The two are often confused. They are both horrible emotions, for sure!
Guilt, though, is about something I have said or done (or not said or done) for which I feel regret. Maybe I was disrespectful or was insensitive. At least I can learn from this
and do better the next time.
Shame, on the other hand, is about who I am. It is a fundamental belief about myself, such as not being good enough, smart enough, worthy enough, etc. Because it's about
who I am I cannot change it, learn from it, or improve myself. I'm "stuck" with this lack or inadequacy about myself.
Turns out that shame is at the root of all addictions and contributes a great deal to our relationship problems.
Thankfully we don't have to carry shame around forever. We can embrace our love-ability, worthiness of relationship and more!
There are two ways to shed shame and so live more meaningful, rich and worth-while lives.
Do you recall a time when you thought you were the only one that had a particular habit, liked something most people did not, or thought you were 'weird' in some way? Then you came across someone else who had a similar habit, like, or 'weirdness?' What a relief this was for you! Here a ray of light entered into a very dark place. When you may have actually felt lighter. Freer. Permitted to be your own unique being. This is one way shame is reduced.
Another way of releasing shame, well illustrated by Brené Brown's seminal work, is courageously sharing that shame with another human being. Looking him or her in his/her eyes and sharing one's
shame from the heart. Feeling its weight, its deadness, its life-sucking nature and opening one's soul to another.
What is most important is that the listener not try to make the one sharing shame to feel better. "Oh, you're not that bad" and similar lines only serve to shame the person even more deeply. It
is as if the one sharing is hearing, "Shame on you for feeling this way." Not helpful! What is truly helpful is by being open oneself. "Thank you so for being so courageous to share with me
something that's so obviously pained you for so long." Or, "I am touched that you would risk yourself with me this much." Another way of responding would be to appreciate what this has been
like for the one sharing their shame, such as, "I can tell that you have been really suffering from carrying around this shame." Or, "Wow. What a lot of weight this shame must have been for you."
Acknowledging the other person, and the act of courage by sharing their shame, is very connecting. Connection is the antidote for shame.
Either the first or second method has one commonality: By being real with each other we get to be authentic and loved for the unique individual we all are.
This couple are obviously not doing well together. While she may look angry and he more depressed or confused, both are suffering from shame. Shame disconnects us more than anything else (even money!).
He might be thinking, "Why am I such a screw-up to make my wife so unhappy?" (Notice that shame statements almost always have a "I am" in them.)
She might be thinking, "What's wrong with me that I picked such a loser?" Underneath this question is a doubt about her worthiness for a truly loving relationship.
How can this couple move beyond their disconnecting sense of shame? Here are some ideas (of many!):
For high quality relationships and a life truly worth living.
Don't put it off any longer.
Link to Ian's profile on the B.C. Association of Clinical Counsellors website