Guilt and shame are two words that when uttered, just might make your skin crawl. What is the difference between guilt and shame and how do they act as sources of growth in our spiritual journey?
Divorce is never an easy thing and the journey is everything but easy and smooth. For me, the last two months, especially have been difficult emotionally, mentally and spiritually. In particular, I find myself short of temper, hyper-sensitive, impatient, angry, resentful, needy and even a little bit paranoid. The perfectionist in me is not ok with all these chaotic negative emotions and I feel bad for my husband and children who have had to bear the brunt of the pain within my own being that is finding its way out sideways through projection, impatience, etc. It is in these moments that I am grateful for the supportive experts that I have welcome as sources of support as I move through this process. Yesterday I met with one of those sources of support http://www.rhiannon-consciousvisions.com/ and as I shared with her (vented actually) all the things I have been feeling, she posed the following question to me: “Are you feeling guilty?”
Guilty? Now, that came out of nowhere. Why in the world would I feel guilty about any of this? While my first inclination was to say, “No, of course I’m not feeling guilty….this is exactly what we are supposed to be doing and I know that in the end it will be for the highest good of all of us.” But then, a tiny place within me whispered, “LIAR!” So while I could not immediately own guilt in the context of this divorce, I knew it was something I needed to explore more fully…..so, explore I did and here is what I discovered:
GUILT – I have to say off the bat that I have a problem with the word guilt. I have come to embrace the idea of guilt as being nothing but a source of temptation – guilt (in my understanding) is something that comes from outside of us out of the mouth of perceived or self-appointed authorities simply for the sake of keeping us under control. Guilt is the voice inside me that says, “You had better go to church on Sunday or God will punish you.” It is also the voice that says, “It is your job to make sure everybody else’s needs are met – you must sacrifice your truth, your gifts, your needs for the sake of others – afterall, that is what a good wife and a good Christian would do.” As I have grown spiritually, I have found these voices to be a source of sabatoge – keeping me from hearing, embracing and living the truth that the Divine would have me know and ignoring my own needs for support, boundaries, creative space, etc. I have been heard to say to my students and clients, “Guilt is the Devil.” And in the role of adversary, I have found this to be true. Guilt does not help us, it harms us.
So, when Rhiannon invited me to explore the question of guilt, I had a hard time coming up with a response. But then, as I sat with the question, I had a vision of another word, a word more powerful and devastating and it stepped out in-front of guilt and pushed it aside. This word is SHAME.
SHAME – ouch! Shame, as I have come to understand it is the natural feeling that arises to tell us that we have done something to hurt another human being. Shame is what alerts us to our boundaries being infringed upon, or tells us that we are being tempted to give away our power. Shame has icky, sticky sensations all around it and as much as we like to push it aside, ignore it, deny that we ever feel shame, I firmly believe that the feeling of shame has been given to us as a profoundly helpful tool.
As human beings, we were created to be in community and to be in relationship. While some of our species are authentically called to be alone, it is challenging to live or exist as a species in complete solitude. In the call to be in community, we are most healthy when we work toward cultivating harmony, understanding, healthy communication, deep and authentic listening, and work toward looking upon and honoring each and every human being as the magnificent expression of the Divine that they/we are. The problem is that most of the time we are operating out of our own fears and compulsions and these stand in the way of our ability to cultivate a healthy humanity. But how do we know when we are sabatoging these goals? The answer, I believe is SHAME.
Shame, I believe is an interior alarm system given to us by the Divine to alert us to the places where we are not succeeding in the call to live in community – harmoniously. When we intentionally or unintentionally hurt another being, we feel shame. When we are hurt by another, we feel shame. When we give our power away, we feel shame. When someone tries to infringe on our own needs and boundaries, we feel shame. When we ignore the voice of truth within or suppress our own unique magnificence, on some level we feel shame. Shame is the feeling that guards our needs, our gifts, our magnificence, our safety, our truth. When looked upon in this light, shame can serve as a remarkable tool for healing when we allow the feeling of shame to be a wakeup call to our own inability to honor our own magnificence or the magnificence of another.
So, when I invite the question of shame to enter into my consciousness, I am forced to humbly admit all those places within that are filled with shame in regards to my childhood, adult years, marriage, pending divorce, parenting, etc. etc. etc. OUCH! OUCH OUCH! The good news is that while I may be tempted to indulge a little self-flagellation, I am more inclined to remember that it is only in naming the demon (this one being shame) that it can be healed and I find comfort in knowing that once the demon has been named 95% of the healing has already taken place. YEA!
What roles do guilt and shame play in your own life?
Is there shame that you are carrying within that is in need of healing and release?
How can you invite a new perspective on guilt and shame that invites your own healing?
Authentic Freedom Ministries/YourSpiritualTruth