Shame and guilt are two powerful emotions that can have a profound impact on a person’s sense of self. Both emotions are closely related, but they differ in their origin and how they manifest themselves.
Shame is deeply rooted in a person’s self-image and self-esteem. It is often accompanied by a feeling of worthlessness or inadequacy, which can lead to a negative self-concept. When a person experiences shame, they may feel as though they are inherently flawed, unworthy, or inferior to others. This can cause them to withdraw from social interactions or avoid new experiences.
Guilt, on the other hand, is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for a particular action or behaviour. It is often the result of violating a moral or ethical code. When a person experiences guilt, they may feel as though they have let themselves or others down and the person may become overly critical of themselves.
How shame and guilt impacts us
The impact of shame and guilt on a person’s sense of self can lead to internalised negative beliefs and a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if a person believes that they are not good enough or worthy of love, they may begin to act in ways that confirm this belief, like pushing people away because they expect to be rejected. Shame and guilt can also have a significant impact on a person’s mental health. Studies have shown that individuals who experience high levels of shame and guilt are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.
How to let go of shame and guilt
It’s important to remember that we cannot change an emotion no matter how hard we try. This is because emotions are a bi-product of our thoughts and behaviours based on life events. In that sense, emotions serve as a function to give us information about how we are experiencing life. If you feel negative emotions like shame and guilt, it is a pretty strong indicator that we should change how we act and think.
The following steps are a helpful guide to help you let go of shame and guilt:
- Acknowledge how you feel from a compassionate stand point and accept the events which have led you to where you are. Do not try and push the shame and guilt away, but also do not fixate on the emotions.
- Thank shame and guilt (this might feel weird) for showing us what we would prefer to be thinking or doing, and let this guide your actions in the future
- Forgive yourself for what happened and recognize that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes.
- Talking to a therapist or a trusted friend can help you process your emotions and work through your shame and guilt.