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.