We often hear the words “guilt” and “shame” used synonymously. But when we look at the underlying meanings, there are some important differences to notice. Guilt is defined as a feeling that often follows when we have done something against our moral conviction, usually in the form of “I did something bad.” It often serves a functional purpose by directing our motives back toward our values. Shame, however, can have a very different effect. Shame is defined as a message that we often internalize as “I AM bad” or “I AM a failure.” Shame and vulnerability researcher, Brené Brown, describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” (Brené Brown, Penguin Life, 2015)
Sometimes we experience shame in forms of condemnation from others by feeling embarrassment and humiliation. Shame stuns the efforts of vulnerability and leads people into a world of isolation that they are desperate to escape. Shame keeps us from entering into meaningful relationships and from sharing our creativity with others. Sometimes we even disconnect our thoughts, feelings and actions from those we love. We become torn in a world of self-preservation that we never intended to enter all because of the messages that shame has commanded in its dictatorship over our lives.
- Expose the Shame
The more we are able to identify the sources of our shame, the more we are able to bring awareness to it and weaken its power. This can often include sharing our experiences with others like counselors, trusted friends or family members. Shining empathy onto our shame can often change our perspective. Supporting individuals can help us identify strategies in dealing with it. Exposing the shame may be difficult or painful, but taking this step is ultimately taking back the power that we have given shame to define us.
- Sort out the Shame from your Identity
It can be relieving to remember that what we do is not who we are. Whether we have messed up in the past or feeling guilty about something in the present, we don’t have to be stuck there. As we are able to identify our values and the direction that we want to go in life, we can choose not to put the power of our happiness in the hands of others. Doing this allows room for freedom to take risks without risking our self-worth.
- Identify Triggers
Shame is deceptive and targets our vulnerable spots. A husband may worry that he doesn’t measure up as a provider or a teenage girl may worry whether she will ever be as pretty or popular. Our insecurities will often send us down a path of shame and self-hate. If we choose to engage in a lifestyle where we can avoid these triggers and choose to engage with more uplifting influences, we can begin to walk away from the life where we are told who we SHOULD be.
I encourage you to combat whatever shame is holding you back -leave it behind. It’s time to let people in and enjoy your newfound freedom to make meaningful connections with others.