Shame vs guilt is tricky. Some say the differences are obvious – that one is good and the other is bad. Many institutions, cults, organizations, parental figures from your childhood, teachers, coaches, friends, family, romantic partners, and even some religions use these two powerful emotions to your disadvantage without you even knowing it.
Once they can ignite guilt and shame within you, they then get to justifiably ask for the keys to the car of your life – after getting you to voluntarily admit that you are not qualified to drive (which you are ashamed about having to acknowledge and which absolves them of the empathetic guilt that they are incapable of even feeling/acknowledging).
This is done in a short-cut attempt to sever the ties from the anchors of their own shame and guilt. It can also be done to affirm power. To them, the fact that you are now handing over your keys gives them immunity (even though it’s rooted in delusion).
That “immunity” cannot exist though, without emotional unavailability, narcissism, gaslighting, and in some cases, pathological lying and sociopathy.
There are so many things that I feel ashamed of myself for doing, for not doing, for feeling, for not letting go of, for saying, for not saying, for struggling with, etc. And the intertwined guilt that comes with each of these things made it hard for a really long time…
Until I was able to use these normal, human emotions of guilt, shame, and guilt vs shame to my dignified advantage.
Here’s what I know about shame vs guilt now that I’ve found my way out…
- Both made me feel alone and worthless enough to commit emotional suicide (while I barely stayed alive physically).
- Both kept me in the limbo of being too scared to end my own life but also, too scared to live it on terms other than everyone else’s.
- Both directly sabotaged my confidence, power, luck, relationships, and made pedestalling everyone and everything my default mode.
- Both enabled me to put up with/excuse extremely hurtful, bullsh*t behavior from toxic people. This did nothing but affirm my own righteousness in allowing the guilt vs shame to take over and thus, give away the keys to the car of my life since I was clearly, not qualified to drive.
- Both prevented me from taking action in my own life. And on the few occasions that I actually did take action, the shame would internally heckle me until I gave up.
Guilt and shame also proved to be the reasons why I was able to turn my physical, emotional, relational, professional, and financial life completely around. Fast.
I was able to take back the keys to my car that shame and guilt had convinced me I couldn’t drive.
Shame vs Guilt
I cannot talk about shame vs guilt without bringing up Brene Brown. If you haven’t heard of Brene, she is a bestselling author and a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has studied shame for the past two decades.
According to Brene, guilt is “I did something bad. I’m sorry, I made a mistake.” And shame is “I am bad. I am a mistake.”
For me personally, because my self-esteem was so low, whenever I did something that elicited very normal and healthy feelings of guilt, shame would then immediately infiltrate.
I soon started to feel guilty about everything.
This led to my disease to please. I had become a professional, overly-apologetic doormat.
Guilt was this unbearably painful wound. And because of that, shame then became the novocaine that I had to shoot up with.
I held myself to a standard of perfection and because of that, I lacked confidence. I could never be perfect; no one can be.
And because I didn’t love myself and no sense of identity to fall back on…
Whenever I did or didn’t do something that elicited guilt… my low-self esteem disabled it from becoming an experience to learn from/an opportunity to evolve and ENABLED shame to do nothing but reaffirm how worthless I really was. Writing that makes me tear up. It makes me feel terrible that I did that to myself after surviving a childhood that although was really wonderful… there were many times that was done to me.
It’s not that I look back now and think how lucky I am to have gotten “past” that kind of debilitating shame.
I’m not past it nor will I ever be. And that’s okay.
I still find myself walking into certain situations hearing a voice tell me:
“You’re not good enough. What makes you think you can do this? Don’t you remember, you aren’t good enough for some of your closest family members to even acknowledge your existence? You don’t have family besides your Mom. Who cares that you have a blog – you don’t have a degree in psychology. Who do you think you are? You aren’t enough and never will be. You should feel so embarrassed – you try too hard. You aren’t pretty enough. You still haven’t launched your podcast and developed more courses. What a failure. You never said goodbye to your God Mother and Grandpa before they died and they were nothing but incredible to you. They were all you had and you chose not to say goodbye. You’re ungrateful. You probably won’t get that book deal. You didn’t earn it. You’ve done some horrible things and really embarrassed yourself. You don’t deserve anything good.” – Sadly, that’s not even the half of it.
I have a question for you… Did reading those feelings in regard to my shame vs guilt make you feel less alone? Less ashamed of yourself? Less guilty? Less of a pariah?
That’s the thing with shame vs guilt. The sunlight and garlic to the vampires of shame and guilt are:
Non-Gratuitous Vulnerability & Owning Your Truth. It’s that simple.
I know that when someone opens up to me and has the courage to be vulnerable…
The connection and affirmation that neither one of us are alone (or judged) is too bright a light for the darkness of guilt or shame to survive.
I coach some of the top athletes, models, businessmen and women, celebrities, surgeons, lawyers, entertainers, politicians, etc., in the world and let me tell you something – There is not ONE of them who does not feel or deal with this kind of shame (and shame vs guilt). Not one. We ALL feel debilitating shame and guilt no matter who we are or what we do. Especially when it comes to our pain, heartbreak, and the insecurity we feel from being in toxic relationships.
I also find that the more functional our families and lives appear to be, the more shame we feel for the dysfunction that goes on behind closed doors.
You are so.much.more than your family’s dysfunction.
The only thing that separates the winners/evolvers from the doormats/devolvers is the ability to be vulnerable. Own your truth.
Shame needs secrecy, judgment, and prioritization of facade over authenticity in order to metastasize.
Guilt CAN become a catalyst for better. And shame CAN be the one killed (instead of your emotional body) and you CAN resurrect just as quickly as it shot you down.
The biggest mistake is to try to not feel guilt and shame. It’s what makes us human. It’s what can connect us, develop real intimacy, and facilitate healing like nothing else can.
This is why I say that this blog (which would be nothing without each and every one of you), saved my life.
We are all damaged and we all feel shame. Especially from things that happened in our childhood when we were at our most voiceless and defenseless.
Shame makes us feel like we have psychological body odor and because of that, we get addicted to getting those who have no sense of smell to affirm that we smell like a bouquet of roses.
People who make you feel ashamed in life, do so because of their own unrelenting shame. Don’t ever let anyone else’s shame throwing darken your atmosphere. Instead, allow all the shame that you feel to be the beacon of light for someone else’s darkness. A darkness that you know all too well or you would not still be reading these words.
This is what vulnerability is all about and why only the strongest, most beautiful, and most powerful are capable of it.
It’s what makes you real.
One of my favorite quotes of all time from one of my favorite books:
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
-Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
And in light of my birthday coming up next week, this is exactly how I want to age, if I am lucky enough to do so.
You are never alone.
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