By: Brian M Murray, MS
“Shame is a soul eating emotion.” ― C.G. Jung
Guilt and shame are a dynamic duo often found in the lives of many people. It can be experienced on many levels and often comes with a price of our overall mental well being. There is a distinct difference between the two and often people become confused about what they are experiencing. Guilt is something that is experienced in the present. Often a person does something that may cause a feeling or regret over doing it, feels guilty and then decides on how to proceed by either attempting to right a wrong, or coming to the conclusion that their behavior is justified and drop the guilt and move on. Shame is guilt for doing, or not doing, something and then harboring that guilt over time. What happens when a person carries shame is there is something tugging at them inside to correct a situation. This internal pull begins to infiltrate every part of the person and over time it begins to cause other problems.
Shame is often a learned behavior that is introduced to us in childhood. If a person learns they are bad for doing something then they begin to develop the idea that they are a bad person. What is often meant to be conveyed from parents is what you did was not a good thing. The child does not interpret it this way because they interpret the event as a child, not the grown adult. The child learns “I am a bad person because I did a bad thing.” In the future the child carrying the shame of believing they are a bad person and apply it to future situations. For example; a person gets angry at someone and agues over a perceived injustice. They walk away and thinking about what they just did, and the subconscious event of learned shame working in the background of what I just did is bad, they return and apologize over what may be a legitimate argument.
The way to destroy shame is to return to where it was learned. Return to the scene of the crime and ask questions that confront the behavior such as “where did I learn this and what is the reality of what I am experiencing?” Not all shame is learned in childhood and our parents, other culprits such as religious institutions, schools and growing up in certain cultures can lead to learning that if a person does anything outside of those culture’s rules then a person should be ashamed of themselves for being their authentic self. How dare you, right? Can you feel the shame in it? Walk away, feeling compelled to return to confront or apologize is often shame at work. There is something inside that is being critical saying that if you do not respond then it is wrong and if it is wrong that makes you bad.
Destroying shame also involves some self care. Love thyself and live in the moment developing a new belief of being worthy of self love. Forgive yourself for the shame, you were just a child, or you were living under a set of rules that no longer apply. Write letters to yourself (or others) put it in a box and drop off the baggage of shame at lost and found and let it go. Stop carrying around the shame for something you did or did not do, or something you feel compelled to react on or apologize for. How can you begin doing this today?
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