Toxic Shame and You Can Too

Paul Thomas Swann
3 min readMar 12
Photo by Bob Coyne on Unsplash

It’s around noon on a Sunday.

I’m 14 years old, sitting in my dad's Chevrolet work truck, which (and I don’t mean to brag too much here) is equipped with some fancy modern technology that I’m currently using.

An 8-track tape player.

Don’t be jealous.

The speakers are vibrating with the comedic genius of a couple of dope-smoking hippies.

I’m laughing and having an awesome educational enlightening time when quite unexpectedly, a short and very angry woman appears at the passenger door.

She stands (as best she can at 5 feet 2 inches) at the truck and proceeds to pound on the window. I pause the tape player and slowly roll down the window.

“A fine Christian you are listening to this crap.”

I am blindsided and speechless.

I’m just listening to a pair of entertainers do what they do and do not understand the need for a second sermon of the day.

Apparently, Cheech and Chong are not a welcome source of entertainment at the Swann household.

Who knew?

I was not a particularly rebellious teenager, but I loved listening to them.

In our house and religious upbringing, shame was the motivational tool de jour.

If it was fun, felt good, or contained sugar, a massive amount of shame was soon to follow for appropriate condemnation.

While I simply took the scolding, turned off the radio, and slouched back into the house, I wish I could just have talked to my mom instead of reacting negatively.

Maybe I would have asked her why. ‘Why do you use shame so often?’

I mean, I think I know why.

She learned it.

We tend to pass on things to our kids that our parents taught us.

Parent tapes.

If we become parents, we will invariably play back the things we learned from our parents. And if that included making your son feel like the lowliest person on earth through toxic shame, we’ll then, so be it.

She was definitely taught it from her church and large family, which have a long…