Shame and Guilt

Toxic shame needs to be sharply distinguished from guilt (guilt can be healthy or toxic). Healthy guilt is the emotional core of our conscience. It is emotion which results from behaving in a manner contrary to our beliefs and values. Guilt presupposes internalized rules and develops later than shame. According to Erikson, the third stage of psychosocial development is the polar balance between initiative and guilt. This stage begins after age three. Guilt is developmentally more mature than shame. Guilt does not reflect directly upon one's identity or diminish one's sense of personal worth. It flows from an integrated set of values.

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Shame and Guilt Contrast

            |   Toxic Guilt             |   Healthy Guilt       |
Origins and |  Abortive development     |    Develops later than|
description |due to superego distortion;| than shame (age 3-6)  |
            |results from perfectionism,| Erikson's 3rd psycho- |
            |family enmeshment          | social, initiative vs |
            |                           | guilt; conscience     |
            |                           | former                |
Respon-     |Grandiose responsibility;  |Adequate responsibility|
sibility    |way to be powerful in a    |accountablility;       |
and Power   |powerless system           |exercise of power      |
            |                           |choice                 |
Felt        |Somber-serious, no place   |I made a mistake;      |
Sense       |for mistakes; I can't make |transgressed my values |
            |a mistake, would be        |I feel bad-sense of    |
            |terrible                   |wickedness             |
Fault       |Fault of role rigidity;    |Fault of action; about |
            |fault of thought distortion|doing; remedial        |
            |belief you are responsible |                       |
            |for other's life           |                       |
Morality    |I can be good if I'm       |What I did was not good|
Goodness    |perfect, if I follow all   |I'm adequate to repair |
            |rules (legalistic) and do  |the damage             |
            |my duty (my role)          |                       |
Boundary    |No right to boundary,      |Transgressed moral     |
            |except through my rigid    |boundaries (values)    |
            |role or performance        |                       |
Sports      |Violation of a simple rule |Violation of a         |
Analogy     |like being off-side, with  |restraining boundary   |
            |excessive penalty, like    |like running out of    |
            |expulsion from game        |bounds on a field      |

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            |     Toxic Shame           |    Healthy Shame      |
____________|__________________________ |_______________________|
Origins and |Abortive development       |Develops early,        |
Description |a-shame based models       |15 months to 3 years;  |
            |b-abandonment trauma       |Erikson's 2nd psycho-  |
            |c-shame images inter-      |social stage           |
            |  connected                |                       |
Respons-    |No responsibility, lack of |Limited power and      |
ibility and |power; failure of choice;  |responsibility; power  |
Power       |incapacity                 |comes by knowing limits|
            |                           |I need help            |
Felt Sense  |I'm a mistake, it's        |I can and will make    |
            |hopeless; I'm no good;     |mistakes; it's normal  |
            |I'm worthless              |and mistakes can be    |
            |                           |remedied               |
Fault       |Fault of Being; about      |Limits of being; fault |
            |being defective and flawed |of natural finitude    |
            |as a person-irremedial     |                       |
Morality    |I'm bad; I'm no good; I'm  |I'm good but limited-- |
Goodness    |inadequate, pre-moral      |permission to be human |
Boundary    |No boundary; nothing about |Core boundary          |
            |me is okay                 |                       |
Sports      |Violation of the game      |Violation of the rules |
Analogy     |itself; failure to attain  |simple infraction; too |
            |goal-like never reaching   |much time-5yards       |
            |the end zone               |                       |

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A Parable:

The Prisoner In The Dark Cave

There once was a man who was sentenced to die. He was blindfolded and put in a pitch dark cave. The cave was 100 yards by 100 yards. He was told that there was a way out of the cave, and if he could find it, he was a free man.

After a rock was secured at the entrance of the cave, the prisoner was allowed to take his blindfold off and roam freely in the darkness. He was to be fed only bread and water for the first 30 days and nothing thereafter. The bread and water were lowered from a small hole in the roof at the south end of the cave. The ceiling was about 18 feet high. The opening was about one foot in diameter. The prisoner could see a faint light up above, but no light came into the cave.

As the prisoner roamed and crawled around the cave, he bumped into rocks. Some were rather large. He thought that if he could build a mound of rocks and dirt that was high enough, he could reach the opening and enlarge it enough to crawl through and escape. Since he was 5'9", and his reach was two feet, the mound had to be at least 10 feet high.

So the prisoner spent his waking hours picking up rocks and digging up dirt. At the end of two weeks, he had built a mound of about six feet. He thought that if he could duplicate that in the next two weeks, he could make it before his food ran out. But as he had already used most of the rocks in the cave, he had to dig harder and harder. He had to do the digging with his bare hands. After a month had passed, the mound was nine and half feet high and he could almost reach the opening if he jumped. He was almost exhausted and extremely weak.

One day just as he thought he could touch the opening, he fell. He was simply too weak to get up, and in two days he died. His captors came to get his body. They rolled away the huge rock that covered the entrance. As the light flooded into the cave, it illuminated an opening in the wall of the cave about three feet in circumference.

The opening was the opening to a tunnel which led to the other side of the mountain. This was the passage to freedom the prisoner had been told about. It was in the south wall directly under the opening in the ceiling. All the prisoner would have had to do was crawl about 200 feet and he would have found freedom. He had so completely focused on the opening of light that it never occurred to him to look for freedom in the darkness. Liberation was there all the time right next to the mound he was building, but it was in the darkness.

Source for above is the book: "Healing The Shame That Binds You" by John Bradshaw

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How many of us, as survivors have to grapple with that darkness, and how many of us want to run from it, to hide from it: when our very survival, if not quality of life depends upon our finding that freedom from and within the darkness?

I am reminded here that without the darkness we cannot appreciate the light and that the light in sharp contrast to this darkness is not always as it first appears to be. There is an authenticity waiting to be claimed, re-claimed, born and re-born in your heart, soul and mind and it seems to me that it is through the light within the darkness that this path to freedom leads one to find......self, core self.

Run not from the darkness of your life. Run not from the past that the darkness in your life hold you prisoner within while endless shadows upon your soul are cast...follow your darkness to the light of soul: it is the pathway toward an ever-deepening understanding of authentic self which in and of itself leads to an ever-increasing freedom.

© May 28, 1997 A.J. Mahari

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The darkness is all that you have not yet chosen to shed light upon. The darkness is all that you still cling to from your past. The darkness is the unknown. It can and will keep you stuck in patterns and feelings that are unwanted if you don't take positive life-changing action. The darkness is the holder of the light that you seek. It is what blocks you that also holds your way forward. Nothing can block you unless you are giving something permission to do so. You really can empower yourself toward what it is that you want and need and to the light that sits at the center of all that darkness. Lostness is a sacred journey on the way to being found. If you feel lost or blocked or stuck, radically accept that first. Acknowledge that truth mindfully and fully first. Start there. Consider my Life Coaching Services to help you to learn more about your authentic self and how to find it and live in and through it. It can be the essential difference between continuing to live stuck in the darkness or finding your way onto the pathway to your happiness and the journey of your own emotional and self mastery.

© A.J. Mahari, January 27, 2015 - All rights reserved.

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