Guilt feelings come when we do something wrong. People feel shame when they believe they are something wrong. Guilt propels us to correct our behavior and mend broken relationships. It’s a healthy response to an unhealthy act. Feels of shame are about our very selves. It’s the difference between “I told a lie” and “I’m the kind of person who lies.”
In his book, “Shame & Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve” Smedes wrote, “Whether healthy or unhealthy, true or false, shame is always a heavy feeling of being an unacceptable person, a feeling that, one way or the other, needs healing.” He goes on to distinguish the differences between healthy and unhealthy shame, explains how others shame us, and how we shame ourselves. He concludes his book with self-acceptance, living more lightheartedly, and finding joy.
I found the chapter on “How We Shame Ourselves” to be very helpful and relevant in my work with clients. Unhealthy shame seems to be a toxic filter in our outlook on life. Here are ways having a shame-based lens can propel ourselves into further unhealthy shame:
Discounting the positive: Shame-prone people push away compliments and assume people who praise them are not being sincere.
Magnify flaws: Every minor fault makes them unacceptable and condemned. “Some shamed people do shameful things to prove to themselves that they are not ashamed to be what they are ashamed of being. They act out their shame with a fury in the hope that if they flaunt their shame they will convince themselves that they deserve it.”
Judge themselves by undefined ideals: Haunted by failure and not worthy of being confident, they believe that they can never measure up.
Translate criticism of what they do into judgment of what they are.
Read their own shame into other people’s minds: The shame lens causes people to have a hunch that everyone else has the same negative feelings about them as they do for themselves. Incorrect mind-reading and making false assumptions cause HUGE problems in relationships.
Doubt their shame but act as if they believe it. Most of the time, people can sense that their shame lens is at least a little off of what is real about themselves. Sometimes people will contradict their shame by becoming successful. Unfortunately, a pattern of self-sabotage can develop when a wave of unworthiness hits and people crash back into failure.
*Info taken from "Shame & Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve" by Lewis Smedes.