It’s Not The Guilt, It’s The Shame

It’s Not The Guilt, It’s The Shame by Jules Shapiro originally posted 3/3/15

I remember the night that the boy in the torn jeans and ratty t-shirt told the girl in the suit jacket, tight skirt, and corset that he could not make her feel guilty. “No one can make you feel guilty, only you can make you feel guilty.”

What a pretentious thing for a nineteen-year-old to say. Frigging psych majors. If you give a kid a hammer, everything is a nail.

I recall leaving college for a quarter due to a cycle of Bipolar depression that just would not stop. Every conversation was like listening to words while my head is underwater. The clearest sentence I heard was, “If you would just stop crying all of the time.”

I love you under any circumstance

I was eighteen then.

I am forty-five now.

Fine, it’s true. No one can make you feel guilty. You do it yourself, and you should feel guilt about some things. The kind of guilt you feel on your own.

You see, guilt is not really an awful thing. Guilt can be healthy. Jung and Freud would remind us that guilt helps us to recognize when we have done wrong so that we can correct our missteps. The ability to feel guilt is an important part of our psychological development. If we never felt guilt, there may be other problems up in our noggin to address.

Guilt is not the problem; more often, our problem is the shame. Shame comes from a deeper place, a place where we feel flawed or defective. When we feel defective, we feel unworthy. This belief is not uncommon in the chronic illness community. I know from my experience that I will often say that I feel guilty when, I am learning, what I am feeling is shame.

I recently read the following from an article about the stigma of mental illness and opening up about illness, in general.

“Opening up about any illness is frightening. You can never be sure what a person’s reaction will be, and that is scary. At some point, though, you have to trust that the people who love you will continue to love you. You’re still the same person.”

Has this been your experience when you shared your illness experience or diagnosis with those you care about and need?

shameWhy do we feel ashamed of having a chronic illness? Did we ask for this? Who asks to live with chronic, painful, often incurable disorders that inconvenience us, our families, our friends, our employers, the GP’s that have tried to diagnose us to no avail and we call them over and over — wait.

I just started shame-baiting myself right there. Did you notice that? I am going to call it that, “Shame-Baiting”. That long list of people I was so worried about inconveniencing. I just worked myself up feeling guilty, then feeling the shame and embarrassment of what they must all think of me.

I shame-bait myself constantly for being sick. I beat myself silly for things that are not my fault. There is not a thing you can blame me for since the day it all started that I have not blamed myself for twice. I have apologized for my own genetics. As a result of that, I am an emotional basket case. I am going to guess that you do that same thing. You begin with some guilt, and like any recipe, you add the daily spices until you have a nice pot of shame simmering away on the back-burner.

All it takes is a comment. A certain sort of glance from that person you love and respect, the one you were hoping would hug you. Instead, you got that passive aggressive bullshit comment, and the heat turns up on that pot; now baited, the shame starts to bubble.shame socates

How you respond to this, what you do now is all your choice. You are going to have to choose shame or acknowledging that this was not your choice. If you can acknowledge that, you build from there. When I reach that moment, it is also where you have to help me out, because this is where my skills fail.

Yes, I am asking for help. That is a big deal for me.
Choosing to not take the shame-bait can be our moment of Chronically Awesome victory, but it often is where we stumble. I think, perhaps many of us have trouble at this point. We look in the rearview mirror and we see what was, and what cannot be again. We see the new road that illness has taken us down, and while what has happened is change, we may see failure and believe we are being judged.

Setting a new course, charting a new path because we have been dealt an unexpected hand is not failure. Those who love us will not judge us. We must love one another, we, the Chronically Awesome. We must love ourselves, all of us, though often we are our own worst critics. Learning to not taking the bait is where the Chronically Awesome Community needs each other.

How do we support one another with such a weighty issue? Shame is like 100 pounds of lead on your shoulders being guarded by those flying monkeys wearing fez. (Creepy, right?)

Write about it. If you blog, write about how shame has impacted your life and your chronic illness. Make sure to post the link to so others in our community can comment and give you support. Tag your link on twitter with #Blogsupport to make it into our blog daily paper.

Post to the Chronically Awesome Facebook page at so we can reply and help you out.

Visit the Chronically Awesome Community on Google+. Our next live support hangout will be about Shame.

Do not accept shame. Be your strongest self. We are thrivers, we are survivors, there is no need for us to fight against ourselves.

show up no shame

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