• Sarah Yoo

Stuck in Self-Criticism? It Could Be From Your Childhood

One night, I went to a party with some friends.

While we didn’t make any immediate connections, we decided to stick around.

Until one of our friends wanted to leave.

Later she shared that she "just wasn’t feeling it”.

She met new people, but was feeling uncomfortable.

With a little probing, she continued,

"I feel like people don't want to talk to me. Maybe I'm too awkward or not interesting enough. I can tell YOU guys are having a great time, but I’m not sure if this is for me."

Ah, and now her Toxic Shame disguised as self-criticism makes its appearance.

It was from this point that I began noticing her struggles around big social settings. Her discomfort would quietly surface that would soon follow with an early departure again.

Why did she take this so personally?

Why did she get stuck assuming that she was the problem?

We can’t excuse it as another case of social incompatibility or a lack of self-esteem.

Isn’t it interesting how two people go through the same exact experience yet interpret things vastly differently? Why do one set of people glide over problems while others take a dark U-turn into self-beating toxicity?

A major source of this self-criticism stems from our childhood, as Toxic Shame becomes a part of our fundamental belief system.

Let me explain.

How Does Toxic Shame Become a Part of Our Belief System?

Toxic shame is created during our developmental years from our primary relationships. For most of us, that’s our parents followed by our siblings.

If our primary caregivers have toxic shame (which most of us do), we as their children, subconsciously carry it through a process called internalisation.

This is when shame is no longer experienced as a temporary feeling which passes (healthy shame).

It’s when the negative perception becomes DEEPLY INGRAINED in our subconscious belief system (toxic shame).

We begin to perceive, understand and interact with ourselves and the world with this false belief. i.e. “everything negative is happening because of ME.”

As our internal dialogue continues to reinforce it, it becomes more difficult to extinguish it.

Wait, what? Exactly How Do We End Up Carrying the Toxic Shame of Our Parents/Caregivers?

For the record, parents are not perfect, nor do all parents do this. Unaware, many primary caregivers pass down their toxic shame as they try their best to meet our needs.

Since birth, we are helpless and fragile beings in need of 100% dependence:

Development Dependency: where the child relies on another human to meet their basic and biological needs.

Mirroring: where the child follow someone as a guide as to how we understand ourselves and learn how the world works.

1. Developmental Dependency:

Most times when caregivers can’t meet the emotional needs of a child, it’s usually because they just don’t know how.

This is when many children begin to experience toxic shame.

6-year-old Maria comes home crying because a bully said something mean to her. She doesn’t understand why they would be so mean.

Her mom, who was not emotionally supported as a child, panics when she sees her crying daughter. She doesn’t know what to do so she gives her a snack and leaves.

Maria’s hurt was never acknowledged.

She was ignored when she felt vulnerable.

She wasn’t given the love, protection and safety that she needed.

Because she can’t understand her mother’s behaviour, she comes to this conclusion: “There must be something wrong with me. That’s why mom left when I was crying."

This is when she begins to CARRY her mom’s toxic shame.

2. Mirroring

To children, parents are the model in how to manoeuvre through life in a healthy manner.

Through modelling, parents with healthy shame can show their children how to:

  • Embrace both of our feminine & masculine traits

  • Communicate openly

  • Fight fairly

  • Ask for your needs to be met

  • Recognise and deal with emotions

  • Cope with life’s challenges

  • Show & Receive love

  • Create emotional, spiritual and mental boundaries

  • Love oneself and

  • Express your love to your loved ones.

However, because parents with toxic shame weren’t shown how to function healthfully when they were children, they can’t exemplify or mirror these behaviours for their own children.

When a child is not mirrored in a healthy manner, they experience toxic shame.

Although Jamie is artistic, he hardly had good grades in school. He comes home one day with a bad school report, feeling like a failure.

His father, who grew up under constant criticism of his perfectionist father, is reminded of his own shame around his inadequacies. He is triggered and says,

“You know, C’s won’t get you anywhere” and turns around, clearly disappointed.

Jamie needed his father to show him how to deal with this difficulty but instead was criticised and rejected. He has now learned to use criticism and rejection to deal with life’s challenges.

Jamie is now carrying his father’s toxic shame around his inadequacies.

The Birth of an Adult Child

Children carrying toxic shame eventually grow up to be an ‘Adult Child’.

One who physically looks like an adult but on the inside, they are emotionally stunted as a child who longs for their needs to be met.

6-year-old girl Maria who came home crying from school is today an adult.

An adult that, experiences distance or awkwardness from other people, as a fault of herself as a person.

For her, she did something wrong that led the bully to be mean to her and her own mother to awkwardly leave when she needed her.

And, also why people leave conversations with her at a party.

She was simply experiencing the deep toxic shame that she as a little girl absorbed.

The Good News

It is highly likely that most of us experienced transference of toxic shame growing up.

The good news is there is solution.

We can shift our core belief system from toxic to healthy.

We can heal our wounds.

To do this, we must dance with our own dark shadow.

We can’t avoid the core problem by thinking happy thoughts.

To do this, we must first come out of hiding.

If our shadow is hidden, there is nothing we can do about it.

From here, we must see ourselves mirrored, legitimise our abandonment, embrace our lost inner child, reconnect with our lost parts and create a healthy belief system.

This process is called Externalisation and is the beginning of a TRUE healing journey.


In the next series of articles, we will cover other common disguises of Toxic Shame - Perfectionism, Creation of Social Mask, Judgements, People-Pleasing/Caregiving Behaviour and many more.

We will then cover HOW we can go through the externalisation process and begin our healing journey.

If you are eager to start your healing journey now, I invite you to get in touch with me for a free consultation call (hello@sarahyoo.com). Together, we can begin to embrace your shadow - you don’t have to do this alone.

But for now, I’d love to hear from you.

  • What was your biggest takeaway?

  • Do you suffer from self-criticism? If so, when did it start for you?

With love,