Overcoming Shame and Guilt – Erica Jong

Before you can overcome feelings of guilt and shame, you need to learn the difference between the two. These tips on overcoming shame and guilt are inspired by bestselling author Erica Jong…

“The trick is not how much pain you feel – but how much joy you feel,” says Jong. “Any idiot can feel pain. Life is full of excuses to feel pain, excuses not to live, excuses, excuses, excuses.”

Shame and guilt are great excuses for denying yourself happiness and a full life! If you’re paralyzed with regrets about your past, find ways to move forward. Read books like Healing the Shame that Binds You for help – or talk to someone you trust.

Of course, you must also check out these tips on overcoming shame and guilt…

Overcoming Shame and Guilt

Moving beyond the painful, paralyzing emotions of shame and guilt isn’t easy – but there is hope, my friends, for moving on after making mistakes! University of Alberta researcher Jessica Van Vliet studied these emotions and found specific things that help with overcoming shame and guilt.

First: realize that shame and guilt can improve your life.

“Shame can prompt us to make changes that will help protect our relationships and also preserve the fabric of society. It’s important to emphasize that shame is essential and has value,” said Van Vliet. “The problem is when people get paralyzed with shame and withdraw from others. Not only can this create mental health problems for people, but also they no longer contribute as fully to society.”

Be aware of how shame and guilt damages your health and well-being

Women who feel debilitated by shame tend to internalize and over-personalize the situation. They also seem resigned to being unable to change their feelings or their fate – and don’t allow themselves to believe that overcoming shame and guilt is possible. They don’t let themselves overcome failure and bounce back.

“When people experience shame, they may say to themselves ‘I’m to blame, it’s all my fault, all of me is bad, and there’s nothing I can do to change the situation,'” said Van Vliet. “They identify so much with shame that it takes over their entire view of themselves. That leads to an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness.”

Know that overcoming shame and guilt involves going to the “dark place”

Erica Jong says, “Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.” I think the “dark place” can be found in many situations and is different for all women. When it comes to talent, the dark place can be feeling selfish, or forcing self-discipline to stay motivated to pursue your dreams. When it comes to shame and guilt, the dark place can be sitting with and accepting those terrible feelings.

One of my most popular articles is Dealing With Guilt When You Caused Your Pet’s Death – and in the comments section, you see how readers are going into the dark place to overcome shame and guilt.

Step back from the problem

A key to overcoming shame and guilt involves view your problem in a different, objective light. It helps to identify external factors that contributed to your actions or situation (discrimination or peer pressure, for example) and differentiate between being a bad person versus doing something bad.

“When people move from a sense of uncontrollability to the belief that maybe there’s something they can do about their situation, such as apologizing or making amends for their actions, it starts increasing a sense of hope for the future,” says Van Vliet.

Connect with friends, family, a higher power, or humanity as a whole

“Connecting to others helps to increase self-acceptance, and with self-acceptance can come a greater acceptance of other people as well,” says Van Vliet. “People start to realize that it’s not just them. Other people do things that are as bad or even worse sometimes so they’re not the worst person on the planet. They start to say to themselves, ‘This is human, I am human, others are human.'”

Do you find the thought of overcoming shame and guilt scary or risky? Remember…“if you don’t risk anything you risk even more,” says Erica Jong.

If you’re having trouble forgiving yourself, read How to Forgive Yourself. I welcome your thoughts on overcoming shame and guilt below.

guilt and shame

Source: University of Alberta (2009, September 9).” Overcoming Shame: Making Connections Is The Key, Says Researcher.” Van Vliet’s study was published in Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice.

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3 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    I missed your comments, and I am really sorry. I can’t give advice, but I would like to tell you that I know how difficult it is to overcome guilt and shame.

    I don’t know how I missed your comments, and I wish I could reach you. If you get this, let me know how you’re doing now. Have you healed, are you getting better at overcoming the guilt and shame that you feel?

  2. Chrissy says:

    I am a 37 year old female. I live with tremendous guilt from a action i did 10 years ago. I stole money from a friend and have been advised not to apologies or make amends due to legal consequences. It has caused great grief and I feel I’m a horrible person and deserve nothing but Baf things to happen to me. I have a child who suffers from watching me abuse my body with Alcohol ad over eating. I am obese now and have heart and liver issues, I don’t want die but I can’t stand the pain of betraying someone who was a true friend. I have no family was givin away as a child, I lost my friends along the way and have been in may abusive relationships. The twelve steps don’t work for me because the most important step involves me admitting to my friend what I did. I feel hopeless and lost, please help me.


  3. Jackie says:

    Erica, I am a 53-year old single female, empty-nester, desperate to gain control of my life. I used to think I was in control, but I was only masking the deep, deep shame that I’ve felt for most of my life for a number of reasons: parental abuse, child sexual abuse, childhood ugly duckling syndrome, poverty, social/ethnic stigma, and a general feeling that God cannot possibly love me. When I walk into a room full of people, I am the one who is out of place. I’m tired of it, but I don’t know how to fix it. I’ve had 12-week therapy sessions at various times in my adult life; I’ve begun meditating to cleanse my mind of self-hating thoughts. But therapy brought no relief and meditation seems to be a sloooooowwww process. Articles such as yours are good motivational pick me ups for a while. But do you know of anyone who has completely overcome shame so profound that it was paralyzing and debilitating?

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