Let’s talk about guilt, or is it shame?
Brene Brown, renowned courage, vulnerability and shame researcher and author of The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly and most recently Rising Strong says “I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.”
She goes on to say “I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” She says “I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive.”
A couple of years ago I took a Leadership Training Program and worked with a coach one on one outside of the group activities our team did. The program was designed to stretch us and cause breakdowns that would ultimately become breakthroughs for us. Very challenging! One day, after a time when I was beating myself up over something I hadn’t done as well as I could, or thought I should, my coach said to me “My goodness Lillie, take the needle out of your arm!” It took me back, and caused the planned for breakthrough (thank you Patti.) I began to realize the pattern I had. If I can’t live up to someone’s expectations (or my own), then the least I could do is feel terrible about it and myself! Surely that is worth something. I’d become addicted to that little coping mechanism and it dropped my energy down significantly.
I agree with Brene that feeling guilt for not doing something or failing at something that goes against our values can be productive in moving us forward in the direction we want to go in our lives. But, I believe that holding ourselves up to a standard of perfection that causes us to always fall short and feel unworthy can be something that we become addicted to. It feels like a trap! We try really hard and when we fall short, as we often will, based on our standard of perfection, we beat ourselves up. We become the victim. We are at the effect of our lives and circumstances.
We fail. We fall down and hopefully get back up, that is life! The key is to learn from it and move forward, not to begin the self-flagellation.
How about you? Does any of this sound familiar? How do you work through it and move yourself forward from a place of self-acceptance and love?