Matt's Musings

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7/15/20 Guilty as Charged

I learned what I think is an important distinction from Brene' Brown. It relates to the difference between guilt and shame.

I know in the past I was guilty of using these words interchangeably but they really are fundamentally different. Brene' says "Guilt is I made a mistake, while shame is I am a mistake" Guilt can help guide future behavior. It is adaptive. Our awareness that we made a mistake by doing something or saying something wrong, inaccurate, hurtful or insensitive helps us guide future behavior to become the best versions of ourselves.

Shame has no such redeeming qualities. Shame about somehow being fundamentally flawed, inadequate or worthless only contributes to a state of resignation and self-loathing. We start to believe we are hopeless and will never be any good. This leads to all kinds of physical and emotional health problems and self-destructive behavior. It also leads to relationship challenges, academic or career challenges and even legal problems. I worry that saying "shame on you" to our kids can do real damage.

I truly believe we all people are worthy of love and respect. I believe we all have the potential to do good and be a contribution to society.

I also believe words matter. Both the words we say out loud, write (type) or even just say silently in our head. Even if you don't make the same distinction between the words guilt and shame, I believe the way we think about ourselves can have an unconscious impact. 

May I suggest the next time you feel bad about yourself, to reframe your thoughts from the unhealthy, shame perspective to the adaptive and growth orientation provided by guilt.

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