Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Guilt is often misunderstood as shame. Shame is possibly the most destructive emotion because it desecrates the person rather than taking issue with the behavior of that person. Shaming is a comparative exercise where your worth is evaluated relative to another’s worth, or to an expectation. Shaming is damaging to the essence of who you are at the core. Shame is a focus on self. Guilt is a focus on behavior. Guilt is recognizing that you have done something bad, or hurtful, or not in alignment with established acceptable behaviors. Shame perpetuates secrecy, hiding, lying, and abandoning ourselves to prevent others from seeing us wounded. Most of us believe behaviors can change but people can not. Shame is part of the human experience but it drives destructive behaviors and distorts perceptions.
To reframe shame try this exercise in self-talk: Tune into how thoughts such as “I’m broken”, ”I’m worthless”, “I’m unlovable” make you feel. Reframe the thoughts away from your person. Replace “I’m a screw-up” with “I screwed up.” Change "I'm a horrible person" to "I'm a good person that made a horrible choice that time". This repeated exercise will allow you to evaluate your behavior without judgement of your worth, giving you the power to either rectify or find peace with the outcome of your experiences. Sharing your feelings with a trusted friend or professional can pull you out of a painful shame cycle. Empathy is healing. Everyone makes mistakes.
To reframe guilt try this exercise in self-talk: If I feel bad about something I have done, it indicates to me that I know the difference between right and wrong. I have a barometer for behavior, otherwise I might not feel uncomfortable about what I did. This is a beneficial emotion because it offers me guidance in times when I could be tempted to behave in ways I might regret. I have choices. I can trust myself.
Reframe Shame. It'll change how you see yourself and the world.