Guilt and Shame

There is masses of stuff online about harnessing the “positive” emotions and increasing how often you feel good. That’s fab – that is the overall aim, but it’s not enough on its own.

(I’m not a strong believer that emotions are positive or negative, we’ve just labeled them that way. All emotions are useful and necessary at times – it’s what you do with them that counts.)

It’s a bit like that story from Sunday School about the bloke that built his house upon the sand. One little storm in your life and it will all blow away. The “good” never quite feels secure or stable.  You need to dig through and release some of the hard stuff first, in order to build a solid foundation for the good to sit on.

Of course, it’s going to take some strength and bravery to allow yourself to feel and deal with the heavier stuff you’ve been holding on to. It will require you to stop pretending, stop covering up and stop distracting yourself, and none of that is easy. If you think, at any point in your process of doing that, that it’s too much, then please reach out to someone for support. (It doesn’t have to be me, but I’m here if you need me!)

So, while everyone else is talking about positivity, i’m going to jump straight in at the deep end with this one – with guilt and shame. 

Guilt and shame are sometime synonymous, the words are used interchangeably, but they’re not really quite the same.

I think the difference is that you feel guilt for something you have done. Whereas shame is something you feel about something you are. And sometimes you’ll feel both at the same time, about the same thing.

Guilt is heavy enough. You did something you now wish you hadn’t. Or of course, you didn’t do something you now wish you had. In addiction circles, the advice would be to make amends where possible. And I’ve certainly found that it’s a helpful process to non-addicts too. You can’t undo the deed, but maybe you can make it right in some way now.

There is also likely to be some feelings of guilt regarding things you felt you SHOULD have done – maybe there are no amends to be made for this, except to yourself. Question is, who said that you SHOULD do that – you have the right to disagree.

Shame is more insidious, I think. Shame is linked to who we see ourselves as. Normally we feel shame when we feel like a certain action/thought makes us a “bad” person. It’s part of the story we tell ourselves.

The process here is to question the story.  Where did that belief come from? Who are you measuring yourself against? Who told you those were the standards to live by? And is any of it true?

The difficulty is that the story is so ingrained, we’ve heard it in our minds so often, that we don’t even know it’s a story anymore. It’s a ticking clock that sits in the corner and you don’t even hear anymore, until someone brings your attention back to it.

There needs to be space in our lives for us to make mistakes, big and small, and not feel like it’s a poor reflection on our characters.

If you’re struggling with feelings of guilt or shame, i’m here if you need me.

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