“Shame on you!” is a different message to “You are guilty of taking the cookie out of the cookie jar!” Indeed, shame and guilt are different beasts.
Feeling guilty is a result of making an error, often an error in good judgment. Guilt has sadness underlying it, a sense of true regret for a chosen behavior that created harm or trouble. You may be moved to make amends. Feeling shame is a result of believing you are damaged goods; that you were born flawed.
The researcher on shame, Brene Brown, explains:
Guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.”
Shame lives deep inside and requires awareness, healing, and self-compassion. That is hard when we live in a culture that shames us.
Here is an example: If someone of prominence cries publicly, it is common to hear, “Oh, look at him! He broke down!” No! he didn’t. He had a good cry. Crying is the body’s natural and healthy way of releasing tension and pain. If you start to feel ashamed when you cry, that is an indicator that years earlier your self-worth was demeaned. Shame attacks our self-worth.
Another example is when some offers you feedback with the intention of helping you, and you react with a sense unworthiness.
Begin to notice when you feel like a piece of sh$#@%. You know what I mean. Right?
If you struggle with shame, please take it a therapist, a healer, faith leader or someone you trust. You deserve to realize the lovable truth of you!
Deal with Guilt
Guilt needlessly plagues many people. For example, many parents, mothers, in particular, feel guilty when they take time for themselves. They probably believe something like, “I should put everybody else first.”
Many believe they should make their children happy. Their neighbors tell them, “You make your children so happy” or at the other end of unhelpful messages, “You broke her heart.” The reality is that we have an influence on one another but we do not have the power to MAKE anyone feel anything. You MAKE you!
Unhealthy, illogical shoulds create dis-ease and stress for ourselves and our families. Observe and censor your own menu of shoulds. Being driven in life through unhealthy, and usually meaningless, shoulds can create resentment and meaninglessness.
There are some healthy shoulds that are actual values, morals or virtues in action. We should look after the earth, avoid racism and care for our young, elderly, disabled and disadvantaged.
True feelings of guilt are aligned with regretting a behavior. I recall backing into a woman’s car. Did I apologize or what? The next day I delivered one of my homemade pies to her place of work.
Use Four Steps to Guilt Relief
Here is an exercise to transform your feelings of guilt into self-care. It will also help you decide whether to move forward with an apology and/or make amends . . . or not!
Step One: Complete these two sentences as many times as you can.
- I feel guilty about . . .
- I feel guilty when . . .
Step Two: Take each issue in the above sentences and complete the following sentences.
a) What I resent (about other people’s behavior, words, lack of support or pressure) is . . .
b) What I regret (doing or not doing: saying or not saying) is . . .
Step Three: Take your a) list of resentments and tell yourself. “I do not have control over other people. I will let go.”
Step Four: Take your b) list of regrets and complete the following sentence:
- In order to take better care of myself from now on, I will . . .
Remember as Harvard psychologist, Christopher Germer said,
A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.”