I want to start off this post by saying that yes, unequivocally, guilt and shame are two different things. In many situations, guilt and shame go hand in hand. It can feel that there is no distinction. Today I’m going to help you understand the difference between the two and how it impacts your day to day life.
Guilt and shame can paralyze us, or it can incite us to take action and change. Knowing the difference will add perspective to situations and help you navigate your own emotional path.
What is Guilt?
Google defines guilt as a feeling of having done wrong or failed in an obligation. While the language implies negativity, guilt is actually a good thing. It’s helpful and effective and catalyst of self-awareness and a driving factor in personal advancement.
Feeling guilt is a cue for you to look at the things you have done. To look at what you have, or have not, done and hold them up to your values and beliefs. When you feel a sense of physiological discomfort or unease, guilt is telling you its time to make a change.
Pretend for a moment you are late getting a project in to a client, you had promised it on morning X and it’s already 12 pm day Y. At this point you are feeling guilty, good! Guilt is social glue, poking and prodding from inside your mind to make up for wrongs. Wrongs that may otherwise ostracize you from society.
I’ll admit, guilt has been a powerful catalyst for my own growth. There was a time when, shortly after leaving the city, I was unable to find work. Guilt soon began piling up until it was all-consuming. My awesome wife would slave over the computer all day to make us money while I fooled around and submitted sub par work. Sadly, my commitment was just not there. It was the guilt of my lazy attitude and the guilt I felt from under contributing that morphed into an unstoppable drive.
Guilt is the gateway to a better tomorrow; It can drive you to be more responsible and aware.
What is Shame?
Shame at its very core is destructive, there is nothing helpful about it and you don’t need it in your life. It’s a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
We look to Dictionary.com for the clearest definition. Shame is the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another. The catch? It isn’t always JUSTIFIED. We can be trained to feel shame for things we should not.
Shame can lead to very negative thinking, it saps your drive and can make you feel worthless. A lot of the time I feel shame rise up when I’m faced with learning new things. For instance, I would sit down and say “I can’t write a blog worth reading.” Hell, for me, I pretty well avoided learning anything new because I wanted to avoid the “guilt” of failure.
Here’s the kicker – it’s not guilt I was experiencing; But that tricky demon we call shame. I had done nothing wrong and had to face the facts that 1) I grew up thinking I was stupid which I have always felt shame over being dumb and 2) I let others make me feel shame when I was not as good at something as they were. A collection of little events that, over time and with repetition, nourished a shame seed to grow into a big old shame tree.
The thing about shame is that it can be an excuse to hide and never push forward. Please understand that yes you have feelings and it is very healthy to explore them. The problem comes when management of your emotions effects your ability to survive and grow as person.
Overcoming Shame and Understanding Guilt.
Having come off a fresh victory over my shame, this is the perfect time to share some tips on how I conquered my shame demon. (I mean, I did write a blog post after all, didn’t I?)
Step One – Understand
First things first, I had to understand what events where causing my guilt and what if the guilt was justified. This feeling stemmed from my sub-par performance and being unable to care for my family. The guilt of my laziness and the guilt over all the effort my wife was putting in while I sat and feared growth. Unfortunately, it was justified.
What wasn’t justified was the reason I was refusing to improve. I felt shame, that I wasn’t good enough, so I just didn’t try. Once I sorted the two, I was able to better address the root and make the shift.
If you carry the weight of your shame around with you, you can’t grow from guilt. Once you know why you are feeling shame you have to let it go! Then use your guilt to push success.
Step Two – Find Your Why
Your “Why” is your everything. It’s your reason to live, to breathe, to get up and go. Your raison d’etre! This is massive people - you have to figure out your why in life.
If you are looking for the Kryponite to the Shame Demon then find your Why. Once you have a why, the walls surrounding shame come tumbling down. I found my Why one night after facing facts, if I did not step it up I would likely lose my wife, home, pets and everything I had. My Why became a burning fire; A need to never lose the people and things I loved.
I had to let go of the shame of feeling stupid, and learn from my guilt. Mind you, my wife came at that shame tree with an axe and women’s fury until it was mulched.
Step Three – Can’t Keep Can’ting!
Understanding that my guilt was coming from being unhappy with my performance, it was time for change. I stopped using the words “I can’t”. There are no can’ts only won’ts. You can do anything you set your mind to the only question now is will you do it?
My answer as I near the end of my first blog is YES I CAN and YOU CAN DO IT TOO!
Find out what is making you feel guilty and change it. Search and destroy unwarranted feelings of shame. You might make mistakes along the way and that’s ok. Making mistakes is fun - embrace them and learn from them!
Remember shame is a feeling that wants to hold you back, but you have your whole life to live don’t listen to it.