Feeling Guilt, Not Shame

guilt shameI’ve done something hurtful to someone I love and I feel really terrible about it. I can’t stop thinking about what an awful person I am and that I’m not worthy of love anymore. I’m such a failure.

It sounds to me like you are experiencing the thoughts and feelings of shame. Not only do you feel very badly for what you did, but you have connected those bad feelings to your self– to your self-worth, to your self-esteem. Shame is so painful, and I feel your pain coming through your words.

Something that might help is to shift away from your feelings of shame to feelings of guilt. This takes some intentional changes in self-talk. Dr. Brené Brown explains the difference between guilt and shame this way: guilt focuses on behavior (“I did something bad”) but shame focuses on self (“I am bad”). So instead, you could say:

I’ve done something hurtful to someone I love and I feel really terrible about it. My behavior damaged our relationship and I know I will have to work hard to regain your trust. I am a person worthy of your love. I’m so sorry I made this mistake. 

Although feeling guilt is often still a very uncomfortable feeling, because we’re having to really face something we did that hurt our self or someone we care about, ultimately it helps us move towards making amends and different choices in the future. Feeling shame doesn’t motivate us in the same way, and in fact Dr. Brene Brown’s research suggests shame is related to depression, addiction, and eating disorders.

Do you struggle with shame in your self-talk? Do you know someone who does? We hope you forward this post to anyone struggling with the painful feeling of shame. Individual counseling in Bethesda MD can help.  Call Emily Cook Therapy today.