John Bradshaw, the award winning author of “Healing the Shame that Binds You ” says that “shame is the all pervasive sense that [you] are flawed and defective as a human being.”
Guilt, on the other hand, means you have committed a wrongdoing and feel bad about it. Shame is more personal, intrinsic. It is more about who you are, not about what you did. Both are human emotions that cause you to put a negative label on yourself, when it’s not who you really are.
What parent hasn’t said, “I could’ve been a better parent?” What child hasn’t said, “I could have done more for my aging parent?”
You are human and you will make mistakes. There is nothing wrong with feeling guilty for behaving badly, especially when you realize you could have done things differently. It becomes unhealthy, when your expectations of yourself are too high and you distort your responsibilities. You cannot be everything and do everything for everyone. Therefore, put less pressure on yourself, because you don’t want to have it “weigh you down” and become a real psychological issue.
My client recently told me that her work kept her from being more attentive towards her elderly mother, who is now in an assisted living facility. The guilt is difficult to bear and she is unable to forgive herself for being so “selfish.”
The way you reduce feelings of guilt and shame is by avoiding labeling yourself as “good or bad.” It’s not important if you think of yourself as a good mother or father, child or sibling. Rather, it’s more important to understand the faulty behavior, heed the message of your conscience and never repeat the behavior again. Constantly blaming yourself for past indiscretions only wounds you further and prevents you from making up for the behavior later.
If you are struggling with guilt and even shame, you are not alone. Feelings of personal inadequacy, as you transition through midlife, are common among boomers. Just remember that past decisions were made based on the knowledge you had at that time. Passing judgment on them now only contributes to your feelings of shame and that does a great disservice to your self-esteem.
Know that every decision of your life (the unacceptable ones as well as the acceptable ones) has brought you to this moment — and to this level of insight and growth. Learning the lessons will truly set you free!
Amy Sherman is a blogger with JenningsWire Online Magazine. You can read more posts by Amy here.
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