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Shame and Guilt: Accepting the Past

Updated on March 5, 2019
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A physicians view as a mental health patient, giving some insight into the world of depression.

Shame and Guilt

Theres good shame and bad shame in life good shame is necessary, it's the shame that keeps us from inappropriate actions. Your conscience if you will. Bad shame is misplaced fault, putting the fault of an action on a deficiency within yourself instead of the decision made. This article focuses on the relationship with shame and moving past it.

Self forgiveness is the key, but how do we get there?

Shame vs Guilt

The relationship between shame and guilt is one that is well studied in mental health circles and something I've been examining in myself. When it comes to dealing with the traumas of our past, whatever they may be, differentiating between these feelings is not just important, its crucial. When shame is discussed it is associated with the line of thinking "I am...". Where as when we consider guilt it is "I did..."

This may not seem like a big difference, but the subtle contrast is what helps us along the path of forgiveness and acceptance.

The trauma I experienced in my life (details on that are a story for another day) left me with intense feelings of shame. A feeling of this happened because I am a bad person. This happens because there is a fundamental fault in who I am as a person. This way of thinking led me to an alcohol induced spiraling depression for over a decade and culminated in an attempt on my life.

When you think of yourself as fundamentally bad, there is no forgiveness. Without forgiveness there is no acceptance, processing and moving forward. We become trapped in ourselves, an unending cycle of negative thinking. Shame festers like a sliver of wood under your skin.

What I've learned is the difference between shame and guilt and what that can do for processing trauma. When it came down to it if I was able to bring my shame to the open, force myself to speak of it freely and admit it to myself and peers, something changed. Shame could not survive in the open, it was transformed. What I was left with was guilt.

Now that may not sound much better at first, but stay with me here.

The door for forgiveness of guilt is now open. Who is easier to forgive, someone who is a good person and is guilty of a bad choice or someone who is just fundamentally a bad person? I know that I have a much easier time reconciling the former than the latter.

So now that we have aired out our shame and have gone from its "I am bad" to the guilt of " I did something wrong" forgiveness becomes a possibility. That doesn't make it easy but it does make it doable.

Recently I've been able to reconcile my guilt and move to acceptance, a large step for me that was simply due to a change in my thought process. It took many therapy sessions to hit this revaluation (not to mention the years of terrible untreated depression), but this breakthrough is there for all of us.

I would encourage anyone suffering from this type of negativity to find the strength to voice it, and forgive the guilt. If you let it fester, like I did, the result can be disastrous. Mine very nearly were, but there is hope.

The person you were in the past does not get to dictate the person you can be and are going forward. A steep, long, difficult road to self forgiveness is better than feeling you have no road at all left to travel.

Hang in there, things get better.


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    • bhattuc profile image

      Umesh Chandra Bhatt 

      12 months ago from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India

      A self introspection article. Nice.


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