Two Liars: Guilt and Shame
Shame and Guilt are liars. Never trust them. Never believe what they tell you about yourself. You can rely on them to be unreliable, and that's about it.
Pausing to Meet Your Harsh Emotions
Still, don't be too quick to send them packing. Think of Guilt or Shame as the unwelcome guest who shows up uninvited. You can try to slam the door in its face but it will persist. It will stalk you, hide in the bushes, slip in through the crack next time you even try to peek out. You may as well invite it in. Sit down with it awhile. Look it in the face. What could be scary in meeting your accuser? The discomfort you'll feel is the same discomfort that's there when you try to ignore it. (I love how Byron Katie says the hell we fear is the hell we're already in.) A harsh emotion may appear in a more concentrated dose when you give it your full attention, but that also means you can deal with the worst of it and move on.
Honestly, what's scary about meeting our accuser is that it might be speaking the truth. We cringe from Shame and Guilt because they keep showing up with new evidence for our worst fear: we really are bad, wrong, weird, unlovable, too different, too special—you name it. But each moment they return, we have the chance to look again, to go deeper, to follow the spiral down closer to its roots. We may even get to truth this time—and the truth about our essential nature is all about abiding love and limitless potential, not transitory fluctuations into contracted states with What's wrong with me? written all over them.
Healing in Body and Mind
It's most effective to meet Shame and Guilt at two levels: the level of the pain body (thanks, Eckhart Tolle) and the level of the mind. Both are equally important and together add up to a clear case of bigger-than-the-sum-of-the-parts. This is the stuff of true healing.
Being with the Pain Body
It's very useful to locate emotions in your body. Where do you feel Shame or Guilt? At the first hint of its presence—Do you notice a discomfort? Did you overhear a self-accusatory thought or catch something you said out loud?—pause to feel it. This may seem counterintuitive, but it's truly best to let the feeling in fully: even expand it. Then you can zero in on it. Take the time to locate it, just like you'd go searching if something in your house started beeping unrelentingly; you'd go through every room and closet and open every drawer till you could find the thing and dismantle it (possibly throttle it). So go on a bit of a hunt for where some alarming emotion is hiding. Does it have you by the throat? Is it lodged in your gut like the residue of the bully's punch? Is it squeezing your chest with its talons? Find it.
When you pause and locate a feeling in your pain body, you're meeting it as you would a physical sensation; and that's just what it is. You can depersonalize emotions a bit and move away from taking them so seriously—so personally—by stating it just this way to yourself: The pain body is active. Notice how different this is from I feel horrible or I'm ashamed (you may as well say, I am Shame). Let's say we all have a pain body, and sometimes it's active. It's part of being human. So let yourself be human, and acknowledge what's there.
Beyond acknowledging it, bring kindness to bear. Think of a child running in with a skinned knee while you're working on the computer. To state the obvious (call this next bit “Advice to a Clueless Parent”), don't keep typing. Don't glance over and say, “Aw, bummer,” and crank out the next paragraph. Stop and give the child your full attention; give kindness, love; cleanse the wound, apply a balm. You know what to do with a child—but are you a clueless parent to yourself? With the pain body, you can simply place your hand there once you locate it. Think of the breath as a balm applied from within. Breathe into the pain body for a few breaths, gently expanding into it then beyond to make space around it. Give this a minute; give it a few. We love to rush away from these moments, as if the to-do list were more important. When the kid runs in crying, nothing else matters—just for a bit. It all shakes back down pretty quickly, so just be still awhile.
Being with the Mind: Guilt
At the level of the mind, let's begin with Guilt. It's useful to ask yourself, Do I have anything to truly feel guilty about? Answer these question: Is there anything I've actually done wrong or would like to have handled differently? Are there any amends I need to make? Is there anything I want to change now to make it right or to feel better about this? Can I get completely okay with this, imperfections included? Getting okay always begins with opening to being okay; giving yourself permission, if you will.
I say Guilt is a liar, but you can extract whatever crumbs of truth it brings by answering the questions above. These enable you to look at yourself clearly as a human being doing human things and getting okay with them. You can't get through a human life without tasting this piece of the pie. You must learn how to forgive yourself if you're going to forgive others. And you must learn forgiveness if you want to live love. (Go back to my February mailing if you'd like to further consider the particular importance of self-love.)
The bold-faced lie of Guilt is its assertion, “You're guilty”—as if that were who you are, the truth of your identity. We can acknowledge anything we've done, make it right with someone else however we can, and beyond that we must learn to let it go as surely as we benefit from letting go of what anyone else has done to us. Guilt asks us to remember, to hold on with a death grip. Its unspoken promise is that we won't do it again if we keep feeling guilty. But have you noticed you're at your worst when you think ill of yourself? I just got the reminder quite recently when I had a bad mama weekend, and in accusing myself of handling things badly, I kept handling the next thing even worse. Sound familiar? In fact, all that we go through that's painful is meant to be moved through and released. It has a gift for us, but we don't need to keep the Guilt to get the gift. In other words, don't hold on to the bathwater to keep the baby.
Being with the Mind: Shame
Shame is a worse liar than Guilt. Its crumbs of truth are even crumbier, sometimes microscopic. Okay, it may show you what you don't want to do or what you'd like to do differently, but you don't have a prayer of getting to that until you get away from Shame's blaring message—you know, the message that you're worthless, that you don't even belong on the planet. Shame is debilitating, crippling, smothering. There's no good in it. It tells you there's no good in you, then you get stuck. You can't be who you are—never mind who you're ready to become next.
Ask yourself this when Shame appears: Should I actually be ashamed? Watch yourself in the shaming scenes in your mind as you would someone else. Imagine any other person, several other people, in the same situation—doing or experiencing whatever it was that brought on the Shame. Imagine a child in that place. Should any of these others be ashamed? They're no different from you. If they shouldn't be, you shouldn't be. If you can't get to a no with this question, you need to stay with it, possibly with a reliable helper. You can ask yourself, facing Shame, the same questions that I offered for Guilt to examine what you might want to do differently or how you can make something right. Ultimately, the question you need to ask is, Who am I? Who am I really? You are not whatever you've done that you don't approve of; you're not whatever has happened to you that was awful and exposing. Give some time—ample time, more time than you've ever given to reviewing shaming evidence—to finding love for and approval of yourself. Take time to envision your highest intentions for yourself.
Ushering out Shame and Guilt
Both Guilt and Shame get in the way of your personal evolution. They'll tell you that you can't pursue your fondest dreams—not you. They'll say you can't be who you want to be, you can't get too big. Shame and Guilt are liars. Don't believe them, especially when they're telling you who you are and what you're capable of. Even when they're not huge for you, when you allow either Shame or Guilt to sort of buzz along with you at a low-grade level, it's like a constant irritant that you're barely aware of—one that saps your energy and affects how well you function. Clear out Shame and Guilt, at whatever level they exist for you. After you've sat with them a bit, show them the door. They'll be willing to leave. They may try to come back—and then you know what to do: take the time to meet them; look them in the face and speak back to them with truth; then, again, usher them out.
Many blessings, Jaya
Photo by Damaris
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