Guilt vs. Shame
I was watching a TED talk that Brene Brown did not too long ago on the differences between Guilt and Shame. Brown essentially stated that guilt can be a productive thing whereas shame is not.
In fact, shame is so counterproductive that it often leads us to believe things about ourselves and the world that are not only untrue but also incredibly destructive to ourselves and others.
So how is guilt productive?
I think that guilt can offer us a choice whereas shame tends to paralyze us and rob us of the ability to make choices. The choice that guilt offers us is most often between these two diametrically opposed actions: Empowerment and Self-obsession.
No matter whether we feel guilt over something we have done, or something someone either did or said to us, we have the chance to make those two choices when the guilt falls on us.
Melody Beattie wrote beautifully about this very thing when she said:
Choose a way to express your guilt. Then watch it loosen and leave. That's how we cleanse our souls.
In my opinion, the way to express our guilt when we feel it is by choosing to react in a way that brings life rather than destruction.
We can choose to become self-obsessed, withdrawing deeper into our own heads and embracing beliefs about ourselves that aren't grounded in reality. Inevitably this will lead us to shame, which can cause incredible harm to our souls.
Or we can choose empowerment, which can lead to productive and life-giving transformation. I'm not talking about a self-aggrandizing kind of empowerment that is fueled by pride and self-reliance, quite the contrary.
What I'm talking about is the kind of empowerment that comes when we choose to be instructed by guilt, not overcome by it. It's when we realize that we are powerless over a great many things, but God is more powerful than all of them.
It is when we choose to be empowered by our "Higher Power" that we discover a way forward that will enable us to grow and become our best selves.
If you have been wracked by guilt either over things that you have done, or things that have been done to you... Or you were taught to feel guilty through your religious upbringing... Or there are people in your life who say and do things that bring guilty feelings to the surface...
Choose to be empowered by it, rather than overcome by it. You are not defined by your past, and God is willing and ready to help your carry your burdens, to lift off of your shoulders the weight of guilt.
Know this, and be at peace. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.