As we experience life, our behaviors and interactions will impact the way we feel about ourselves. Behaviors, both positive and negative, bring consequences and those consequences influence our future selves. The same is true for interactions with others. What happens to us – in our environments and in our interactions with others – impacts our sense of self.
Over time, we develop beliefs about ourselves:
“I am good.”
“I am bad”
“I am fat.”
“I am a loser.”
“I am God’s gift to this lowly earth.”
Many of these beliefs are developed through our perception or interpretations of our world. Some have accuracy, others are pure falsehoods. Some bring desire for change and others bring guilt and shame.
Shame is something that may be experienced by all of us in some area of our lives. Shame is the feeling of un-lovability, rejection, or worthlessness that clings to us and invades our thoughts, actions and most importantly, our interactions with others. With shame, we tell ourselves “I AM BAD.” Shame builds walls around us, preventing us from true intimacy with others because we view the world through our faults. We tend to hold on to a continuous desire to be better or perfect, but we are hindered when playing the role of a victim or when we stay on the defensive, trying to keep others from finding us out.
Shame prevents us from accepting the love of others, especially God. It prevents us from being open to the graces God bestows on us daily. Shame is a lie!
So, what if we have said or done things which are sinful, hurtful to self or others? What if we have not been living the Christian life asked of us by our Heavenly Father? We first need to work to forgive ourselves. We need to acknowledge our faults and ask for forgiveness from God and others, and then make amends.
For many situations, forgiveness does not erase the consequences. This is where we experience the remorse and regret of our actions and even a feeling of guilt leading to shame. But guilt can be healthy or unhealthy. First, unhealthy guilt can lead to stagnation or regression. We allow ourselves to wallow in the guilt and let it impact us negatively. This has the potential of turning into shame.
Healthy guilt, however, is an opportunity for growth. We see our wrongs and learn from them. Healthy guilt moves us forward in our life. Healthy guilt can also be more challenging and fear-inducing because it means taking full accountability, asking for pardon, amending the situation and accepting the consequences. However, when everything is said and done, there will be strength, peace and gratitude experiencing a new self.
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