Dealing With Shame: What’s Right About Feeling Wrong
One of my coaching clients (personal coaching) sent me this question recently:
“I got stuck on something this morning. I’ve behaved badly with someone I care about, and because I did something wrong, I find it hard to be around them. Suggestions?”
My response: What you’re describing here is shame, and what you’re feeling is the desire to avoid it. When you’re around people you’ve treated badly, they remind you of your behavior. And if the behavior involves a temper tantrum, chances are you’re really going to get down on yourself if you’re reminded of it.
Perhaps right up until now, you have formed an association something like this. You did something wrong. It turned out badly. You felt bad. The problem is, nobody changes because they feel bad.
But here’s another way of thinking about it when you think you’re feeling wrong. First, know that a common trait of criminals is they feel little to no remorse. The fact that you feel bad speaks to your being a good person, or at least a better person than a criminal!
And here’s what’s right about whatever you did wrong. Turns out that recognizing wrong is instructive to the person seeking positive change. Wrong is nature’s way of telling you that a course correction is in order. The feeling of doing something wrong is a feedback mechanism, a way of signaling to you that you have other choices, new choices, that you can make. You’ll stop feeling shame when you turn anger at yourself or the other person into forgiveness, and then turn the guilt into a commitment.
Interestingly, most of our ‘wrong’ behavior isn’t wrong according to ourselves. It’s according to someone else’s standard that we judge ourselves wrong. Yet you are the only judge of your character and learning in life. Only you can decide for you what is right for you, and then hold yourself accountable for it. SO
Whenever you do something that YOU deem to be wrong in it’s action OR in it’s effect, notice it. Be grateful/glad for the feedback, it’s your self correcting mechanism for remedial change. Derive the feedback from it, extract the lesson from it. Appreciate your ability to learn from your experience (nature’s design for you, and for all of us). Commit to a different course of action if given another chance under similar circumstances. And be specific. In this way, you turn wrong into right, and a bad choice into a learning mechanism.
Bucky Fuller talked about how NO answers (wrong results, bad choices) are more useful in human evolution and development than YES answers (right choices, positive results), because we learn so much in life from doing what doesn’t work, IF we take the learning of it and apply it.
YES answers tend to lull us into feeling successful when we were merely lucky, with the result that no learning occurs. The more you have messed up in life, the smarter and stronger and more functional you can be. From those to whom much is given, even unwanted stuff like bad situations and influences, much is required. SO join me in celebrating your life, you and me, a couple of real screwups, that’s what makes us such GREAT people to know and love!
If you have anxiety as a result of feeling guilt or shame, you may find some valuable info in this extensive article. And if you have any comments or questions, they are welcome here!
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.