What if any shameful or guilty feelings you have are just your inner critic having a field day? I'm not talking about the guilt or shame that arises when you know you have deliberately wronged or hurt another. Rather, I'm alluding to the impactful sense of not being good enough, or not feeling worthy.
We can feel guilty about wanting more for ourselves in this life or wanting to step into our power. We can feel shameful about not conforming to societal or familial conditioning or wanting to tread our unique path. It's these types of feelings that I'm referring to here but I also address the shame triggered by our unloving acts; further on in this article.
If you're someone who has felt criticised just for being you; then feelings of guilt and shame can arise regularly. They tend to come up most when you make statements such as:
'I am worthy... I deserve...'
When you boldly make such statements, the weight of every judgement and criticism in the collective unconscious seems to show up. These judgements appear to have the intention of undoing your feelings of self-appreciation.
If you listen closely to your inner critic, you'll often hear the disdainful opinions of those in your past who doubted your worthiness. You may hear that inner critic saying disparagingly: 'You? Worthy? Don't make me laugh!'
The spiritual shame game.
Shame can also be a symptom of actively stepping onto a spiritual path. It's easy to be weighed down by traditions and teachings that cite that wanting anything; is bad. Desiring anything; is immature. Especially if what we desire relates to worldly and material concerns.
Shouldn't we simply be happy sleeping on a park bench, blissed out in need of nothing but the love of the God? Shouldn't we strive only to show love and support to others and expect nothing in return? Isn't it time we let go of the need to be acknowledged, supported, valued or affirmed? After all, aren't we already filled up from within?
Beware of the ego playing the role of spiritual teacher. It can definitely use anything to turn on our feelings of guilt and shame.
Trust that you'll know if you're seeking something from a space of fear and lack. Cultivate the ability to distinguish between lack-driven desires and the genuine desire to be more self-loving.
Guilt and shame arising from trauma.
If our shameful feelings are based on past traumatic events then that's another matter. If we have been physically or mentally abused, it's important to explore our shameful feelings with compassion and forgiveness. We can look at forgiving the perpetrators when we're ready, but surprisingly, it's most important to forgive ourselves.
This is of the utmost importance. It's important because we tend to turn outside acts of betrayal in on ourselves. We then carry those feelings of betrayal around like a dead weight; literally becoming weighed down by past events. This then blocks any future attempts to nurture, approve of or value ourselves.
When we're the guilty ones.
If feelings of guilt and shame are about unloving acts we have committed against others, then self-awareness and self-forgiveness are still the tools we need. Self awareness and self forgiveness lead us out of shame into a deeper understanding. It's only through forgiving ourselves that we can experience true remorse. It's much harder to be loving and nurturing towards others without them.
True remorse can only happen if we have come to a place of true forgiveness within ourselves for unloving or bad behaviour. Otherwise, we are stepping into the minefields of ought to and should.
'I ought, to be more loving. I should, feel more ashamed.'
Yet ought to and should, tend to lead to greater feelings of resentment and a build-up of unloving thoughts. This approach can then lead to us acting in deliberately unloving ways again.
Thus a cycle begins where guilty feelings lead to shame. Those shameful feelings lead to feelings of resentment. That resentment then leads to anger, and that anger leads to us acting out in unloving or unhealthy ways. That acting out can be towards ourselves, or others. When we're trapped in that cycle we can never really heal.
We have to be willing to shift.
We have to be willing to shift our feelings of guilt and shame with self-forgiveness first. With support and greater self-awareness, we can explore where we learned our unhealthy behaviours in the first place.
This inner exploration allows us to take genuine ownership for our actions. Only then, can we begin to feel true remorse. And it is true remorse and a genuine loving intention towards those that you've harmed (including harming yourself) that will do more to redeem you than any self-berating could.
Guilt and shame do not transform. Only true remorse, increasing self-love and greater self-awareness can do that.
This article was previously published at The Good Men Project
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