Overcoming Shame and Guilt

Carly BensonPractice0 Comments

overcoming shame and guilt

I recently completed training to become a Certified Christian Life Coach. I’m going through the certification process and have already started working with a few clients on faith and spiritual development as well as sobriety mentoring. An area of study that I’ve personally spent a lot of time on is overcoming shame and guilt. This comes up in so many conversations and it has been something I’ve struggled with in my own road to recovery.

Last week, I talked about self-love and how shame and guilt are such huge factors for so many issues in all people. In my own recovery, I’ve seen this to be common in alcoholism and addiction. Most of the time, addicts and alcoholics are using substances to numb, escape and run from their feelings of shame and guilt. Shame and guilt can be such heavy burdens to carry and so painful to face that we often try to mask them with substances or addictions.

A book that has been a huge eye-opener for me is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. She is a researcher that has dedicated much of her career to research on shame, guilt and vulnerability in humans. I highly recommend this read for everyone, not just addicts. A quote from it in the chapter called Understanding and Combating Shame is:

“According to Dr. Hartling (in a research study), in order to deal with shame, some of us move away by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets. Some of us move toward by seeking to appease and please. And some of us move against by trying to gain power over others, by being aggressive and by using shame to fight shame. Most of us use all of these – at different times with different folks for different reasons. Yet all of these strategies move us away from connection – they are strategies for disconnecting from the pain of shame.”

Shame is so powerful and such a wall to break through. We all carry guilt and shame around with us.

I think women, in particular, are a lot harder on themselves and have more of a need to be “perfect” based on societal influences, that they tend to be more full of shame and guilt in not achieving this perfection – being the perfect mom, perfect employee, perfect girlfriend, perfect sister, having the perfect body, etc.

I can speak from this as a woman, but I’m sure men are just as hard on themselves. In my work and life, I’ve noticed men tend to be more obsessive about their careers and finding success as they define it, which can often lead to feelings of shame or not measuring up. We all face not meeting standards we set for ourselves in some form during our lives.

One of the things that has been so powerful for me in my own shame/guilt release is “outing” what I’m shameful or feeling guilty for. When we carry around secrets and try to hide from the things we are not proud of, they fester and grow stronger. They breed negativity and self-doubt. They are a precursor to settling for less than we deserve and listening to the voice that says we are not worthy or good enough. Those skeletons in the closet are so loud and the more we try to silence them by running, the louder they get. But when we air them out to someone we trust, we begin their burial.

“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That’s why it loves perfectionists – it’s so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.” -Brene Brown, Daring Greatly.

An exercise that has helped me is to actually sit with my thoughts on what makes me shameful and what I’m carrying guilt around for. I use a journal to write down what the events were, who was involved, how it makes me feel and how I can forgive myself as well as anyone involved.

Sometimes by owning it in written form, we can shed enough light on it to begin the destruction process. And sometimes, we need further help with it from a professional, whether it be a therapist to deal with the pain we may still be feeling or a life coach to move forward and let it go.

Prayer is also a huge resource for moving through shame and guilt. Asking God to remove character defects and to make us whole again is so powerful. This begins the self-acceptance process by admitting to what is causing us shame or guilt, which helps us to begin to move forward from it.

If you are struggling with shame or guilt, you are not alone. As humans, we all battle against the gremlins inside. We must be intentional in our lives to work towards not letting them multiply and wreak havoc in our lives. Blast them with the light of conversation and remember – don’t feed them after midnight.

Photo Credit: WolfC-Stock