Saying Goodbye to Guilt & Shame

» Posted by on Jun 8, 2015 in Alpha Blog | 0 comments

Saying Goodbye to Guilt & Shame

At some point in everyone’s life it is inevitable that we will feel guilt. There are conflicting studies about whether or not guilt is a healthy or unhealthy emotional experience to have. Some experiences offer a valuable life lesson and a learning tool that you can use in the future. It may give you a reference point and deepen your sense of empathy, compassion and remorse. However, this can also turn into shame, and make you feel so badly  that you turn that hurt inward and instead of discerning that you made a bad choice, you believe that you are a bad person.

Guilt

Some people believe that in small doses guilt can be a positive force. If we feel badly about something we have done–real or imagined–it can inspire us to act differently in the future. We can choose to change our behaviors. Guilt can be hurtful, but a lot of times it’s passing. People use guilt as a kind of moral compass and since this is the case, our society does use it as a means to resolve certain conflicts. What’s right and what’s wrong is based on a civilized standard, whether that is religious, spiritual or personal, guilt factors into all of it in some sense. Whether we feel guilty for something that we have done, or we have made others feel guilty as a way to communicate something that we need, there is always a way to cleanse guilt and learn from it without carrying the weight of it around all of the time. It may not be simple, but there are ways to ease you of that guilt, and to work it to your advantage

  • Acknowledge and accept the behavior – what’s done is done, you can’t go back.
  • Make amends – If your behavior or actions have hurt someone, or even yourself, own it and mean it. Do what you can to make amends for that, and don’t repeat those behaviors. You have a choice.
  • Let it go – Beating yourself up over and over is a colossal waste of your time and is only going to get you a ticket to shame.

You need to understand that nobody is perfect, and that includes you, and that’s okay. You’re going to make mistakes and so are others, if you can’t be courteous and forgiving and are having a really tough time letting go of guilt, it may just be time to speak to a therapist about it. Guilt feels awful, and it feels even worse when we feel like we deserve to feel guilty. If you’re always looking for reasons to feel bad about something, or someone in particular is projecting feelings onto you that have you feeling awful, it might go deeper than guilt. This is where you may have guilt confused with shame.

Shame

When we feel shame the first response that most of us have is to avoid or ignore whatever it is that causes us to feel that shame. If someone is overweight and they are made to feel ashamed of that, chances are they are more than likely going to pick up a fork before they pick up a gym membership. Shame does not give someone the opportunity to change. Shame is that feeling of worthlessness. It isn’t a response to an action, it’s so much deeper than that, it’s a feeling about oneself. Yes, guilt can spiral shame, but where guilt can lead to someone feeling badly enough about their actions that they will communicate them, shame can do the opposite. It can cause social withdrawal. It can lead to people feeling so poorly about themselves that they turn into people pleasers in a way to find validation from someone else, because they certainly don’t get it from themselves. The effects of shame are never healthy or constructive; in fact they are often times damaging and even catastrophic. From depression and rage to addiction and loneliness, shame can feel like you’re never going to pull out, but there is hope. There is always hope.

  • Find out where the shame lies – once you’ve established what the underlying reason for that shame is, you can work on undoing it.
  • Let yourself feel – Sometimes facing our feelings is one of the most difficult things we can do, not just because they’re uncomfortable, but also because we’re giving up control. As strange as it may sound, even though feeling as terrible as we do isn’t ideal, it’s what we know and it’s convenient.
  • Understanding that shame IS NOT motivation – If someone is using shame as a “tool” to get something from you, or keep you in an unhealthy situation, that needs serious evaluation immediately. Shame is an abusive technique that is used to maintain control and redirect the focus of the abuser’s actions and behaviours onto you. If you are finding that you are using shame in this manner, you need to evaluate that as well.
  • Talk to someone – Make an appointment with a therapist.

By Nicole Lyons

Image courtesy of Sujin Jetkasettakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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