I didn’t really like my twenties. They were filled with instability, and inside myself, I never really felt like I was on top of things. I had the concept of responsibility all backwards which stemmed from a misunderstanding of shame vs guilt. In general, I was constantly on the backfoot, even if I didn’t realise it at first. Then I started reading a few brilliant books (It’s not my fault, Power of Vulnerability and Safe People, amongst others), and all that started to change. Slowly I started to realise the boundaries between who I am and what I’m doing. This, in turn, resulted in me taking responsibility for myself – my thoughts, decisions, values, words and actions. So what exactly made the big shift?
Shame vs guilt
The concept is very simple, really. But distinguishing between the two in everyday situations is a lot more complex. Brene Brown explains the difference between shame and guilt as this:
Shame – I am something wrong.
Guilt – I did something wrong.
Grasping this simple difference and living accordingly, has massive implications. When I grasped this, my confidence levels shot through the roof. No longer did I take criticisms so personally, and I found myself viewing mistakes as opportunities.
So what is the difference between the two? Constantly believing that I am something wrong, is disempowering. It wouldn’t matter what I try to do, it will always be wrong because I am something wrong. On the contrary, if I believe that I am something right, and I can do wrong things, empowers me to change what I’m doing wrong, and in future do the right thing. It enables me to grow, to try new things, to fail, to try again – all the while having the same level confidence. Because doing things wrong sometimes does not make me wrong.
I love what Adam Grant says in his book Originals about how to challenge people. Rather than addressing someone according to their actions, speak to who they are. As an example, challenge someone to be a helpful person rather than asking them to help you. The reason behind this is, being a helpful person a lot more permanent than just helping once-off. Address someone’s identity, and the actions will follow.
If I live in constant shame, it is incredibly difficult to take responsibility for anything. There is no goal that I am working towards because of who I believe I am. But once I start living from a place of confidence in who I am and start accepting guilt, I can change the future. Making this shift, it becomes possible and inevitable for me to take responsibility for my actions. Once I personally made this shift, I stopped blaming others for where I was in life, I stopped just confessing that a mistake was mine and started making right what I did wrong – because it did not reflect on who I was as a person.
In the battle of shame vs guilt, let shame perish. Make mistakes, but make them right, try again, try new things. Put away the notion that you are something wrong because you’re not. Accept that you sometimes are guilty and make it right.