Ever messed up? Of course you have – everyone has. Here’s the skinny about feeling guilty about something that’s happened in the past…actually, before we do that, let’s go over a couple of definitions that will help lay the foundation of this concept.
Shame and Guilt feels heavy. Often, my clients bring up past mistakes with huge feelings of remorse that they’ve carried for a long time. To begin the process of working through it, we need to know the difference between shame and guilt. Easy stuff here – Shame sounds like, “I am bad” while guilt is “I did something bad”. Told you it was easy. Now lets get to the fun stuff.
First off, isn’t it fascinating that humans can carry this heavy feeling for SO LONG? When this topic comes up in session I’ll hear something like, “Jed, it makes sense because I did things that had bad consequences so I need to feel this way.” From there we try to get an idea of how long they need to feel horrible and basically the conclusion ends with the understanding that it basically doesn’t end until they die. Sometimes people carry shame for decades.
I would laugh but it is just SO SAD! Thank goodness therapy exists because here’s the deal if this so happens to be you. You are making the judgment and are feeling bad ‘now’ from a completely different perspective than where you were when you did the messed up thing in the first place.
It’s an odd concept, I know – it’s also a true concept. Let’s explain it a little more.
Here’s how it makes sense. Your awareness and insight has grown from then to now so naturally it’s easier to see what you could have done better. This connects with the whole “hindsight is 20/20” saying. What is so fascinating is that it goes against nature to torture ourselves with these self deprecating statements that we tell ourselves after we mess up. I call this “shoulding on ourselves.” Go ahead and say that 5 times fast. It’s funny and it helps to remember how messy this can get.
Fortunately, we can clean this up with a new belief system. Ready?
"You did the best you could with the thinking you had." People initially balk at this thought, however it is completely valid. Think about it. Long term angst via shame or guilt makes as much sense as beating yourself up for NOT hitting the mega-millions lucky number power play jackpot. Sure, you gave it the best you had and used all the appropriate lucky numbers or birthdays, etc. but you messed up the winning numbers! So, go ahead and flog yourself for the next long while and while you’re at it, you may as well feel bad for crapping your pants when you were a baby. You did that crap for years! Don’t mind that you were a new human and your body hadn’t developed enough to appropriately discard your stinky excrement.
Yes, they are odd analogies and yes, they work.
Don’t fight losing this negative emotion. When you look back on life, you’re looking back from a completely different perspective than when you were making there and making the messed up decisions. Allowing this concept into our belief systems will help you understand that it makes no sense to grind our noses into some crap narrative. You were there, it happened, you did your best with the thinking you had and now your thinking is better because your awareness is higher.
Whatever happened in your life happened FOR you because it helped shape who you are and who you are is right where you need to be. This is the truth for everything.
Life didn’t happen ‘to’ you or ‘to’ your kids or ‘to’ your grandmammy. It happened ‘for’ you and ‘for’ them. Every conflict or struggle has helped you to become stronger. Any other way to perceive ‘bad things’ is a victim-stance and you are definitely not a victim.
This was a bit of a philosophical article…that happens sometimes. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to like, comment and share it if you think it’ll help someone.
Till next time – awareness up,
Jed Thorpe, CMHC
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