The thing about shame is that it is an absolutely, completely and utterly useless emotion. There is not one single benefit to experiencing it. Instead, it steals from you. It steals your power, joy, gratitude, peace and success. If you allow it, it will block you at every turn.
Now, it could be argued that guilt is the same. However, there is a school of thought that a quick feeling of discomfort, because you know full well you have done something wrong, could be healthy. Especially, if it means you seek forgiveness and look to put it right. It also means that you have an objective standard of moral behaviour. But other than that, feelings of guilt or shame do not serve you.
And shame has nothing remotely healthy about it at all. It comes from an innate feeling of being fundamentally flawed, believing that you are worthless and defective.
So, it is important to understand that guilt and shame are not the same. Guilt is experienced when you act against your morals and values. Shame, is a deeply held belief about your unworthiness as a person.
As you begin to heal those long-standing emotional scars, it is usual for feelings of guilt and shame to invade your thoughts. Thoughts around how you might have passed beliefs and behaviours onto others is one of the most common. But here is the thing, allowing feelings of guilt and shame to derail your recovery will not change what has already happened. It will not make things any easier, or clearer, for your children or partner the more guilty you feel.
However, these feelings can keep you stuck in misery and stop you ever finding peace.
And, if you start to feel guilty because you have done something against your own unrealistically high standards, that is never healthy and, there is a real danger of projecting that onto others.
On the other hand, you can experience shame from as early as 15 months. At that age, it becomes deep wired into your brain and it becomes really difficult to both identify and resolve. This is because shame is internalised and deeply connected to your sense of who you are.
Shame causes you to fear rejection and so, you disconnect from others in an effort to protect yourself.
Becoming aware of how you talk to yourself is a crucial part of dealing with shame. Exercising self-compassion, empathy and understanding will begin the shift away from feelings of shame. Flipping your self-talk from critical to kindness will stop you seeking proof of what you perceive your defects and flaws to be.
Doing this work will allow you to nurture truly connected relationships and bring you a sense of true belonging. Then, and only then, will you be able to show your children what a healthy relationship with yourself looks like.
And, when you begin to have a healthy relationship with yourself, you give your children permission to do the same.
As for guilt, if you are feeling the healthy sort, you have to face up to the behaviour that caused it. By taking responsibility for the harm and seeking forgiveness it allows you to let go of the feeling. It also gives you a great opportunity to recognise and change destructive behaviour.
If you are feeling guilty about not reaching unrealistically high standards, might it be time to think about changing them? Because if you really think about it, are they truly your standards or actually, did you inherit them along the way?
If you need help or support with banishing feelings of guilt and shame, get in touch.