What Do We Do With All This Shame?

Breaking Down Shame and Guilt in a Healthy Way

Let’s start this blog out with the acknowledgement that this is a tricky topic. It’s a topic that has been talked about in multiple forums. Like all constructs – let’s have grace for all of our different subjective positions on this issue.

By way of clarification, this article is written to address terminology. It is in no way suggesting that any shame felt by a victim of targeted partner abuse© is in anyway to blame or at fault. The emotions that occur due to the abuse of her partner, are responses that many women feel when they are intentionally shamed, sexually coerced, verbally or emotional abuse.

Because shame has been so weaponized, it is import to bring clarity to the concepts as an abuse tactic.

Defining The Terms –

Quoted Directly From Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

I read a lot of literature and blog posts on this topic. Many of them will share something along this line, “Feeling shamed comes from someone else making you feel this, while feeling ashamed comes from something you have done, said, or thought that makes you feel something is wrong with you.”

Let’s look at original definitions to see if we can clarify the terminology.

SHAME, noun

A painful sensation excited by a consciousness of guilt, or of having done something which injures reputation; or of that which nature or modesty prompts us to conceal. Shame is particularly excited by the disclosure of actions which, in the view of men, are mean and degrading. 

ASHA’MED, adjective

Affected by shame; abashed or confused by guilt or a conviction of some criminal action or indecorous conduct, or by the exposure of some gross errors or misconduct, which the person is conscious must be wrong, and which tends to impair his honor or reputation.

GUILT, noun gilt.To constitute guilt there must be a moral agent enjoying freedom of will, and capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and a wilful or intentional violation of a known law, or rule of duty. The guilt of a person exists, as soon as the crime is committed; but to evince it to others, it must be proved by confession, or conviction in due course of law. guilt renders a person a debtor to the law, as it binds him to pay a penalty in money or suffering. guilt therefore implies both criminality and liableness to punishment. guilt may proceed either from a positive act or breach of law, or from voluntary neglect of known duty.

Making You Feel an Emotion

The first point to break down – No one can “make you” feel anything. A feeling is the neural pathway message (emotion) received and sent to a part of the body which we then label with a feeling word. 

We tend to interchange the two terms. They are not the same. Emotions can be viewed as the message from the brain and feelings as the descriptive language of the message that individuals uniquely assign.

If you try to Google a version of this question, you might be confused about the various answers. Dr. Ekman suggested five basic emotions. Others would say there are six or seven. Often using the face as the determining factor for where emotions are displayed. Though this has been the dominate view — it is old science.

*For victims, feelings generated as a result of verbal and emotional abuse can be viewed as an appropriate response of targeted partner abuse©. Perpetrators often use language intentionally to achieve a desired outcome. If you experience shame as a result of language hurled at you abusively, or due to sexual coercion, the perpetrator intends to evoke that response.

Shame, Ashamed and Guilt

At Center for Peace, we teach that shame is the result of “a broken social contract©.”

When we break a social contract, shame is expressed by the mind and felt in the body, whether the words are heard by others or the behavior is witnessed by others. Shame messaging can be sent by the brain even if we are the only one who is aware of the breach. 

As Webster notes, shame is a sensation excited by a consciousness” (Webster, 1828). When something occurs that registers in our consciousness as not socially correct, we will experience shame. If you have a belief that certain behaviors are expected and you violate that belief, you will experience shame – and hopefully that will be followed by guilt. 

Guilt is the message we receive in our mind when we violate our own personal value contracts©. Guilt is the felt sensation all humans are capable of feeling as part of our human moral compass. (*It is important to note – this messaging system can be turned off when it is repeatedly violated by amoral or immoral behaviors. This is a common condition of abusers.)

Shame and guilt come from a similar message pathway, often they feel similar in the body. It makes sense why these two are often confused and misused.

Ashamed, should be the result of both emotions. It is the feeling one should experience as a result of wrongdoing. It is a motivating force humans experience when a wrong needs righted. If a person hurts someone verbally, emotionally, physically, or in any other way, that individual should be ashamed of themself. They should correct their wrong doing to the degree of harm caused, be it privately to one individual or publicly at a more social level. 

Corrective Guides

Of the few emotions we experience, no two are more important than shame and guilt. These are the measures by which one’s character can be examined. An unwillingness to accept the neural messaging from your conscience speaks loudly as to the type of human being you are.

Shame and Judging Culture

Regardless of your personal paradigms on this topic, we live at a point in time where the idea of being held accountable by a social value system has become undesirable. Hence the reason we often hear the pre-condemning themes of “don’t shame me,” or “don’t judge me.” 

What we are dealing with is a period of “moral relativism.” Moral relativism is a philosophical theory that posits what is right or good differs from culture to culture or person to person. Which is to state, there are no absolute truths or objective values. 

If we live in a “to each his own” theory of mind, no one can call out wrong behavior because it doesn’t exist. If this is true, we’ve come to a social period of what I often refer to as the solipsistic age – or a state in time when human beings are so focused on self there is no space, existence or even reality of others. If this is true – no one should judge the behavior of others since it is not real. 

Between the trends of narcissism and solipsism, we may have arrived at a socially moral pandemic! What a horrible mortal condition to not care about how one hurts others.

Own Your Own Words and Deeds

At Center for Peace, we hold that every human being is responsible for their own behaviors (words and deeds). In addition, we hold that we are a human society that has existed for generations with a set of moral and ethical values that has not become obsolete. As human beings, who are capable of higher order thinking and human reasoning, we are responsible for our agentic decisions and the impact of those decisions on others around us. 

Thus, if you have committed egregious acts of abuse on your wife, you are responsible for the repair of those behaviors. You are also accountable to both your own emotional responses, be they unpleasant and condemning or not. If you feel bad because of your behavior – fix your behavior and your uncomfortable feelings will resolve. 

Human Value and Dignity

All human beings have value inherent in our existence here on this earth. Unfortunately, many live beneath their value, executing behaviors that result in great harm to those they say they love. 

If you fall into this category – do what you should to restore yourself to a place of peace, living true to your values, while also restoring the dignity of the one you deeply injured.

Contact Center for Peace today to see how you can participate in the year-long program to help you come to terms with your feelings of shame and guilt, and to correct the abusive behaviors you have committed on others.

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