Dealing with guilt and shame
27 June 2016, 09:17
Guilt and shame are uncomfortable feelings that cause unnecessary suffering to many people. The two are similar but not the same. But while it is possible to feel guilt without shame, we cannot feel shame without guilt.
The way to distinguish them is this: Guilt is the feeling that follows a perceived wrongdoing - “I did wrong.” Shame is the feeling that we, ourselves, are made “wrong” or “bad” for what we perceive we did. It relates to the energy of every emotion from apathy through pride. Shame, on the other hand, is a grief related feeling.
The Bible story of the origin of mankind also illustrates in graphic details the origin and effects of guilt and shame. Adam and Eve before the fall were naked and not ashamed; they felt neither shame nor guilt for who they were. This changed immediately they sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit. They hid themselves from God and placed leaves on their bodies to cover themselves.
This episode repeats itself among many people after they do something wrong especially when it reaches the authorities or is in the public domain; we go through these negative feelings and emotions that compromise our productivity and well-being.
These are practical ways to deal with guilt and shame:
1. Don’t punish yourself. The natural reaction when you do something wrong and get caught is to feel bad about it and feel like “kicking yourself”. This idiom must have been coined by someone who felt shame. Accept that you are human who is frail and prone to err. Freedom from guilt/shame means we are free to make better, healthier, more supportive choices. Personal shame will also not prevent external punishment. Forgive yourself so as to deal effectively with the external consequences of your misconduct.
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2. Look for the lemonade in the lemon. Don’t join the voices that are condemning you and feel inferior and useless; be to yourself like the faithful wife who stands by her husband. Hillary Clinton showed the world that you can sail through an embarrassing moment. She is close to being the first female President now. People are remembered for the problems they solved not the ones they ran away from. Every crisis is an opportunity to shine, every dark night is an occasion for the stars to shine brighter.
3. Take responsibility for your mistakes only. Another area in which guilt plays a significant role is being unable to move beyond early abuse. When our parents, guardians, teachers, or spiritual leaders abuse us when we are young, it is difficult for us to accept that these people could do something so wrong. Survivors of childhood abuse often blame themselves for what has happened, many have been feeling guilty and punishing themselves their whole lives for the mistakes of the adults who betrayed their trust.
Once they release their guilt feelings and stop blaming and punishing themselves for their abusers’ mistakes, they are able to free themselves of the emotional, mental, and visceral patterns of trauma and shame in which they’ve been locked. If you are blaming yourself for someone else’s transgressions, remember it is not your fault even though it feels that way. If your partner left you, it is them who were irresponsible and unfaithful not you. If you were raped or bullied in school, it is the bully who lacked character not you. Let go of wanting to blame yourself for the other people’s mistakes.
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