fall on the way to kendall catwalk

the choice is yours: guilt or shame

this is a rework of an earlier post I wrote, written in a better time, but holds true more than ever.


i watched brené brown’s ted talk, listening to shame, a while ago.

it dealt with many aspects of shame. one thing she talked about is the difference between guilt and shame. to paraphrase: 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 a creature absent of love that has been too much a part of my life for to long.

i add the following:

somehow living in depression makes that jump from shame to guilt seem like a deep and wide chasm, one that is impossible to make across. it is as if the switch of guilt or shame is solidly and completely frozen in the shame position. there isn’t even a pang of guilt. a strong arc jumps the gap and seemingly permanently welds the switch to shame. every thing that goes wrong ends up with an, “i am bad feeling”.

perhaps that is why depressive people like me sometimes struggle with suicide; they feel no guilt, only shame. any and everything that goes wrong, they equate it with how bad of a person they are. after awhile that becomes both wearing and something one can start to believe.

that being wrong, worthless, good for nothing, a loser, awful, horrible, bad, pounds in our heads like a big bass drum; pound pound pound pound pound pound pound pound pound. one wants to be free of it. in that broken state of mind, taking ones life seems like the only way to be free of that endless beat.

as i reflect back on what i wrote about a year ago, i notice so much of my depressive struggles is tied to expectations, unfortunately unmet expectations. i am not the man i hope to be not in the place i wanted to be. because of the ingrained shame of most of my life the fact that i am not where i want to be, that i am not measuring up, turns into shame. this shame is powerful and seems to have a shame mind meld on me.

i also have a pang of  hope. i once had control over the guilt/shame switch, that same switch that seems broken now. perhaps, i can once again somehow break that bond that keeps me attached to shame and feel the ‘freedom’ of guilt again.

ps. as a finish this, a realize that catholic guilt, and any religious guilt for that matter, isn’t really  guilt, but shame. it is most often a manipulation to make use feel bad. so, don’t get the two confused.

2 thoughts on “the choice is yours: guilt or shame

  1. Pingback: a reflection on shame | bipolarsojourner

  2. Pingback: The Shame Project – An Introduction | The Cranky Giraffe

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