Guilt Part 5: Freedom from Shame

Shame has no useful purpose. It only condemns us. It does nothing to create connection. As a result of feeling shame we hide the parts we think are unacceptable. When we hide, we are alone. Maybe you have connections with people, but they don’t know about that part of you; the part that’s responsible for your shame. This means only part of you shows up in your relationships, not all of you. It’s probably better than no connection but that’s not real connection. How do you bring that hidden part of yourself out of shame and into acceptance?
It’s not an easy journey. It’s simple on paper, but the actual execution is challenging. The antidote to shame is acceptance. Shame says, in essence, you are a bad person (or not enough or too much…). Acceptance says you are enough, just right and good. You likely don’t always do everything in your life perfectly. You screw-up at times. You aren’t very nice every moment of every day. Welcome to humanity! None of us have it all together all the time and do everything as it should be done in every circumstance. We try. That’s all we can do. Sometimes we hit the mark, and sometimes we miss it. The most important action we can take is to accept who we are and how we function.
This doesn’t mean I don’t look at my choices and critique them. If I hurt someone else or screw something up, it’s important that I look at what happened and learn from it. How could I have treated that person better or improved the execution of a project. I only look at the event with an eye focused on learning from it not beating myself up. If I start saying things to myself like, “You are such a stupid person!” I will only add to the shame I already feel. Don’t go there. As soon as you catch yourself saying shaming statements, stop. Say something like, “I made a mistake.” or “I hurt someone.” Then follow with, “What can I learn from this? How can I change my actions so I don’t hurt someone or screw something up in the same way?” Let those who were affected by your actions know you own what you did and are sorry. That action also helps foster connection because you aren’t hiding the shamed part. You are taking away the shame and bringing the offending action into the light where healing can take place.
Sometimes we have deeply hidden shamed parts. The best antidote is to confide in a safe and trusted person. Keeping the shame buried deep inside will never help. Like I stated before, when shame is brought into relationship, healing can begin. Until you let light shine in those dark places, you will not experience freedom.
Life is all about learning, not shaming. When we accept the parts of us that don’t have it all together all the time, we walk in freedom.

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.

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.