Guilt and Shame are one of the most commonly experienced emotions.

As we bring our awareness into identifying and naming our emotions, we recognize a lot of our emotions of embarrassment, despair or even anger are founded on the crust of Guilt and Shame. When we explore these emotions, it is important for us to adequately differentiate between the two.

Shame is associated with our behaviors and the way they define us. We inherently want to be good. And when we have others point out certain flaws within us. our idea of wanting to be good is challenged. We feel angry, hurt and rejected. We may react with hostility towards people who bring up this shame and withdraw ourselves from them.

Shame plays a major role in conflict resolution as it’s an emotion that can keep us guarded from truly understanding our accountability. When we are presented with the idea that our beliefs/values could be flawed, we immediately feel violated and become resistant to change.

We are all a product of inheriting certain belief systems that are unhealthy for us.

Shame is a natural emotion emerging from feeling attacked but it also restricts us from exploring these beliefs further.

The Emotion of Shame can consistently be found in the work of Self Compassion where we try to find the good in ourselves. When we do feel shame, it is important to remind ourselves that our actions do not define us. We all need to do work on ourselves to have healthier well-being and satisfying relationships. But it can be difficult to reflect on our actions when we feel stuck with shame.

The other side of shame is how we communicate this emotion to others.

As we grow up, with increasing social media and everyday events that occur in the world- our narrative is challenged. The way we point out someone else’s mistakes can really be impactful in how that person may start to view themselves. We say things because we want them to understand their actions and thoughts. But asserting that can look a lot different from shaming them.

When we shame an individual with derogatory words, comments or degrade their belief system, we are only making them more defensive to do the work. Rather, if we can understand our own intentions, we can considerably change our communication and hopefully make it more constructive and compassionate.

5 ways to cope with shame:

  • Become aware about the shame
  • Explore your expectations from self
  • Process your self-worth
  • Recognize your triggers
  • Reach out for support

5 ways to deal with Guilt:

  • Explore the emergence of Guilt
  • Reflect on your expectations
  • Seek accountability and make amends
  • Reframe self-talk: What are you telling yourself and how is this affecting your self worth?
  • Understand your comfort with expressing your needs

Guilt has been societally used as an emotion with a virtue of responsibility and morality and it’s triggers differ across various systemic branches. One of the main myths about guilt is that if you consume enough guilt, you won’t make the same mistake again- which may not be completely realistic.

Additionally, excessive guilt can be associated with negative rumination (Rumination is when you continuously think about a particular negative event repeatedly and find yourself in a downward spiral). Unending remorse about past mistakes serves no useful purpose. In fact, excessive guilt is one of the biggest destroyers of self-esteem, individuality, creativity and personal development.

Guilt in healthier forms is meant to help us learn and grow.

When we find ourselves experiencing guilt, e.g. not being there for our loved ones or hurting someone, it is important to provide ourselves with the space to reflect on this event. We could ask ourselves if we would behave in a similar way had this event happened again. Believing in yourself with the intention of the act helps to reinstill self compassion. When we do that, we are able to relieve ourselves off the pressure to hold onto that guilt

If the action was truly from a place of a negative intention or it’s impact on the other person was reprehensible, reflecting on our own responsibility and accountability can go a long way for our own well-being. Guilt is often associated with actions in the past that you cannot change.

Lack of reflection and the inability to hold ourselves accountable (due to various defenses) may lead to constant patterns in our behaviors that damage our relationships. By reflecting on our own intention of that action and thinking about other ways of handling that situation in the future gives us a sense of empowerment to come out of the guilt with strength and growth.

About the Author

Manali Deolalkar is an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor (APCC) at Well Clinic in San Francisco. In her words:

“My goal is to provide space to individuals to process their emotional world, relationship issues, identity development, life transitions and past experiences of trauma. We can together make use of this space to bring our focus onto our internal self and explore healthy ways of coping.”

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