Sometimes guilt is useful and healthy. Without it we would feel no remorse for hurting others or breaking laws. Because we want to avoid feeling remorseful, we are often more mindful of the way we treat others. However, should we somehow cause hurt to someone, either intentional or unintentional, guilt can motivate us to try and make things right. Healthy guilt can actually help us to:
♦ Embrace the lessons from the mistakes we make.
♦ Ask for forgiveness from those we hurt.
♦ Forgive ourselves for the mistakes we make.
Through healthy guilt we can also view our mistakes as opportunities to prosper and grow. We can become more assertive, confident and learn to respect ourselves more.
Determining the difference between guilt and shame is sometimes confusing. My mentor describes it this way, “Guilt is when you have done something wrong. Shame is when you think you are something wrong.” With shame there are often feelings of worthlessness and a lot of self-scrutiny.
Shame is more likely to occur if you have a low sense of self-worth and question your own values and morals. With shame, you are also more likely to accept behavior in relationships that is really unacceptable. If you suffer from unhealthy guilt/shame you probably demonstrate some of the characteristics below:
♦ You feel like you never do anything right.
♦ You constantly seek validation and approval from others.
♦ You fail to set boundaries and seldom say no.
♦ You have difficulty seeking help from others.
If you are acknowledging that any of the above statements are a reflection of you, then it is time to free yourself. Letting go of the unhealthy guilt/shame and embracing the healthy can be a start to rebuilding yourself.
No matter how difficult it may be, reach out to someone who can help you get to the root cause of your thoughts and feelings. It may be uncomfortable in the beginning, but it will serve you much better than be tormented with the negativity.
Teresa L. Holmes