16 Feb Guilt and Shame
As a therapist, I work a lot with people who feel bad about themselves. When we start to dig into why they feel bad about themselves, they start listing things they’ve done that they regret. It’s at that point that I’ll frequently have a discussion about guilt versus shame.
Guilt is feeling bad about something you’ve done. Shame is feeling bad about who you are as a person. Guilt is looking at a regrettable thing you’ve done and wishing you’d not done that thing. Shame is looking at a regrettable thing you’ve done and deciding you must be a bad person because you did it.
Guilt can be useful. Guilt means you recognize your mistake. A person who never experiences guilty feelings is probably a sociopath. You want to experience just enough guilt to learn from your mistakes. That’s where guilt can be useful, learning from your mistakes.
Shame, however, is never useful. Shame brings you down and keeps you there. Shame is what creates spirals. I see this so often with addiction. A person does things while they’re in active addiction that conflicts with their moral code, and naturally, feels bad about it. They don’t have the knowledge or the skills or the strength or the support at that moment to deal with that feeling so they drink or use more, which leads to more regrettable behavior, and the spiral continues. The same thing happens with harmful behaviors and harmful patterns other than just substance abuse. The point is, shame is not helpful.
Accept the guilt as long as you make it productive and learn from your mistakes. Ditch the shame.
If you’d like help ditching the shame, let us know. We’d be glad to help. evolutionmhs.com. Evolve. Be Who You Want to Be.