change

Guilt or Shame?

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Guilt and shame are powerful feelings.  Many people experience them on a daily basis.  For some, they are feelings to be avoided as “inappropriate” in our current society. For some, they are tools or weapons used consciously or unconsciously to get children or adults to behave the way we want them to. For some, they are  ever-present and smothering.

I distinguish between guilt and shame.  Guilt, when internally experienced and heeded, is a productive emotion that leads to a change in negative behavior patterns. It is the “Godly grief” that 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes as leading to the genuine understanding that I have done wrong and hurt myself and others, and that I need to behave differently. Guilt says, “I have done wrong.”

Shame is a feeling that says, “Something is wrong with me”.  It is a statement describing identity rather than behavior.  It cannot lead to a change in behavior because the problem is “all of me”, as the character Hiccup says in the wonderful movie, “How to Train Your Dragon”.  The language of shame says, “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I …”, “I’m always/never…”, “I am (a screw up, a goof ball, a fool, fill in the blank…)”.

Shame speaks with the language of identity (“I am…”) rather than the language of deeds (“I did…”). As such, it makes change nearly impossible to conceive, much less execute. If the problem is who I am rather than what I did, there is no hope for change.

Think about the language you use on yourself.  Think about the language you use on others, or on your kids.  If you say things like “What’s the matter with you?!”, or “You are such a …” as you correct your child, you are very likely shaming them rather than reproving them productively.  Rather speak to their deeds: “That was inappropriate to do.”, or “You hurt your sister. That was wrong.”  In this way, you help train the child’s moral compass and help them to learn how to define right and wrong accurately.  You also make the problem a fixable one rather than a permanent one; the problem is outside the individual rather than the individual themselves.

We can do this for ourselves as well.  When you hear, “Agh!  Why can’t I ever get this done?”, or “I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I …”, you are using shame language.  Try shifting from statements of identity to statements of action: “I made a mess of that situation.  I will try to do it differently next time.”, or “I’m sorry I hurt you.”, or  “I see what I did, and I don’t want to do it again.”

Shift your language into language of hope rather than hopelessness.  When you describe genuine wrongdoing, make sure you use the language that describes it as wrong-doing, not wrong-being. It can take work to set the oppressive and impossible weight of shame aside, but it is worth the effort.

Change and Loss

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
Every change involves a loss. While we tend to limit the extent to which we allow ourselves to grieve and process unwelcomed loss and change, even more often I think we deny ourselves the freedom to grieve the losses that accompany longed for or beneficial change. Even those welcomed and “good,” every change brings with it necessary and non-optional forfeitures. Preschool graduation lets go of toddlerhood. A new house forces goodbye to the home of many memories. A wedding signifies shifts in many relationships, not only one. Job transition causes competence to be compromised. Moving out of town sacrifices the security of the familiar.
 
There is comfort in consistency. There is safety in what is known. Feeling both “positive” and “negative” emotions simultaneously about one circumstance can be confusing and at times frustrating. It is much easier to stuff down or ignore away the less pleasant emotions than to allow the two to coexist. However, if we allow ourselves to embrace this tension and ambivalence, we will live more honestly, be more connected to our own hearts, and experience the full reality of what every change entails for us. How do we begin to we do this? By allowing ourselves to acknowledge the presence and the weight of the loss. What losses in your life story have brought ambivalent feelings? What good things have you had to let go of in the midst of attaining other good things?
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Anatole France

Are You Happy? Yes or No.

By:  Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

There is obviously humorous simplicity in this flow chart. Strict adherence would fail to take into account a multitude of factors that life presents. There is, however, truth in this simplistic presentation as it relates to choice, change, and power.

Socrates claimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Failing to examine our lives, decisions, relationships, actions, past mistakes, and the states of our hearts can rob us of living fully. It can also lead to pitfalls and follies. Which misteps in your life could have been avoided by external observation and internal searching?

What do you see when you stop and look at your life? What do you wish were different? There is only one person you have the power to change. And, by the grace and power of God, there is only one person who has the power to change you. (Hint: both of these have the same answer)