Something I’m working through in therapy is my overdeveloped sense of shame. I used to term this feeling “guilt,” but I’ve learned that guilt and shame are two different things.
Guilt is the feeling, “I’ve done something wrong.” I feel guilt about lying to my friend about why I can’t go out tonight. “I’m sorry, I’m feeling ill.” Guilt is a healthy emotion, I think. It helps me realize I’ve done something wrong and should probably apologize.
Shame is the feeling, “I am something wrong,” or “There’s something wrong with me.” I feel shame when I think about why I am the way I am. “I’m feeling ill” is usually a code excuse for “I’m feeling depressed and/or anxious about being out.” Clearly, there’s something wrong with someone who can’t just be honest with her friend about how she’s feeling. Apparently, I don’t trust my friend enough, which is wrong because she’s never ever given me a reason not to trust her. Plus, I cancelled last minute when I chickened out about going. I’m obviously a very bad friend, so I don’t deserve to go out and have fun with her. Geez, why is she even friends with me, anyway? Staying curled up under my blankets, alone, is what I deserve.
See how that spiraled down into a lot of negative self-talk? That’s shame, and I do it all the time. Not good. Shame is an emotion that just eats away at a person. Speaking personally, it keeps me pushed down and feeds my depression like fertilizer.
An apt description, since it’s usually bullshit.
So how do I counter that? Well, I start out with giving truth to myself instead of the lies. There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel shame about not wanting to go out, and that’s why I lied to my friend. Yes, that’s bad, but she will understand if I tell her the truth. I’m not a bad friend; I’m coping with depression as best as I can. I do actually trust my friend, so I can counter the shame by being honest and vulnerable with her. I deserve relationships and friendships, not being alone.
The other way I’m working on countering it is having compassion for myself. I am a very compassionate person… to other people. I have a very very hard time being compassionate to myself. It somehow feels…. fake. Mostly because, I think, in that moment I don’t believe it. In that moment, I don’t feel like I deserve compassion or kindness. Intellectually, I know I do. I know. I mostly make decisions, however, based on emotion, not intellect. It’s a very difficult place to be.
So I need practice. Believe me, I’ll have no shortage of opportunities for it, for the forseeable future.