I watched Brené Brown’s TED Talk, Listening to Shame, a couple of days ago.
It dealt with many aspects of shame. One thing she talked about is the difference between guilt and shame. I paraphrase her here: Guilt is I did bad. Shame is I am bad.
Is it any wonder that children raised to value themselves as the gift to the world that they are, can stay away from shame. They learn just because they did bad doesn’t make them bad.
On the other hand, children raised to not value themselves, the jump from doing bad to being bad is so much easier to bridge. For them, it has been ingrained in their mind that they are bad, That doing something bad almost automatically triggers being bad. It’s what they know.
For those of us who fall in the second group, we are faced with an ongoing challenge; guilt or shame. Falling into the I am awful, horrible, bad, whatever negative is so easy to do. It is what I learned growing up. When I do I am snared in the trap of shame.
Just like any trap, the longer the time spend in the trap, the more damage that is done. The trick is to find a fast escape from the trap. How can that be done?
Just as I have learned to have a hair trigger reaction from doing to being bad, I can also teach myself to go the other way. When I fall in the trap of being bad, I challenge the thought. I ask myself why that is true? What happened to make me bad? I know I am a creature of God and worthy of being good. This feeling bad must be a ruse. I ask myself why I am feeling that way?
Most often it can be traced back to recent events. It is not hard to find where I haven’t lived up to my or some one else’s expectations. When I have done wrong, bad or maybe something worse. It is usually as plain as the nose on my face. That pathway has got turned around. It has gone from me doing wrong to me being wrong, worthless, good for nothing, a loser.
I am left with the choice, guilt or shame. Do I stew in this horrible feeling or do I challenge it? If I stew in it, I choose shame. If I challenge it, challenge those feelings that have been a part of me since my youth. those beliefs that just because I made a mistake makes me a mistake, I choose guilt and i am better off for that choice. I am closer to being that creature worthy of love that God wants me to be.
Believe me, that choice is not easy, Forty some years of learning is difficult to challenge. But, challenge it I must if I am to be one of God’s creatures, one worthy of love, not creature absent of love that has been too much a part of my life for to long.
PS. As a finish this, a realize that Catholic guilt, and any religious guilt for that matter, isn’t really is guilt, but shame. It is most often a manipulation to make use feel bad. So don’t get the two confused.