Guilt is surrounding a behavior, the result of an action. Shame is a belief about yourself. Guilt is out in the open, something to be respected and inspected. Shame is something one keeps hidden, forbidden. Here’s a perfect example: I am a felon (shame) -or- I committed a felony (guilt). One is an identity, the other is a behavior. Behaviors we can change, we can address them. But identities, well, not so easily, if at all.
So when I heard Dr. Brene Brown say “the cure for shame is empathy” I had to really think about that. Empathy is understanding someone else’s feelings, understanding what someone else is going through emotionally. So how does that ‘cure’ shame? After several hours of thought I went to a few friends of mine and proposed the debate. This led to a robust discussion that ended with us all agreeing that it is absolutely true because of the following reasoning: If you truly become empathic towards others, this means you are spending time with emotions. If you are spending time understanding emotions you will often see that emotions are rather normal and not defining characteristics of ones identity but a simple result of a stimulus of some kind. Since this is a certainty for almost everyone, it must be true for ourselves as well. Which, in turn, enables self-empathy. Giving yourself the same understanding that you give others.
Just because someone was a bully in high school doesn’t mean they always are. Just because someone isn’t a Christian currently (a major identity) doesn’t mean that at some point they won’t be. Just because you aren’t a mother of father currently doesn’t mean that you won’t be. Get my point? In my own circumstances I am not ashamed, I feel deep remorse, regret that I hurt someone, I feel guilt that I did it. All changeable behaviors. But I am not that action. You are not reduced to a single negative behavior either.
So take some time and have a little self-empathy. Something else Brene Brown said was “it’s impossible to hurt someone else if you truly love yourself”. I believe in that statement, wholly. Find the things you love about yourself and don’t be afraid to admit them.
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Name: Utnage, Jeff (though I am legally Ruth)
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