialogue in this session. I explain those processes in another article. Click here.

I love using these tools because they help the client access emotional wounds while staying in their window of tolerance. They don’t get overwhelmed. Also, clients often tap into spiritual wisdom that creates major breakthroughs. I could have imparted the same wisdom, but the client would not integrate it as deeply because it came from an outside source. 

If an untrained person were to watch a Brainspotting session that combines talking with different inner parts, they might not think that any major transformation took place. But I assure you, because the wisdom comes from deep within, it has long-term results. Sometimes in dramatic ways. Sometimes in subtle ways.

Here’s how the session with Donna began.  

Benita: Donna, what do you want to address in this session today? What’s your goal?

Donna: I want to develop self-acceptance, even if I make a mistake, especially when I feel I’m not meeting someone’s expectations. I tend to make them “right” and make myself “wrong.”

Donna’s baseline: The level of self-acceptance I feel right now is a 4 where 10 is high self-acceptance. My shoulders are tight and they are hunched over a bit. My solar plexus has a nervous fluttery feeling. I have picked two Brainspotting visual spots in my room to look at, one is my activation spot and one is my resource spot where I feel calm and grounded and I connect to my Wise Self. I’m listening to biolateral music engineered by David Grand called, “Forest Bathing.”

Donna: My Inner Critic and my people-pleasing Adapted Child (AC) are activated. I’m focusing on the activation spot first.

My Adapted Child (AC) doesn’t know how to sit with herself and let others be responsible for their issues. If they’re upset, she’s anxious, and she thinks she must have done something wrong. If she doesn’t take action to make another person feel better, she thinks she is being uncaring and not willing to help. She doesn’t want to be viewed that way by others. She wants to learn how to feel OK inside herself in situations where others are upset. 

Donna: I’m looking at the resource spot now and tuning into my Wise Self. I sense guidance about not taking responsibility for other people. 

Wise Self coaching the Adapted Child (AC): While it’s OK to want to help people, and it’s good to do so if they have asked for help, you don’t have to make “helping” your full-time job. Everyone is entitled to feel what they feel. Your old way of thinking is: “Only good feelings are good.” In truth, it is healthier for people to be honest about their emotions. That is information that can be helpful to manage interactions. 

When people get upset, you have a variety of emotions. You feel anxious, insecure, and afraid.

As a child, you couldn’t make sense of why your mom or anyone else was angry. Their anger was unpredictable. You accepted total responsibility for others’ feelings. You couldn’t tell the difference between when it was your fault and when it was not. Your mom blamed you for a lot of things. Even when you thought you were doing well, your mom or others got upset with you. That was confusing. 

The only time you felt OK and good enough was if others around you were happy, and then you could feel relief. You are learning that their behavior and your response to it were not healthy. It is not a sustainable way of being with others. 

I’ll help you learn a different way to cope. You can learn how to let other people experience the entire range of emotions, and you can determine when you need to protect yourself to stay safe.

It is OK to be around people when they feel their emotions. They need to feel what they feel. You can separate yourself from their emotions. At the same time, you can have your feelings independent of theirs. You’ve felt guilty when someone is upset, and you thought that you were not allowed to feel different than they felt. You thought you were not allowed to be a separate person.  

You can learn to observe, tune in and recognize what’s yours and not yours and still feel compassion for the other person. Don’t try to change what they are feeling. 

You can assess what’s happened when someone is upset with you. You might need to take action on that, but other times you can accept that they have a response and be OK with it. You don’t need to control so much.

Benita to Donna: What’s your level of self-acceptance now?

Donna: I’m a solid 5. I went up one point towards self-acceptance. My breathing is easier. My chest is more open. My shoulders are more open and relaxed. My solar plexus is still tense but there is no nervous energy. 

Debrief, Insights, and Summary

Donna: Part of me (my Adapted Child) didn’t want to allow others to experience their full range of emotions because I thought that upsetting situations were my fault. 

Sometimes, I don’t like what people say to me and I don’t have to. Others don’t have to like what I say or do. We can’t be expected to operate with only the positive side of the emotional spectrum. 

I need to discern when I need to do something to help a situation and when I don’t. Instead of seeing myself as less caring if I don’t jump in to help people, I need to allow others to feel how they feel. I am maturing to know when I have ownership of a problem and when I don’t. 

My inner wisdom arises outside of sessions with you these days. I have the visceral experience of the wisdom. I am integrating so much more deeply. 

Before I met you, I read many self-help books, but I never integrated the wisdom until my therapy with you. Brainspotting has been very helpful because I can feel myself changing at a deep level. I want people to have access to good mental health and to heal and grow as I have. That’s why I want to share this story with them. 

Contact Information

If you would like to help to transform limiting patterns in your life, please complete the questionnaire on the Contact Page.

Feel free to ask about how I facilitate life coaching, spiritual counseling, and retreats for Highly Sensitive Introverts.

Benita A. Esposito, MA is the author of the bestseller, The Gifted Highly Sensitive Introvert: Wisdom for Emotional Healing and Expressing Your Radiant Authentic Self available on Amazon.

As a highly sensitive person herself, Benita can easily understand you, your challenges and your beautiful gifts. Zoom videoconferences are available worldwide.

Click here to read Benita Esposito’s credentials and story.

Photo of Benita Esposito by Alysia Hargus/Alysia Hargus Photography


7 Tips to Transform Hurt Feelings

Have your feelings been hurt and you just couldn’t let it roll off your back? Faster than you can blink your eyes, your heart sinks. Tension shoots through your veins. You emotionally withdraw or get angry. None of that helps, and you know it, but that’s your automatic response.  Read more

Four Tips to Sensitively Say ‘No’ to Children. Part 1 of 2

I’d like to share a special experience that occurred in our weekly Highly Sensitive Person Resilience Group.  This particular story is about hurtful ways that our group members were  parented, and their desire to be better parents to their children.

People who were once strangers have bonded in this group so they feel safe to share their vulnerable feelings. We heal emotional wounds so that we can express our Authentic Selves, just the way God intended. Our hearts open as the Holy Spirit enfolds us with unconditional love. Experiencing this tender feeling of love with the group is what I cherish so much.

After brief check-ins, one person volunteers to be coached while the others learn vicariously.

In one of our sessions, a woman wanted to heal her family of origin wound that arose when her father repeatedly dismissed her feelings and her requests.

She felt rejected as a little girl, and she still feels that way as an adult.

No one else felt like she felt, or wanted the things she wanted when she was a child. Her strong-willed father made most of the decisions and her mother complied like a quiet church mouse. My client submitted to her father’s will, too, never really feeling loved by him. She didn’t have a sense of belonging in her family. This is typical of 50% of highly sensitive people. We grow up with insecure attachment styles.

Lack of secure attachment hurts whether we are a child or an adult.

We used Brainspotting and Internal Family Systems to help my client heal. Amazingly, within half an hour, she no longer felt rejected. She realized that she could include herself in family discussions instead of remaining non-assertive like her mother. She reflected, “It doesn’t make me inferior if my whole family makes a choice that I don’t like. I was out-casting myself.”

At the end of the coaching that night, another group member asked, “How can a parent say ‘no’ to a child’s request while helping the child feel cherished?”

A couple of mothers answered this question. You’ll read the first response below. I’ll share the second mom’s answer in the next blog post.

The following essay was written by a highly sensitive introvert who wishes to remain anonymous.

Like most highly sensitive people, I try to be the best parent I can be. I’m going to share my philosophy and four tips for saying “no” while helping my children feel securely attached.

My girls are ten and six years old. When it comes to declining their requests, I want them to completely embrace who they are and who they will become. This is what I do.

  1. My ten-year-old is a highly sensitive introvert so extra time and patience go a long way with her.
  2. I allow my kids to share their opinions with me. We communicate in a way that they can share respectfully, and I do the same in return. They don’t have to be angry and talk back to be heard.
  3. I explain everything to them in a way that shows them that when I say no, I am serving them. There is no “don’t do this because I said so.” Children learn every second of every day. They have so much they have to learn on their own in this world, so I try to explain things to them so they understand. I try not to make them guess whenever possible.
  4. I help my children calm their bodies and emotions. For example, when my oldest daughter is over-stimulated, she has learned to take some alone time to compose herself so she will feel better. It’s not a punishment. She has matured in her ability to listen to her body when it’s telling her to take a pause and breathe. It’s a great tool for her.

My six-year-old didn’t understand this at first. She wanted to know why ‘sissy’ wouldn’t play with her right that second. She wanted me to make her older sister play with her right then. I explained it on her grade level by giving her a situation and an emotion she could relate to. I made sure she knew her sister didn’t need a break from her, but that she needed down-time to re-center herself. Then I made suggestions for fun things to do while playing alone.

After a few times of this scenario, my younger daughter saw that her sister felt better after having time alone, and then she was ready to play again. My youngest started to pay attention to when she felt out of sorts, and now she occasionally asks for time to color or draw on her own.

I have learned to apply the same self-soothing process when my Inner Child feels harassed by my Inner Critic. My Wise Self calmly suggests that I take a few deep breaths, relax and ground myself. Operating in the zone of resilience helps me be a better parent, and as a bonus, it often eliminates emotional and physical pain.

I am so grateful that I learned these tools. I hope they help will you, too.

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Contact Benita Esposito if you would like help to heal emotional wounds so you can express your Authentic Self. Ask for a complimentary 10-minute get-acquainted session. Choose from individual spiritual counseling and life coaching, or you might like to participate in a Highly Sensitive Person Resilience Group.

*** ***Benita-Espisito_DukesCreekFalls

Author: Benita A. Esposito, MA, “Chief Trail Guide,” for Highly Sensitive Introverts on the Hero’s Journey to the Authentic Self. Life Coach and Spiritual Counselor.

Bestselling author of The Gifted Highly Sensitive Introvert: Wisdom for Emotional Healing and Expressing Your Radiant Authentic Self – available on Amazon.

Webinar: Assertiveness Training for Highly Sensitive People

Have you ever asked yourself these questions?

• Why is it so difficult to stand up for my self?
• Why do I let people treat me so poorly?
• Is it selfish to ask for what I want when others don’t like it?
• How do I assert myself without hurting people’s feelings? Read more

Webinar: How Highly Sensitive People Can Find Peace in an Angry Storm

How do you feel when your family grumbles at you because your sensitive feelings have surfaced once again?

How does your body react when a friend rants at you? You know the feeling. You can’t understand what they are saying because your nervous system is overwhelmed. It’s hard to think clearly. It’s like a valve shuts off in your brain.

What do you do when a family member blasts you because you confronted him for kicking the dog?

Welcome to the highly sensitive person’s Achilles heel: criticism and anger.

Highly sensitive people often feel intimidated in the face of anger. We try to be understanding. But when people dump on us, we feel flooded. Our nervous systems freeze up or we explode.

Neither is a position of empowerment. Nor is it the highest expression of love for others or self-love. But when we feel threatened, our natural human reaction is to go into fight or flight or freeze or faint.

Highly Sensitive People have a conscience, and we feel bad when we don’t behave in healthy ways. Our pain motivates us to learn better ways. That’s a good thing … we want to learn from our mistakes.

In this webinar, we’ll explore how to:

• stop cowering or exploding
• remain centered when someone is angry with us
• identify what we’re feeling and manage our intense reactions
• help our loved ones understand us
• ask for other’s support to help us
• stop feeling rejected when people dump their frustration on us
• energetically protect ourselves
• assert ourselves, e.g., respect others and respect ourselves equally
• build our self-esteem
• identify and strengthen our HSP gifts.

WHO’S INVITED: Highly Sensitive People (HSP) and their loved ones who want to understand them better.

WHEN: Wednesday, May 8, 2019. 6:30-8pm Eastern

FORMAT: lecturettes, life coaching and spiritual counseling based on participants’ questions.


Benita A. Esposito, MABenita-A.-Esposito,-MA,-Licensed-Professional-Counselor.  Life coach, an ordained minister with AIWP and a spiritual counselor.

Want a preview of how I can help you? Watch my book video and then buy my book if you think it will help you. It’s a memoir with teaching stories. The Gifted Highly Sensitive Introvert: Wisdom for Emotional Healing and Expressing Your Radiant Authentic Self. Click here.

Webinar: Empaths and Highly Sensitive People

How to Set Boundaries to Prevent Overwhelm

We hold a monthly webinar for Highly Sensitive People (HSP’s) on the second Wednesday of the month.

This group is a safe gathering place for HSP’s to receive support from other HSP’s and to experience expert guidance from a Highly Sensitive Therapist, Life Coach and Spiritual Counselor. You’ll gain tools so you can be happier and healthier. And you’ll be inspired by other high-achieving HSP’s personal and professional successes.

This webinar discusses the following items:

• What is an empath?

• How do you set energetic boundaries so you’re not so affected by other’s emotions?

• How can you use your gifts to help people in productive ways and maintain a solid sense of well-being?

• How do you know if you are feeling your own emotions or taking on someone else’s?

• How can you stop assuming too much responsibility for others’ lives?

• What are grounding tools to return to optimal functioning when you get overwhelmed?

• Why is a daily self-care routine essential for highly sensitive people?

RECORDING: You may purchase a recording of the webinar for $39.00. Complete the Contact Page and ask me to email the recording link for this webinar. Specify the webinar title.

Make your $39 payment on PayPal.com to Payments@EspositoInstitute.com.

To learn more about the services I provide for Highly Sensitive People:

1. Preview my bestselling book. Watch my book video at www.SensitiveIntrovert.com.

2. Purchase the eBook or paperback. The audiobook will be released soon on Amazon:

The Gifted Highly Sensitive Introvert: Wisdom for Emotional Healing and Expressing Your Radiant Authentic Self

3. Visit my website: SensitiveIntrovert.com and take the quiz to see if you are a highly sensitive introvert.

Contact me for a complimentary 10-minute phone chat to see if we are a good fit to work together.

About the Facilitator

Benita Esposito, MA, LPC. 
I’m a life coach, ordained minister and a Christian spiritual counselor. I see Highly Sensitive People (HSP) adults (individuals and couples) via Zoom videoconference worldwide. I also lead weekend retreats for highly sensitive people in the North Georgia mountains and at the beach.


Highly Sensitive Introverts’ Strengths and Struggles

This is chapter 3 from the book by Benita A. Esposito, MA:

The Gifted Highly Sensitive Introvert:

Wisdom for Emotional Healing and

Expressing Your Radiant Authentic Self Read more

Book Introduction. The Gifted Highly Sensitive Introvert

Wisdom for Emotional Healing and
Expressing Your Radiant Authentic Self


“The hardest battle you are ever going to have to fight is the battle to be just you.”
–Leo F. Buscaglia

This book will appeal to all highly sensitive people, but if you are a smart sensitive introvert who has struggled with anxiety, depression, trauma or relationships, you’ll especially relate to my memoir and teaching stories about the Hero’s Journey to the Authentic Self. Read more