Week two: Shame vs. guilt

Hello fellow badasses!
Welcome to week two.  Last week, we explored the mantra of “care deeply AND don’t give a fuck,” and the goal of creating balance and cultivating your inner badass.  One of the biggest blockers to feeling like a badass is shame.  Shame is a universal human emotion. Nobody gets to escape it, but we have to learn how to handle it, care for ourselves when we are in it and Various forms of shame can show up in negative beliefs like “I could never do that,” or “God- I’m such a dumb ass,” or “I am a piece of shit” or “My needs and desires don’t matter.” Sometimes, we work really hard to prove that we do not believe these things, but perhaps they are still there under the surface. I know they are for me at times.  One of the most important distinctions to make is the difference between toxic shame and healthy guilt.  Toxic shame is the belief that you are fundamentally bad or broken.  Healthy guilt is the notion that “I made a bad choice or I have made a mistake.”  So, let’s say that you commit to dog sitting for a friend and you are not paying attention to the dog and leave the gate open after taking out the trash. The dog gets out and gets hurt somehow.  Now, a healthy degree of guilt is an appropriate response to this.  Here are five steps to moving through healthy guilt.
1)      Own it and apologize for the choice you made. “I am so sorry. I did not pay attention and was irresponsible.”
2)      Do what you can to correct it and make it better or to right the wrong. “I want to be culpable for the doctor bills and I want to help take care of the dog while he heals”
3)      Commit to doing something different in the future. “If you were ever to let me take care of the dog again, I will set reminders on my phone to check the gate and will be more mindful.”
4)      Accept the consequences of your actions: “I understand if you are angry with me and if it will take some time to trust me again.  And I accept if you never let me dog sit again.”
5)      Let it go.
Notice that these steps are about maintaining the relationship between you and your friend.  There is hope for change and doing things different in the future.  The action doesn’t define you as a person, but there is also not a negating of accountability and ownership. Perhaps you have made choices that you cannot make right, then I encourage you to take step 2 and think about how can you balance the scales of justice. Perhaps being of service or being part of others’ healing process may help to restore a sense of balance. We cannot change the past, we can only learn from mistakes and move forward.
Shame on the other hand is a global belief system and it is paralyzing and fixed.  If you were steeped in shame after this incident, you might say, “Oh my God, I am such a terrible person. I always fuck things up. I never handle responsibility well.” You could also externalize your shame, which might sound like “You know I can’t handle shit like that? Why did you put me in that position. I didn’t want to take care of the dog and you made me do it.” Other common shame statements might include, “I am sorry I am such a terrible mother. “ This is a favorite among those of us that cannot handle any kind of negative impact our choices may have had on our kids and guess what? Some of your choices no matter what will have a negative impact on our kids, but if we can own those choices and move them into the category of guilt, we will have better and more connected relationships with our kids. Or “I am just a bad (fill in the blank).” Notice that the shame statements are no longer about maintaining the relationship, but the focus is now 100% on the maker of the mistake.  It also in some ways negates responsibility and accountability because basically the message is “This is just the way that I am and there is nothing I can do to change it, but I am really going to beat myself up and make myself feel bad, but making real change? No- that’s not for me.”
Here is an important question to ask yourself if you are finding yourself stewing in shame:
1)      Did I make a mistake? Or did the choices I make have a negative impact on someone else?
          If the answer to either or these questions is “yes,” then move into the steps of guilt recovery and then let that shit go.
          If the answer to this question is “no” or if you are feeling shame about things that are a natural part of being human, or something that is not your fault then talk about it with someone that you trust, that has good boundaries, will give you honest feedback, but is overall kind and trustworthy,  perhaps a therapist or a good friend.  Go towards this shame source over and over again, lean into it, write about it, get it up and out of your body, talk about it, shed light on it. It’s almost 100% guaranteed you are not alone in feeling the way you do and that someone else is struggling with a similar issue.
 Shame is a bitch of an emotion.  If we can greet it with compassion however, and bring whatever it is out into the light, it holds much less power over us. We then become empowered and feel more of our badass selves shine through.  Taking ownership of our mistakes and holding ourselves accountable for our impact on the world is truly badass and walking the line between those two places is a practice, not an item we get to check off. Greet your shame with some compassion. You’re not alone. Lean in and take accountability if you have fucked up.  That is truly the move of a badass.   

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