Shame and guilt are two emotions that we all go through in our lives. It is very important to distinguish them as one might experience both of them and not know the difference. These emotions are always obstructions in the path of self forgiveness. Once we recognize them, process them and eliminate them, it is possible to tread the path of self forgiveness. Self forgiveness is also crucial to our success, self esteem, and resolution of many types of dysfunction that can become obstacles in our normal functioning. As long as the person feels humiliated, shameful and guilty, he or she will not be able to achieve desired goals in life. Those negative core beliefs will keep hindering the road to recovery. Let’s examine the distinction between Guilt and Shame in order to attain self forgiveness.
Guilt is always related to an act and shame is about how the person feels about himself or herself. It is a feeling of remorse over something that we have done but should not have or not done but should have. It is about our behavior. However, shame is remorse over the kind of person we think we are or should be. Self forgiveness becomes possible when the person knows the distinction between shame and guilt. Sometimes guilt about a behavior can lead to shame so they both are interrelated.
Self forgiveness and self acceptance are two important elements of our self esteem. It is important to do self forgiveness and release the emotions of guilt. Self acceptance is a process that enables us to reduce our shame. Let’s look at the concept of guilt first.
Guilt helps us guide our moral behaviors. If there was no such emotion, we would not exercise judgment and are likely to engage in immoral acts like a sociopath not being able to judge how to act in the world. Moral judgment depends on the capacity to feel and to anticipate guilt. Without guilt, we would not be able to adjust our behavior toward others. It is likely that we will insult or injure the person. Guilt is an internal gauge that guides our moral behavior, helps us make good judgment and gives us a strong sense of self esteem. Values and principles would become meaningless to us if we did not have the emotions of guilt and shame and it will be difficult to act appropriately in situations that we normally face.
Guilt can be retrospective also. This happens when we feel the guilt after we have done something “wrong”. Retrospective guilt has two sub types:
1. Appropriate retrospective guilt or
2. Inappropriate retrospective guilt.
Appropriate retrospective guilt can be felt after the person has violated an agreement. One is entitled to feel guilty about it. It is rightful to have this guilt so that we can own some responsibility and make the amend.
Inappropriate retrospective guilt can happen when a bad consequence results from somebody else’s carelessness and the person who is feeling guilty, has no fault. For example, the person is driving safely but a pedestrian comes in front of the car and gets killed. The person who is driving has no fault but he should not have feelings of guilt. Sadness and regret are okay to feel but not guilt. Inappropriate guilt is the result of blaming ourselves for something we did not consciously choose to do. We had no control over the situation but still blamed ourselves for the consequence. For example, survivor’s guilt is a form of inappropriate guilt. Victim of rape and sexual assault blame themselves for the other person’s act of violence. This is referred to as inappropriate guilt and the person needs to eliminate the guilt associated with the act of other person like the perpetrator of the abuse.
Guilt can be inferred also when we feel guilty by inference. People around us behave in a certain way that makes us feel responsible for the consequence and thereby inflicting guilt feelings in us. This happens more commonly in a codependent relationship. It is hard to ignore these inferences because the society as a whole is giving indirect suggestions that we are guilty of some behaviors.
Projected guilt happens when other people feel guilty but they project it on to us. Such projections are often filled with blame and guilt trip messages. This is also very common in codependent relationships. The abusers will tend to inflict guilt trips on the partner to make her feel inadequate and guilty for something they are responsible for. This in turn makes the partner feel guilty even though there is no reason to feel that way.
In this way we see that it is important to understand the subtle differences of the types of guilt mentioned earlier and then do an exercise by making a list of things you feel guilty now and have felt guilty in the past. On a scale of 1-10, rate your overall level of guilt. Also, list inappropriate and appropriate guilt separately. Then evaluate if the ranking of the guilt changes. Just by doing this exercise you will see a reduction in the intensity of your guilt.This exercise makes you aware and you begin to realize that you have guilt feelings.
Shame is remorse over who we think we are as human beings. When the person feels worthless and undeserving, it gradually leads to self-loathing and eventually damages the self esteem. Self-loathing can also lead to self hatred expressed in extreme ways like self mutilation, self punishment and even suicide. The person starts to feel that he or she is wrong and begins to do negative self evaluations. The vocabulary changes to, “ I am worthless”, “ I am no good”, “I am a total jerk”, “ I always fail” and so on.
Such beliefs are very dysfunctional and can make a person very resentful, angry and hostile. Mind body connection impacts many kinds of illnesses. People often become people pleasers and tend to ignore their needs. They are always sacrificing their needs in order to please others. However, deep down they have rage and resentment. They are angry with themselves for believing they are unlovable. These beliefs have been repressed but the negative energy from repression in the form of anger and rage, show up in the physical body. Cancer, ulcers, asthma and other kinds of illnesses also begin to manifest.
Now let’s look at the steps that will facilitate transformation of these negative core beliefs. According to Colin Tipping, the author of the book Radical Self Forgiveness, there are five steps to this process:
By doing these five steps, the person will be able to transform the core negative beliefs and be able to render self forgiveness, which is very crucial for healthy and adequate functioning. As long as we blame ourselves and belittle ourselves, we will not be able to have good self esteem. Depressed people tend to have so many negative core beliefs which tend to undermine their self esteem and leads to self-loathing behavior.
Codependency can also foster these mistaken beliefs, making the person more vulnerable for verbal, emotional and physical abuse, manipulation and exploitation. Once you begin to discover, recognize, evaluate, neutralize and transform the beliefs, you can live a life full of appreciation for self and have good interpersonal relationships.
In this way we see that guilt and shame are two emotions that can retard our growth and make us feel trapped to the extent that we stop enjoying life and begin to function inadequately. By doing the exercises mentioned above, we can release the guilt and shame and rejoice happiness in life.
Hypnosis can help overcome the feelings of guilt and shame with powerful suggestions offered during a hypnotic trance.
Please visit our Blossom Hypnotherapy page to learn how hypnosis can help reduce symptoms of Anxiety disorders.
Reference: Radical Self forgiveness by Colin Tipping