Monday, July 26, 2010

"Shame on You"

Something to think about today...

"Remorse" is feeling guilty for something I've done or said.

"Shame" on the other hand is feeling guilty for who I am, that I even exist.

Remorse is that thing that indicates that we understand how the things we have said or done have adversely affected someone else's life; remorse leads to a healthy society where we are considerate of others yet are able to separate ourselves from others (being "individual" in an "interdependent" society)

For example - I would feel "remorse" if my behavior of texting while driving resulted in injury to someone else in some way. (Is your car a "No Phone Zone"?)

I would feel bad and then have the motivation to change this behavior.

But "shame" is a whole different thing.

"Shame" would have me prostate on the floor begging for forgiveness or lashing out at others, defending myself and trying laying blame on someone or something else, searching out that I am still "ok" from someone else....

"He.....should have.....did this.....said that.....not my fault....I didn't mean to...."


I would be experiencing the overwhelming emotional and cognitive distress that comes with living in


Where my value is defined by people places and things outside of myself.

Where I am apologizing for my very existence and feeling completely hopeless and helpless to feel any different and can easily find myself engaging in self harm behaviors or escaping in avoidance behaviors like addiction or dissociation as I cannot tolerate this innate sense of



comes from a core belief that I am somehow defective, bad, wrong...that I in myself hold no value, can do nothing "right enough" or "good enough" and

unable to see myself as separate from others requiring validation that I am "ok" because I do not have that sense of intrinsic value that I am inherently "good" enough

just because



And IMHO...

reinforces this for many who seem to be "stuck" in their pain and unable to move forward, to get beyond it as the lens to the world is colored with words like

"disorder" and "disease"

which imply


"not good enough"


and fuels hopelessness and dependence in finding value in being defined by others and that someone, somewhere will be able to "fix" me and "make me" feel


if I can just do what others tell me I need to "do"

right enough.


Kristin said...

Guilt fits in here, too. Many of us have been raised to feel guilty about little things - spilled milk, neediness, fear. When our behavior is always met with shame, we invariably feel like we are not worthy of being love. We are as you say, "wrong".
I think shame and guilt can ruin a life. It is very hard to retrain the brain to not translate everything as an attack.
Like you have said so well, the stigma associated with a decree of mental illness is FULL of shame. That is why I do not want to use the language built around the convenience of diagnosing "mental illness" anymore. But, admittedly, it is hard. It is the understandable jargon and the wordy alternatives are just that - wordy. It is kinder and definitely more descriptive to say my daughter is sad rather than she is "symptomatic".
I am working very hard to retrain my mind to undo the years of belief in a faulty system. But, as I start to understand the genesis of how even the language around mental health emerged, the changes come more easily.
Thank you for another insightful post,
xx kris

Susan said...

"Guilt" is a healthy emotion that can guide us to living in a place where we respect others needs and feelings when we are not seeking our validation through how others react to us.

"Guilt" that is shame based is always based on and stems from the issues of "power and control" where another is requiring their needs and validation of being "right" is met by shaming another into compliance.

This is how these issues pass from generation to generation I believe as hurt children become hurt parents and can only model for their children was was modeled for them in the way of life coping skills - or the lack of them.

I'd have to agree - the thing that is missing from the "mental health" system is validation of emotions - as any show of any emotion outside of "life is good" is deemed a "symptom" of some "disorder".

It takes time to create those new beliefs via the new neuropathways that are re shaped with new information and new experiences. Glad to hear you are feeling positive about things, Kris:)

Patricia Singleton said...

Susan, I had to learn the difference between guilt and shame too. For many years, I thought they were the same thing until I read the John Bradshaw book Healing The Shame That Binds You. Shame can be so destructive to a child who is being abused or to an adult who is being labeled as "less than."

Susan said...

I'd have to agree Patricia. Any time another is using guilt to manipulate or put down another to meet their own needs is soooo destructive.

Great to see you today...thank you for dropping by!

Melissa Mashburn said...

I like how you pointed out the differences between guilt and shame, and gave an explanation of each one. As usual, a lot to think about from what you wrote.

Susan said...

Good to "see" you today Melissa and thank for commenting. Understanding the difference between healthy guilt and the crippling effect of shame was a huge thing that really helped to set me free. Thanks for your comment:)

Darlene Ouimet said...

Really great post Susan!
I had both guilt and shame and I don't think I gave much thought to either. They were there though. I began to see them as I began to get stronger in recovery. In some ways I was shocked to realize that I had them, just like I was shocked to realize I was a victim. I didn't like those words.. didn't think they applied to me..but OH did they ever. And the truth once again, set me free.
You are doing some amazing work over here! So glad that I stopped by!
Hugs, Darlene

Susan said...

I so hear what you are saying Darlene; I had no idea that it was the shame that bound me up so terribly....I felt "guilty" about everything I said or did - I did not have the understanding of the difference between healthy guilt and toxic shame.

I just accepted that whatever was "wrong" in my world - that I was the cause of it. The shame fueled the idea that everything would be "better" if I was somehow "better" or "different"....if I was anything other than what I was.

Thanks for your comment and your encouragement and support Darlene! Great to see you!

Anonymous said...

I like that you defined the words Susan. The definitions help understand our feelings better. In my first therapy sessions for PTSD, I didnt believe i carried shame, remorse or guilt... Prior to trauma i considered myself a strong woman. Once the healing process started, I began to grieve and it became very obvious that i carried these emotions after it all poured out.

I love your new blog layout!


Susan said...

Mel! I'm so glad to see you!

Yes...I think I was so used to living in shame that I couldn't tell the difference between shame and guilt....this for me, like you, was key to finding my way OUT of the shame!

Thanks on the new layout!

Kiki said...

Nice post and comments. I can relate and am still struggling with purging shame from my programming as I have been the "bad guy" in my family for as long as I can remember. My mom is extremely passive-aggressive and I underestimated the damage she has inflicted until I finally found a therapist to treat my various "disorders" who validated my feelings and understood that my PTSD wasn't just caused my recent traumas but had been there long before from an abusive family. For most of my life I have been living with feelings of shame and guilt from my mom making me feel responsible for her continual negative feelings. I had to put my whole family out of my life to heal and yet I still feel pangs of guilt about her despite her own cruel behavior. It's weird how parents can create such conflict in their children's personalities.

Susan said...

Hi Kiki and welcome to A Journey….I feel sad to hear the way you have been treated in your family. It is so difficult when the burden is put on us for everyone else's pain. No child - or adult - can carry that weight. It's very common for us to develop a sort of love/hate feeling for our parents. It is also very common because we had to attach to them to survive yet we hated the way they treated us. It does create an internal conflict until we learn how to resolve it for ourselves. It's good to hear that you have distanced yourself; may your path lead to you to healing and peace :)

Linda Burnside said...

I have had a strong feeling of shame for most of my life. With Susan's words I have begun the journey to quiet the shame in me. A good example is yesterday I ran into someone who is an acquaintance. I said good morning and I meant to say good to see you but said you look tired. I digress here for a moment. As I change what I think sometimes words are not coming out correctly. It has been very interesting as I am saying things probably because I am being so aware of what I am saying. She took it as a criticism said I do not look tired and kind of stormed off. This would have kept me awake and I probably would have sought her out to apologize but I thought oops and went on with my day. I was able to say to myself I am sorry she took that wrong but oh well and on I went.It felt so freeing. All this work is paying off. I feel stronger inside.

Susan said...

Hi Linda! I'm happy for you to be finding your way and learning to let go of the shame that binds us up and keeps us from our best life. Thank you for sharing your thoughts :)