I made a mistake this week. It happens, right? The error I made is not the issue here; the problem was in the feeling that accompanied the mistake. It was not guilt trying to move me away from the blunder, No this was SHAME! It was an all out assault. This feeling of shame washed over me wanting to drown me in negative feelings that threatened to take away any feelings of success, happiness, and my knowledge of who I am. Let’s first go over the difference between shame and guilt. Guilt is when I did an action and that action hurt me or someone else. The purpose of guilt is to understand the impact of our actions on others. Then there is shame, Shame is an inward- facing emotion that only purpose is to collapse any positive thought you have about yourself. This shame wanted me to cross-examine the things I have learned and hold dear about myself. So thoughts of guilt will be something along the lines of “I did something wrong or bad”. If the feeling is shame, the thought will be something like “I am bad or worthless”. The purpose of shame is to imprison you in feelings of regret and take away self confidence. This shame was about destroying any positive feelings I had about me.
You may be more concerned more with the behavior or the action that caused these feelings than about the feeling themselves. Many people concentrate on the action as this is a great way to dig in and bury themselves in the pain of shame. This provides the reasons and the proof that they are worthless which is the thought they are looking to enforce. The thing about shame is that it gives you an excuse to not change. I mean changing is hard right it takes work. But if the story you tell yourself is I’m bad then there is no need to try to change. I mean you can’t change who you are right? Isn’t that part of the thought process that you go through when you are feeling shame?
People that feel shame they can sometimes want to hurt or cut on themselves. If I am bad and I feel shame I should punish myself, that is the process some people go through. Shame can lead to self punishment and destructive behaviors. They can cause abuse of drugs, alcohol, sex or other high risk behaviors. Many of them feel why not, I feel worthless due to the shame, so I do not deserve anything more. This gives them the proof that they need and makes it easy to mistreat themselves. If you are bad there is nothing you can not punish yourself with. With shame there is no need to take responsibility for an action because it is not something you did, it is something you are and you can not be held responsible for who you are.
The first thing to do is make it about an action, not about you or your worth. Now that it is about the action, realize, Oh that action hurts, I could do something different. Once you realize that you can take responsibility for the action. Feelings of guilt are a sign that you are going through a healthy recovery process. Now that you have taken responsibility for the action, apologize for and correct the mistakes. This will move you down the road towards repairing your life.
Next start to create a different vision of who you are. Replace the thoughts of “I am not enough” and “I am a failure.” Create a vision of the real you, the one who “is enough” and “is worthy”, I am amazing or awesome.” You are perfect and remarkable. Because I can say it about you till I’m blue in the face but you will not hear it till you allow yourself to believe it.
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