Guilt and Shame: The Evil Twins

Here’s the second post I said I was going to write after my nap and some Pina Colada, courtesy of my Muse. And by the way, is there any finer combination of ingredients than pineapple, coconut, cream and rum? I don’t think so!!!!!

Now my Muse and I decided that, this being October, there should be some sort of Halloweeney theme running through my posts this month and she came up with the idea of Vanquishing Your Demons.

And so when I woke up needing to get my feminist rant out yesterday, I also immediately saw a link between that and a number of Demons that I know plague the life out of my clients and, as far as I’m aware, an awful lot of other people too.

I thought I’d group them according to the major ones that seem to crop up for the people working through my various packages, and I’m going to start with Colour In Your Life.

These packages are aimed at people who are standing around in a life that feels like a mixture of cold soup and fog – kind of grey and sticky and generally fairly bleurghhh. They know it doesn’t have to be like that and they know they don’t want it to be like that but they don’t know how to get out.

And as I work with these clients, I notice familiar Demons leaping out of the shadows over and over again. They are, in no particular order:

  • a desire to please others to the point of self-effacement
  • low self-esteem
  • Something Nasty In The Woodshed of their past (not read Cold Comfort Farm ? Treat yourself, you deserve it!)
  • Guilt
  • Shame

Increased self-esteem comes about in part as a result of tackling some of the others, and particularly the evil twins, Guilt and Shame.

These Evil Twins start to stalk us when we feel that we’re not living up to a particular set of standards. In general, if you feel like you’re a member of a group, you want to go along with the standards that group sets for the behaviour of its members. A group member that transgresses will likely feel that they have let down their peers and feel ashamed. The Evil Twins leap in at that point and start prodding you with sticks and telling you how Wrong and Bad you are.

We also feel shame when we transgress our own, personal standards or moral code.  In that kind of situation we feel that we have let ourself down and sometimes that can feel even worse than letting someone else down. The Evil Twins redouble their efforts and wake you up in the middle of the night to tell you what a loathsome individual you are and how much you deserve to suffer for what you’ve done.

We all know what guilt and shame feel like and it’s not nice. Most of us find an equilibrium where we behave in a way that meets the standards required by our own personal moral code and the code(s) of the group(s) to which we belong. You probably know what your own moral code is, here’s mine by way of an example:

What I do with my life is mine to decide and no-one else’s. I make my decisions based on what feels right to me, ensuring that I am not setting out deliberately to cause harm or suffering to anyone else. I take other people’s needs into consideration (especially my husband’s) but no-one else makes my decisions for me.

The important thing is that I am mistress of my own destiny and I decide what’s right for me.  I am an adult and therefore I am responsible for myself. No-one else can make me feel guilty or ashamed and I do not experience those emotions unless I know that I have done something that transgresses my own moral code.

But for some of us things get skewed and we end up living in a constant state of shame, where our very existence becomes something to be ashamed of.

I’ve worked with people who are ashamed of their appearance and people who are ashamed of their thoughts.

I’ve worked with people who are ashamed of things they’ve done and ashamed of things they haven’t done.

And I’ve worked with people who just feel ashamed of having been born, as if it was somehow their fault and they should have known better.

And the one thing these people all had in common was the fact that the shame came from not living up to what SOMEONE ELSE had told them was expected of them.

Sometimes the someone else was society at large – often the case with people who are ashamed of their appearance, as I used to be. I won’t rant again about media stereotyping but you know by now what I’m on about here.

But mostly the shame comes from carrying around other people’s unhelpful opinions about who, how and what you should be.

People who feel ashamed of being born often feel like that because they have been given their parent’s shame to carry.

People who feel ashamed of their appearance are often measuring themselves against the unobtainable standards set by the media or by a partner who puts them down in order to feel powerful.

People who feel ashamed of their thoughts often forget that they can’t read anyone else’s mind and so assume that no-one else thinks bizarre things.

And, of course, many people feel ashamed because someone in their life is TELLING them on a daily basis that they have something to be ashamed of. And that’s DEEPLY unhealthy.

I spent years being ashamed about the fact that, basically, I live in a pig-sty. My Mum, on the other hand, has the neatest, tidiest house you ever saw IN ALL YOUR LIFE! Not quite plastic covers on the seats but not far off. I spent years sensing her disapproval and feeling ashamed because I assumed that

a) everyone else’s house was like hers, and

b) the fact that mine wasn’t was a sign of Poor Character and Low Moral Fibre on my part.

And then, some time around my mid-30s (I was SUCH a late-developer) I suddenly realised that actually I really didn’t need my parent’s approval for everything I did. I had also, by then, been in enough other people’s houses to know that actually not many people’s houses look like my Mum’s…

That led on to thinking about what was important for me, in my house, and I realised that actually, as a single mother, my priorities were making sure my kids were warm, well-fed and knew they were loved.  Cleaning the sink and keeping the light-switches shiny really didn’t come anywhere on that list and in that moment of enlightenment I was able to shrug off that particular blanket of shame.

So here’s something for you to think about.

What things do you feel ashamed about?

What is it that leads to those feelings of shame? Try to capture what goes on in your head when you feel that shame – are you hearing someone else’s voice? If so, whose is it and what is it telling you? If it’s your voice, what are you telling yourself?

Make a note of what’s going on in your head and then come up with a counter-argument for each of them.

If you’re torturing yourself over something that happened years ago, forgive yourself. Write yourself a letter of forgiveness, seal it up and send it to yourself in the mail.

If there’s someone in your life that’s telling you that you should feel ashamed of or guilty about yourself, ask yourself what their REAL agenda is and then ask yourself whether you want to continue to live YOUR life according to THEIR agenda

And remember:

You are a unique individual with your own unique talents, gifts and blessings. When you let those gifts and talents show the world becomes a better place as a result. But when you let Guilt and Shame rule your life, you deprive the world of all that you could offer. And that really is a Shame.



2 responses to “Guilt and Shame: The Evil Twins

  1. It all makes sense when you put it like that! Love the bit about cleaning the sink and keeping the light switches shiny. And on that note, I’m going to abandon ciffing my sink, and take my two year old out for a cake instead!

  2. Good for you Rosie, cake and relaxing time spent with Mum is FAR more important to 2 year olds than a clean sink 🙂

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