By Michael Rice, LISAC
All of us have done something in our life of which we are not particularly proud. And there may be some who may have even had some things happen to them by someone else that they are keeping secret. In either case, the basis for keeping these things secret and not wanting others to know about them will be rooted in two things: Shame and Guilt.
Shame and guilt can be the core of most, if not all, of one’s unhappiness. Yet both shame and guilt are not always bad. There is such a thing as healthy shame and guilt and these are the principles which keep many people from breaking laws, harming others, or performing deeds that would affect others in negative ways. It could be said that healthy shame and guilt keeps our innate urge to be selfish or harm others in check.
I don’t believe we know about shame and guilt until we have been taught what is proper and what is not proper when interacting in society and in our families of origin. And while we are known to be products of our environment, there are some individuals who have not been taught about what may be right or wrong and therefore may possess minimal shame and guilt, if at all. And there are some parents who use shame and guilt to “control” their children . . . to manipulate them to behave the way they want them to or to get from them what they feel they are lacking. Playing the martyr is an example of how this is utilized by a parent or spouse to get love and attention that they feel that don’t have. They suffer or pretend to suffer to instill shame and guilt in someone so that the other person will show them some pity and attention. . . .another form of external control.
It is toxic shame and guilt that destroys one’s happiness and peace of mind. Toxic shame and guilt consist of the following beliefs: Guilt is: I DID something wrong. Shame is: I AM something wrong.
We often hear, “We’re as sick as our secrets,” and to this I must agree. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to keep from being “found out.” One must be ever vigilant and looking over their shoulder to keep others from finding out whatever it is they don’t want others to know. Shame and guilt affects all of our genetic Basic Needs of Survival, Love and Belonging, Power, Freedom, and Fun.
A leading cause of substance abuse is found in what is referred to as the Shame and Guilt Spiral. Drugs and alcohol put to sleep what would make a person feel bad. As long as they are high or buzzed, the things that normally tend to cause one to feel bad go away, albeit temporarily. What happens next is the spiral. Once sober, they begin to feel badly about what they just did (drinking or using) on top of all of the other things of which they feel bad. They just added another 5 pounds of shame and guilt in a 3 pound container. The quickest remedy? Drink or use some more. This behavior continues to spiral downward until they either get help or die.