Lani: Shameless

Original photo by Freemax on deviantART

So, continuing the discussion on shame… now there’s a fun time, huh?

We have this joke in our family. I’m not sure when it started; pretty sure it was Sarah. We jokingly told her off for something, and she hung her head to hide her grin and said, “You’re right. I did bad and I should feel bad.” This became an oft-repeated in-joke and it is kind of funny. But it shines a light on the problem with guilt and shame—the difference between you did bad and you are bad—and it’s something I’ve been trying to unravel for years, with some minimal success, but not enough. So hang with me while I unpick it, and let me know what you think.

Guilt is feeling bad over something we’ve done; shame is feeling bad over what we are. Guilt you can do something with; it’s based on action, so you can take action to wipe it away. You can apologize, you can do better next time, you can learn, you can grow, and the guilt goes away.

Shame is sticky, it attaches to your legs, giving extra weight and effort to every step, and the best you can do is beat it back so that it’s just on your ankles, maybe, but eventually it climbs back up, covering you until it’s way over your head. You can’t do anything with shame, because it’s not on you, it’s in you. It’s who you are.

I can see the argument for the value of guilt; we need to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes. But a lot of people think shame has a positive role in society, too, and of that, I’m not so convinced. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” we say. “I can’t believe you did that. Do you have no shame?” But recent research shows that shame is all bathwater, no baby. It doesn’t work as a motivator. It inhibits and paralyzes people. Shame might motivate people to change some things in the short run, but since the shame doesn’t wear away through action (the shame remains no matter what you do) eventually the shame consumes any energy the shamed person might have to make changes. If the shame is supposed to motivate you to change, because then the shame would go away, but the shame doesn’t go away, what’s the point of making the changes? It’s a de-motivator in the long run.

Fat shame. Gay shame. Female shame. (Yes, just being a female in this society means you will be shamed simply for having ownership of a vagina, no matter what. You’re either a slut or a prude; pick one.) Some of us can let that shame roll off our backs; we were raised by people who taught us better.

Some of us… not so much.

All these years, I thought it was guilt I was feeling, but the fact was, I was feeling shame. Whenever there was a situation in which anyone could possibly see me as being wrong (which, based on perspective, was pretty much every situation) I would feel this inner torment which I defined as guilt, but I don’t think it was. Guilt is about doing something you wish you hadn’t, and then taking action to rectify it. Shame is what you feel when you fear that it’s not what you did, it’s what you are. That there’s no escape; you actually are a terrible human being. And all it takes is one moment in which you have done something which someone could possibly perceive as the wrong thing.

That’s everything. If I buy sugar cereal for my kids, I could be seen as the best mom in the world (by the kids.) But someone at the check-out line could see me and not realize I never buy them sugar cereal, this is a one-time thing. That person might tsk and judge, and since they can judge me, they confirm my fear that I’m a bad mother, triggering huge shame.

The only way to avoid shame is being perfect on every level. As such, when I’m in shame (as Brené Brown puts it), I am vulnerable in those areas where it’s impossible to be perfect. I’m overweight, so my weight is a huge source of shame for me. I am obviously lazy, stupid, selfish, unhealthy. My mothering is a huge shame trigger for me, because sometimes it’s just impossible to be the mother I want to be. During the divorce, I had a few years of solid crazy and I did my absolute best for the kids, but every now and again we joke about how Sweetness ate nothing but bagel bites and pizza for two years, and it triggers my shame. Money is another trigger; a good person can support herself and her family. So when I was in financial ruin after leaving my husband, that was horrible. Every day, the same tape ran in my head.

It’s true. I’m awful. There’s no escape.

I’m just a bad person.

The other night, I was talking about this with Alastair, and I posed the question: Why is it so important to be a good person? Because that’s really what it comes down to with shame. The shame itself is supposed to work as some kind of emotional antibiotic; it kills the fear that we’re bad people, because if we really were bad people, we wouldn’t feel so bad. Therefore, the shame reminds us that we’re not awful people. It serves a purpose, and that’s why we hold onto it. Without it, we might not be good people, and that would mean…

… what, exactly? That’s where I’m sticking right now. I do care about being a good person, but I’m not sure I’m going about it right. I set impossible standards for myself, standards to which I would hold no other human being on this planet; I fail to meet those standards because they’re impossible; and then I torture myself about it. All just so that I know I’m not a terrible human being.

So… what if I stop placing so much importance on being a good person? What happens then? Do I become a monster? Will I be a worse mother? Will I make less money? Will I get fatter? Since I eat to comfort against the shame, that’s a pretty pertinent question.

That’s where I am. That’s where I’ve stopped. I should report; the shame has been much better in the last few years. Gradually, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t feel shame every minute of the day. Unfortunately, a side effect of the respite from shame is that when one of my triggers hits, it hits hard. I spin almost immediately. When you’re neck-deep in shame all the time, you get used to it. Now, if just a toe dips in, I freak out.

What’s your experience with shame? Have you kicked it? What do you think about shame vs. guilt? Are either helpful emotions? Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually felt guilt. I’m pretty sure all I’ve ever felt was shame.

28 thoughts on “Lani: Shameless

  1. The thing is that shame is about what you think other people are thinking about you. You cannot control other people’s thoughts and feelings, nor should you try.

    Other people’s judgements, feelings, wishes – they are NOT YOUR DEPARTMENT. It takes a lot of thinking to get out from under other people’s expectations, but really? They do not matter one whit. Not one single tiny sliver of whit. It is a revolutionary stance to take, especially for a woman.

    It is also a fundamental truth that anyone who says to you “If you would just do this it would make me feel better” is applying emotional blackmail. We teach our girls to dump any boy who tells them “if you loved me you’d…” and we need to hold ourselves to the same standard? To give ourselves the same permissions? To ignore other people’s emotional blackmail, both stated and unstated.

  2. I’m not sure about the definitions/distinctions between guilt and shame. My mother often used to go on about how guilty she felt for this or that, it was all about her guilt and it made me resolve never to carry other people’s burdens because it was phoney or excessive to do so. There are moments when I do something careless or dumb or crass, and I feel a hot wave of shame, but when I tackle it head on – apologise, try to make amends, that hot wave dissipates. I have never stored up shame. I think this was because both my parents were pretty adept at telling me about all the stuff that I should be ashamed of (not getting into the right university, making the wrong career choices etc etc) but I could see that their tirades were usually directed more at their own choices and perceived failings than at what I was actually doing. I still felt bad, but I didn’t feel guilty or ashamed or inadequate. Just pretty angry. That was until my father and I had a big falling out nearly 9 years ago. My memory of it is that really, out of the blue, he just let loose a tirade of anger and bile directed at me, telling me what a dreadful excuse for a human being I was. This was in front of my then 7 year old son and 1 year old baby. That night, I felt that I’d really lost my father, that I finally understood that he and I were dead to each other, and I never saw him to speak to again.

    On NY Eve, my brother and sister rang me to tell me that my father was dying. I got on the plane to Washington and I was with them and my stepmother as my father’s life support was turned off and he slipped away peacefully about 40 minutes later on Jan 2 this year. After he had gone, I was able to make my peace with my stepmother, brother and sister. We aren’t major parts of each other’s lives, but I think of them with fondness and warmth rather than the bitterness and anger that affected me while my father lived. Since January, I have felt a great lightening of spirit. And I look back on the last time I saw my father nearly 9 years ago, when he said horrible, twisted things about me and I know that there was a psychic cost to rejecting his accusations about what a terrible failure I was, and I know that I will never feel that incredible level of vulnerability that he caused me to feel again. I love my husband and my sons, my mother and my in-laws hugely, but they none of them have the power that my father had over me to feel shame.

    Of course I’m certain to do stupid and careless things that will cause me to feel temporarily ashamed, but I think that on the whole, shame is wrapped up with people – sometimes it comes with a specific person who for good or ill, has the power over us to make us feel small, frail and utterly subject to their judgement, other times, it is a group that has that power. But the damage it can cause cannot be underestimated. Equally, we all have the inner strength to fight back and to live good, full lives even if that influence is still raging underneath.

    And I have to thank Cherries and Betties for introducing me to the work of Brene Brown. It has made the past two-three years much much easier to bear. So thank you. And if you recognise yourself in any of this, I cannot recommend her books too highly for helping us all rebuild, regroup and recreate ourselves when we’ve been towered/forced into a state of shame by others.

  3. I definitely used to feel shame. Most of it came from not living up to my father’s perfectionist expectations, but also from never fitting into our society’s accepted ideas of how a person was supposed to be (too smart, too weird, not good as sports, too weird…did I mention I was weird?). I was ashamed of not being good enough, normal enough…

    If you look at all this stuff, there is one common denominator: it all comes from reacting to other people’s judgment of me. And then owning that judgment, and internalizing it until I thought it was my voice and not theirs.

    I don’t much go in for shame these days. This can be credited to a couple of changes. One, I’m a reasonably functional and not-quite-so-weird adult, and I’m probably not doing as much stuff that I might feel shame about.

    But mostly, it is that a) I stopped caring so much about what other people thought of me — yes, I would like for everyone to like and respect me, and treat me accordingly, but they’re not going to…usually for reasons that have a lot more to do with them than with me, but also because I’m not going to be everybody’s cup of tea (at least not if I am true to myself).

    And b) I have more reasonable expectations of myself. Therefore I don’t tend to beat myself up for screwing up, when I do so, I just say, “Well, that was not what I was going for. Yeesh.” and move on.

    So there’s my anti-shame cure in a nutshell:
    Stop worrying about what other people think about you (who the hell are they to say? are they all perfect? and why would the opinion of some stranger in a check-out line matter to you? would yours matter to them?)

    and have reasonable expectations for your own behavior and the behavior of others.

    Gee, I feel like Lucy (from Peanuts) with her little advice stand. That will be five cents please 🙂

    I’ve watched you make this journey over the last few years, and you have come a LONG way, baby. Nothing to be ashamed of there!

  4. Kieran says:

    Great post. I could talk all day on this topic, but I’ll try not to.

    1) I love Brene Brown and gave her book away on my website.

    2) I could be totally off base here, but I’m going to hypothesize that your sticking point is happening because all those definitions of “good” are not organic to you–you’re following someone else’s definition of “good” and maybe ignoring your own heart. This means that maybe you don’t trust yourself. It’s a vicious cycle, though. The shame urges you not to trust yourself, but you NEED to so that you can slay the shame.

    3) Slaying is in order. You have to break the cycle yourself–it’s the inevitable assertion of will–or leap of faith–we all have to take. Kill that demon Shame. I think the only way to do it is to allow YOU to be.

    Just being is what “good” actually is. When you’re you, you’re good. That’s why cats and dogs and lions and hippos and everything else in nature–flowers, bees, grass–are sheer perfection.

    We are, too, but we get all messy with our intellect and emotions and forget. We have to fight through jungles with mental machetes to remember. Or sometimes we can just hold our faces up to the sun and KNOW.

    Good luck, Lani. You’re a warrior, and you can do this.

  5. I think Witchy just hit that nail on the head.

    have reasonable expectations for your own behavior and the behavior of others.

    Once you define your idea of being a good person then shame will lose it’s grip.

    As wise women(and men) with strong opinions, we tend to surround ourselves with people who are equally as vocal with their opinions. We are influenced by these brilliant people because their ideas are sound. It’s important to step back and determine if those ideas/opinions/philosophies are the right ones for us. Shame won’t die out as long as you’re clinging to someone else’s idea of what is right for you. Only you can do that.

    The girls may not have had a perfect life during the divorce crazy but it’s really important to remember that you gave them a safe place to land, surrounded them with love and healthy examples of LOVE in all its varied forms. Even though there were days when it must have been tempting, you never threw in the towel and said I can’t do this any more. You stayed in Ohio, worked through some serious shit and reformed your family. You taught them that a self-sacrificing martyr of a mother was not the healthiest choice for any of you.

    Set the expectation bar low then slowly raise it as you meet YOURstandards for being a good person. As we all know, YMMV, so measure your mileage not someone else’s. That should kick shame out of the equation. Or not. Everyone is different.

    Long comment. I’ve been working on this very thing myself, eating myself into oblivion, beating myself senseless because I don’t measure up to society’s standards of how my life should look. My life felt great til I started using someone else’s measuring stick. It’s only been this week that I went back to using my own. I’m not sure how they got switched or why it took me so long to realize that’s what happened.

    FGBVs because hey, that sparkly stuff always feels good.

  6. Tai says:

    Guilt and shame cause us to keep making the same mistakes. Like you said, shame is a repeated cycle and it dredges us down into thinking we are bad people who can do no good.
    This is the thinking we can choose. This is where self acceptance comes in. It is about not holding ourselves to some kind of standard of expectations, but instead acknowledging all things about ourselves and accepting where we are at, our limitations, our needs, what we want to change, how we can do it, who we want to be.
    Shame and guilt were a social mechanism that were supposed to prevent people from causing harm. But instead, they do the opposite. Because when our minds are caught in guilt and shame we are not open to empathy and self acceptance. Then we repeat the behavior and feel worse about ourselves and hurt ourselves and those around us, over and over again. I know because I was caught in this cycle until I went to counseling when I was twenty-five.
    Self acknowledgment and empathy allowed me to see myself in every shade as I am. Letting go of expectations, the need for the approval of others, and guilt with shame allowed me to accept myself.
    All that is important is that I do not cause harm to others and if I do, I own it and the consequences in order to bring healing to myself and those I have hurt.
    Guilt and shame play no role at this point because I am not expecting myself to behave a certain way for any kind of reason. Instead, I am proactively choosing to do and to deal with the consequences. This way I am responsible for my actions, reactions, attitudes, thoughts.
    Being good or bad are simple concepts to teach to children but they need reinforced with taking responsibility both for the harmful action and for the attitudes behind it. I work on this everyday with my kids. It is an essential part of self respect and respect for others that shame and guilt deplete.
    I hope this helps. Lani, I really appreciate your sharing like this. It helps me to know that I am and was not alone in my need to understand and my struggle to overcome it.
    I had to overcome the guilt and shame, the expectations of others, the need for approval. I had allowed these things to destroy my soul almost completely.
    I am thankful everyday for the people who saw this need and desperation in me, who loved, accepted and encouraged me in spite of the harm I caused them and who helped me to get the help I needed.
    That is not to say I do not still need help/therapy. I always have something more to learn, more ways to grow. Like right now I need to learn to be courageous and put myself out in real life in real ways.

  7. To add on to what Deborah said: why should other people’s opinions of you matter more than your own opinion of you? It’s hard to not feel that pressure of others judging you, but in truth they’re not. They’re worried themselves for the most part. We aren’t the only ones worried about what others think. Others worry about what we think which leaves them little time to think about us (complete strangers) so what we think they’re thinking, they’re probably not.

    I think it’s a lot about practice, too. About shaking off that feeling of shame. Keeping oneself aware of when you do it, making a conscious effort to shake it off and claim “This isn’t mine. This isn’t productive. I’m going to let it go.” It will creep back, but you do it all again. Over time I think it gets easier to do, but if you grew up with it, those neural pathways are set and they’ll always be there. But we can build different beliefs and weaken the signals in those neural pathways in our brain.

  8. I’m too tired to answer this question. I just cannot wrap my brain around it. I had a vague pain of guilt for not being able to participate the “right” way, then let it go. I’m too tired to hold on to it.

    I’m here, and I want’d you all to know I’m here, but unraveling shame and guilt? I don’t think so.

  9. I agree with the comments above suggesting an analysis of what it means to be a good person. I’m certainly not a perfect mother (by some peoples’ standards) but I have an awesome daughter who is turning out really well. She’s a solid human being who understands caring about others and being responsible and independent. Still a ways to go, but after the crap we’ve both been through, and what some of my choices have put her through, we’ve both come out the other side better people.

    There are things in my past for which I still feel embarrassed, but I’ve been working hard at not dwelling on those moments. I’ve made bad choices, been a bad person at times, but those are momentary lapses. I’m human. It happens. Doesn’t mean I’m proud of myself, means I forgive myself and move on.

    People will judge. People will disagree with my thoughts, choices, and values. Doesn’t mean mine are wrong and I definitely won’t be changing to please them. I’m stubborn that way. 🙂

  10. Danielle says:

    Holy crap, that was awesome. I kinda feel like I need a cigarette, now. You are one smart woman, Kieran.

  11. Terrie says:

    For me, shame isn’t based in what other people think about me: it’s about what I learned to think of myself when I was a child. My mother was a wonderful woman and I miss her and love her in her wholeness, but that’s where I learned it. When she was angry at me for something, I didn’t feel like I had done a bad thing. I felt like I was a bad thing.

    Other people’s judgements can trigger that despairl, but it’s really not about them. It’s that they wake the sleeping dragon. Who has a tendency to be a light sleeper.

    So, once again, for me, the antidote is reason. I put what I did in perspective. I repeat rational statements in positive terms (not “you’re not a bad person,” but “you have done many good things: just this last week you . . . .”). The shame voice wants to drown out reason’s voice, so I amp up the volume on sane speak. It’s feeding the good wolf.

    I was in group therapy for a while and shame was a big issue for all of us. Much of therapy was really about learning to out argue the voice of shame. Reasoned thinking. And it helped me a lot to hear how silly it all sounded when it came out of someone else’s mouth. “You really think you’re an absolute failure as a mother because your child was fifteen minutes late to soccer practice?” This was one of therapy’s great gifts to me: I finally got perspective. I was in a room where we were all flawed and those flaws were the center of discussion and we were all metaphorically naked. The gift was in profoundly accepting those other women in their flawed selves and feeling that same acceptance come back to me. Life changing.

  12. I try to keep it simple: shame is something instilled in you by others. (Or the voices in your head that rise up from your upbringing, whether that be parent, grandparent, church or synagogue.) It’s about THEM and how they view life, a situation, a choice, not YOU.

    As an adult, YOU have the choice to shuck off their shame and choose your own interpretation of life, the situation, the choice. When you feel shame ask yourself why, and try to trace it to the root cause. When you identify it just simply acknowledge it, forgive the person for their guilt and shame, and silently say this is not my burden to carry.

  13. Danielle says:

    So, I think I understand what you say about the difference between guilt and shame. The reason I can see the difference is that, while I sometimes feel guilt about my behaviour, my husband feels only shame about himself. I see what he puts himself through and have had a very difficult time wading through it to see if I could help him.

    When you’re not naturally a self-shamer, it can be a tricky concept to grasp.

    But you’ve given me some insight and for that, I wanted to say thank you – I think it will help.

    Having said that, I wanted to put something out there. Bear with me, because I’m not a psychologist or anything and this idea isn’t formed – I’m just feeling it out a bit. (I also fear that it will sound judgmental but I want everyone to know that it isn’t meant that way.)

    Here it is: when you adopt this self-shaming behaviour (and maybe I could venture that all shaming behaviour is by default SELF-shaming, because trying to shame someone won’t work unless they are somehow complicit), are you not letting your ego take over, in a way? A little like thinking that every aspect of your behaviour/self become so important that it has the power over everything you do/are/touch? There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of humility present in that thought…

    I ask this because I’ve noticed my husband’s tendency to spiral down when he has too much time on his hands. For example, Spring Break comes along (he is a teacher) and all he does all week is mope around and feel horrible about himself and his lack of productivity (he calls it “guilt” but I think it’s too systemic to be anything but shame). The only thing that snaps him out of this type of thinking is something happening to trigger a situation in which he can’t afford to sit around and just think about himself (like maybe I catch the flu suddenly and he needs to look after the house/bring me to the doctor’s office/make sure all the bills get paid/do all the laundry/walk the dogs/etc.). It leads me to suspect that some of this is, in some ways, self absorption. Maybe I’m just trying to rework what you meant when you said that people do this to themselves to assure themselves that they’re in fact very good people…

    “I worry, therefore I am. And the more I worry, the more important/better I am.”

    I don’t know. Just thinking out loud. But thank you for this discussion. It’s really making me think.

    (PS: It’s good for your girls to face a little hardship/instability. It will make them more resilient and better people. So, in my own twisted way, I think the fact that they ate bagel chips for so long is actually a sign that you’re a damn good mother.)

  14. Mitchiewitch says:

    I have a Jewish friend who maintains that Jews “do” guilt and Christians “do” shame. I think that she has something – according to the Christian faith we are born with the stain of original sin and Christ died to save us. So we are born defective and someone had to die to save us – how is that not shame producing? Even after the original sin is “fixed” through baptism, the view is that we are prone to sin throughout our lives and, if we are Catholic, need to continuously confess these sins & be forgiven. The only reason that I don’t wallow in shame, even though I was raised as a Catholic, is that my mother raised me to think that I am wonderful. Not perfect (she was quite clear that they were not the same thing) but perfection isn’t necessary to be wonderful. My partner, who was raised by a narcissist, believes this is what has given me an unassailable confidence in myself. I am able to make decisions based on my needs/desires and remain happy with those decisions even when other people (including my mother) are not. Like others who have posted, I do feel guilt when I do something wrong and apologize for that wrong. I don’t feel guilt, however, when I’ve done something that I needed to do for myself and someone else is unhappy about it. I can also say no to others without feeling guilty about it. And there are a number of people who still consider me a good friend and a caring person. So I feel that I’ve been very, very fortunate in having the mother that I do.

  15. Rebecca (Another One) says:

    I like the wonderful versus perfect. I try to be perfect, but maybe I should work on being wonderful instead.

  16. Jennifer.nennifer says:

    The best thing I ever came across on the good/bad thing was in a Landmark Education class. They define integrity as being whole and complete… and then go on to say that the problem with an action that lacks integrity is not that it’s morally bad (which is opinion) but that it makes one’s life not work. So, the problem with lying is not that it is bad, but that it would make people not trust me, so my relationships wouldn’t have the depth and quality I want. I’m not putting this all that well, but I am trying to be reasonably brief. It’s just easier for me to stay analytical instead of emotional if I look at “does this fit with what I want my life to be?” rather than “is this bad?” You and Sweetness and Light got through a hard time together; what are a few bagel bites compared to that?

    So I laud Mitchiewitch’s mother – let’s quit trying to be good and perfect and be wonderful instead.

  17. I took an online class of Brene Brown’s about shame and it was great. Also, my therapist and I worked a lot on shame, because I have carried a ship-load of it around for most of my life. I still struggle with it from time to time, but I think that all the work, all the cognitive therapy work, all the thinking have helped me a great deal.

    Being a good person is important to me, but for me being good person boils down to doing no harm to anyone, including myself. You can’t always keep from hurting someone, because people will get hurt if you don’t do or be what they way. But that’s different from harm. I believe it causes harm to steal, to lie, etc., for the most part (sometimes telling small lies is useful), either to others or more likely to me.

    I think that bagel bites and pizza did no harm to Sweetness. The love and acceptance and the growth she’s seen in her mother are all good things. Nothing to feel shame over.

    I think you will get over the shame. You have done so much.

  18. Terrie says:

    Still thinking on this so I just had to come back. Here’s another point for me: we are going to screw things up. Over the course of a lifetime, most of us will have a few impressive screw ups and a whole bunch of little ones. Sometimes I do things I think are wrong. That’s where the guilt comes in and making amends or trying to do better. That’s all good. As long as I recognize that neither me or anyone else is going to get to the point where we never screw up again. Improvement never hits perfection. That’s why forgiveness is also important. We can forgive ourselves and others for being imperfect. I’ve gotten better at that (though not perfect!). It’s a lot easier now for me to look at one of my own messes or someone else’s messes and shrug and go, “Yup. That was a regular cluster ****. ” And then just let it go.

  19. According to Merriam-Webster shame is a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety. Guilt is the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty.

    I think that both are needed, and both can be negative. If you’ve done something that is a breach of conduct, but you don’t feel shame for that breach, then what makes you act differently?

    Per this aritcle, Moral Emotions and Moral Behavior, Shame, guilt, pride and embarrassment are members of the family of “self-conscious” emotions. These are emotions that act as barometers providing feedback to us on our moral and social acceptability. Thus, they can impact us in negative ways when we become too concerned about being right, or correct, or accepted.

    It could be that people who are harmed by the feelings of shame and/or guilt have an emotion disposition that makes them more susceptible to the anticipatory and consequential experiences of shame than other people. Sort of like some people are more susceptible to the itchiness of wool than other people. Shame, guilt, embarrassment and pride are neither bad nor good. They are necessary in order for people to live together in a social setting.

    I think the issue may arise because of shame being connected to a concern with the evaluations of others. Guilt has less of that attached to it. Thus, shame becomes something we “can’t” control because we are evaluating the response of others. Only the truth is that we feel shame not necessarily because of the evaluation of other people, but what we assume other people will think/feel about us and our actions.

    For me, shame is just a nudge from the Universe that let’s me know I’ve done something that doesn’t fit within my moral/ethical guidelines. Apparently, my emotion disposition means that shame doesn’t overwhelm me. If you are someone who feels shame more keenly, I can understand why shame would be an issue.

  20. McB says:

    Guilt is a judgement, not a feeling. Guilt is “yes, I did it.” Shame is what you feel because of what you had some part in, real or imagined. They often do go hand in hand, but not always. Lots of people have guilt but no shame. And some people prefer to burden themselves with shame without the actual guilt.

    You lie to someone to protect them, you are guilty of lying. But because they stayed safe, you don’t feel shame.

  21. romney says:

    You know that Far Side cartoon where someones talking to a dog called Ginger, and all the dog hears is “blah blah blah Ginger blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Ginger”. So, my takeaway from your whole post is “mmmmmm, bagel bites and pizza”. Best Mum Ever! if you ask me.

  22. Marie says:

    I think that guilt or shame hover over us all our lives.
    But, if you live long enough and assess your life you might find that obsessive guilt can dissolve when the overall goodness of your being washes over you and the things that you had judged as being bad we’re life’ lessons.
    If you do the best that you can, that is all that matters I the end. You can have the reward of pie ce of mind.

  23. Lou says:

    Lani, you darling woman, you are spending way too much time worrying about crap. Your true friends will love you no matter what and everyone else can take a flying leap (that’s not to say that you don’t have to be basically nice). You have those people who will love you no matter what in your life. You are a very fortunate person!

    IMO, shame (which ends up being self-hatred) is given to you by hateful, narrow-minded people who think that everyone in the world should follow their global idea of how people should behave (and the ones who don’t behave that way should be stoned), and guilt is an offshoot of such ideas generated specifically by (usually) family (or other close-to-you people) who think you should change your [choose a subject] ways. These two things, by definition, sometimes cross each other or flow along the same path.

    Both are manipulative – the manipulations being done by other people who have an agenda they think you should follow.

    Choose your own agenda. Whatever you think is the best way to live your life – go for it. You’ve already made huge strides. Enjoy what you have accomplished. The past is for lessons learned – the future is for implementing those lessons. Move forward and enjoy!

  24. Micki says:

    When we go to the States, my kids basically survive on chicken tenders and pizza — I try to get them to eat new foods, but it’s rarely worth it to fight my battles in a restaurant, so I just hope they get their nutrition in Japan, and won’t be stunted for life.

    Doesn’t it all come down to that? What battles are worth fighting? What things are worth feeling shame over? And what things are worth feeling guilt over? Because there ARE things that people should feel shame and/or guilt about (but to a reasonable extent).

    Also, I do agree that our basic yardsticks about shame and guilt come from our parents/guardians. And sometimes they can have sick ideas about standards. As we separate from them (and sometimes it takes a full estrangement), we learn to build our own yardsticks, and instill them in ourselves.

    I’m wallowing in vague guilt these days, and it’s spilling a bit over into shame . . . . But I stuff it down and try and do what I can. (Or I distract myself by writing drivel on other people’s blogs (-:. Oh, self-awareness is not all it’s cracked up to be.)

  25. Danielle says:

    Damn, that’s exactly how I was raised, too! You’ve just totally nailed it.

    In my case, it was more along the lines of “worthy vs. perfect”. My mom was plenty critical of my personality traits and I never really believed that she thought I was “wonderful”, but she taught me to respect myself and to not care what other people thought. In a sense, she would put me in my place by pointing out my flaws and then turn around and say “you’re a great person and you deserve respect so don’t let anyone shit on you”. Contradictory maybe, but I think it worked.

  26. Danielle says:

    And I meant to say that the whole “you are born into sin” thing is precisely the reason I’ve turned my back on my Catholic faith. (Don’t get me started on the “Eve, that evil whore, tempted innocent little Adam with the apple so now you’re all destined to die alone and in pain” shit.) In some ways, I think that it’s criminal to make people feel that way and I won’t be party to it.

  27. Jill says:

    We have a 44 year old son who has been in and out of treatment centers, rehab, multiple docs, prison (3 times) since he was 14. I got guilt- big time. All my fault -I was a terrible mother. It had to be all my fault because I had 2 brothers -one died of complications of long time drug abuse and alcoholism, and one who committed suicide because of long term alcoholism. Joe’s family was squeaky clean.Bless their hearts. Son is now in a homeless shelter. But I have these 2 perfect daughters who were also raised by me so I was able over the years to let go of the guilt.
    But now that you mention shame–that is a whole ‘nother thing. And I do feel that-it’s tentacles go much deeper than guilt. But today at bridge even that was put in perspective. Another woman, whom I respect greatly, shared the stories of her 4 children all of whom have the same problems with drugs (no prison though), one committed suicide. So I am thinking that the debilitating feeling of shame can be mitigated by sharing. Group therapy over cards ?
    The friend with the son who committed suicide is a strong woman. After Nathan’s suicide she established a center in his name. Nathan’s Place is a supervised place where middle school kids can go after school to play, study, eat, exercise.

  28. linda says:

    Years ago, when I was struggling with a whole different set of challenges to living a happy life, I saw a book in a bookstore and was immediately shaken by the title. It was John Bradshaw’s “Healing the Shame that Binds You.” I felt the words in that title to the core, bought the book, and set to learning about the difference between “healthy shame,” which is pretty much knowing that I am not God, not perfect, not Better than the next person, etc., and toxic shame, which is, among other things, creating a false self to cover up the inner fear of not being good enough, Or just enough. I am grossly simplifying here. But I think when we arrive at the question of shame in our own lives, it is a powerful moment of self-definition. We are ready to leave behind the false idea that we can be everything and get on to figuring out who we are meant to be in this life.

    For a long time I kept wondering when all the reading and therapy and work on myself would be done. Now I see (or think i see!) that I am an endless layer of challenges. Clearing one level
    opens up the next.

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