Posts Tagged With: apologizing

Guilt Part 3: What’s Shame Got To Do With It?

While similar in some respects, guilt and shame are on opposite sides of the spectrum from one another.  Guilt says, “I did something wrong”.  Shame responds to the state of being guilty (or the perceived state of being guilty***) with the belief, “I am bad”.  Guilt is centralized on a response to an action.  Let’s say I stole a pack of gum from a store.  Whether I get caught or not, I did something wrong.  If I experience guilt as a result of my action that’s a good thing!  I have a conscience that recognizes the laws of my community.  If I take that guilt and allow it to move toward shame, I will begin to believe I am a bad person for stealing.  The guilt has shifted from a judgment of my actions to a condemnation of my very being.

Guilt can bring healing and restoration.  If I recognize my infraction, own that I did it, then apologize and ask for forgiveness from those affected by my actions, the guilt need no longer weigh on my conscience.  I am free from it.  It may be on a police record or kept in the minds of those affected but I can move on, aware that I have the capacity to do something wrong and do all I can not to do it again.

Shame brings condemnation, misery and separation.  Shame tells me I am no good, never will be.  If I stole that gum and then went past guilt into shame, I will believe there is nothing good about me.  I am a thief.  I can never be trusted.  I can never make this right.  I will carry it like a weight until I die or learn to let go of the shame.  It will affect my relationships because in the back of my mind is this shaming belief that I am no good. I’ll believe people can’t see me as good, they just see that I am a thief.  It might negatively affect my choice of occupation or how well I perform at my job.  Sometimes our response to shame is try harder, be better than everyone else in an attempt to prove I’m not that bad.  That motive isn’t healthy.  It’s also like being on a hamster wheel because we never really know when we’ve done enough.  Usually people who employ the approach of attempting to overcome shame through performance implode at some point in their life.  We weren’t designed to operate that way for the long haul.

Sometimes we aren’t aware of our shame; we don’t realize we have it.  It’s there, though.  All people with a conscience likely have at least one shaming message going on in their minds.  What’s yours?

***This brings up another topic entirely, another kind of guilt and how it causes shame so I’ll save this explanation for Part 4: The Challenges of Perceived Guilt and Shame.

Categories: Emotional Healing, Forgiveness, Growth, Healing, Recovery, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Series on Guilt Part 1: What is Guilt?

For starters, guilt is not an emotion, it is a state of being.  For the average person it may seem that I am splitting hairs, but for the therapy world, it’s helpful to know the difference.  If you are sick, you don’t necessarily need to know that much about your body to describe it to your doctor; however, your doctor better know details about human anatomy and system functions in order to treat you.  Emotions generally fall into four categories: joy, anger, sadness and fear.  Notice guilt isn’t one of them, nor is shame, the paralyzing cousin of guilt.  The common denominator of emotions and most states of being is they are all centered in your brain.  Each is a result of thoughts.  The thoughts are generally a reaction to an outside stimulus, either in the moment or any amount of time later.

Guilt is a function of our brain when we have done something wrong or something we perceive is wrong.  This function helps shape us to move toward the common good rather than just benefitting ourselves.  Guilt is imperative for the health of a community.  A person with Antisocial Personality Disorder (Sociopath) sees himself as above the law in all respects. He does not feel guilt or remorse for his actions.  Without guilt, we have an ‘It’s all about me” attitude.  Every person has this attitude some of the time but those with Antisocial Personality Disorder have it in nearly all circumstances.  This can be taught or it can be a malfunction of the brain; some people with Antisocial Personality Disorder are a result of their environment, some are a result of DNA and some are a result of a combination of both.

Guilt is often misunderstood.  Some see it as bad, but it’s not.  No more than the emotions of anger, sadness or fear.  These functions of our brain help us live in community in a healthy way through being authentic and connecting with others.  When we eliminate any one of them, we damage ourselves and healthy interactions.  The movie, Inside Out portrayed this beautifully.

Your first action is to notice your guilt.  Ask yourself some questions about it.  What did I do that I am feeling guilty?  What is the standard by which I am measuring my actions?  Does this system make sense – is it in the best interest of both myself and the common good? What if someone else is telling you that you did something wrong, but you don’t see it that way?  Find out what that person’s reasoning is.  Is it for both the good of you and the common good or is it some arbitrary set of rules that don’t make any sense?

Next week I’ll continue this series with how to process your guilt in a healthy way that leads to restoration.

Categories: Depression, Emotional Healing, Forgiveness, Growth, Healing, Recovery, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking At Our Debris

I just read a post from a friend.  In her story, neglect from a parent was disguised and excused away by “service to God.”  It’s interesting how we can find ways to justify or excuse away our choices that ultimately result in pain for those  around us.  One of the greatest gifts of humanity is the ability to make amends.  We are able to look at our lives, to take stock of what we have done, and make mid or post-course corrections.   We can go back to those we have hurt, own our part in it, and apologize.  By doing so we free ourselves from the bondage of our missteps.  We also open up the possibility of experiencing a healthier relationship with those we have hurt, if they are open to working on that with us.  Debris is that which is left in our wake as we pass through our life.  The debris is a gift that we can openly examine and use to change the direction of our lives.

Categories: Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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