Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Emotions IV - Shame & Guilt



My very first memory of shame and guilt happened when I was six years old. My mother was in the hospital, and had been there for most of the month. My father went to visit her every night after work, but I went with him only this one time. I'm not sure why it was only this one time, but I suspect that she thought she would be coming home and didn't want her young daughter to see her in a hospital bed. We had not been visiting long when I became fascinated watching a reflection from a big window in the room. It was a nurse who was feeding a comatose patient with a feeding tube. In those days most people were two to a room, and I was later to learn this young woman would live many years in this condition. At any rate, I must have been staring at the reflection for some time when the nurse looked up - gave me a dirty look - and angrily swept the curtain closed completely - cutting off my view of the window. I was so frightened, ashamed that I was watching something that evidently I wasn't supposed to watch, that I begged my father to leave. I grabbed his hand and started pulling him to the door. I was so worried the nurse would come out from the curtain and tell my parents that I had been watching her.

This would be the last time I would see my mother alive. She never made it home from the hospital.

Young children are what we call 'concrete thinkers' in that everything is literal, right now, immediate. It will take years before they are able to think in more abstract terms. Yet, it is in childhood that we often learn shame and guilt. I remember a few times my daughters relating something back to me that had made them feel bad about themselves as children, and in all instances - it hadn't been that big of a deal! They had thought it was traumatizing, but viewed from an adult perspective it was simply not anything they should have been worrying about. I think this happens throughout our lives. We do not cut ourselves a break and realize we are here to learn, to make mistakes, to grow through pain and calamity, and that from a lifespan perspective we will understand life differently at different times of our lives. It's easy to look back with an adult perspective and see how dumb we were as adolescents, but unfortunately we often drag our guilt and shame along with us.

You may harbor guilt from childhood that is affecting today. Gill Edwards from Stepping Into the Magic, suggests guilt from a stolen lolly pop as child may manifest as a deliberate block from ever having money to spare, or from setting up your own business. Having heard that your mother nearly died during childbirth gives you asthma - a reluctance to breath.

It is often resentment in disguise. When we feel we have no right to feel angry it is often converted to guilt. Here then, from her book, is a guided meditation for releasing guilt and shame:

"Relax deeply, then find yourself in a peaceful place in nature. Ask your Basic Self to join you - and to show you any memories which make it feel ashamed or guilty. Reassure it that whatever it shows you, you will send it only love and forgiveness. Then sit and wait patiently ...

The answers might come as memories, images, thoughts, feelings, sensations or symbols. Whatever comes up, feel love for your Basic Self. If specific events come to mind, perhaps offer a loving new perspective to your Basic Self. For example, point out how hurt, frightened, jealous or young you were at the time. Or convert the guilt back into anger. Or remind your Basic Self that it is OK to make mistakes, and tell it what lessons you learned from the situation. Or reassure it that there is nothing to feel guilty about, since it didn't cause any harm. Or just remind it that it is loved, simply for being. (Occasionally the Basic Self wishes us to make amends in some way if we have hurt someone else, but it is often content to be forgiven.)

Keep asking whether there is anything else to be released, until every memory has been cleared, right up to the present day. (This might take two or more sessions.)

Now walk with your Basic Self in search of a fountain - a magical fountain made of crystal, with water cascading down. This is the Fountain of Grace. As you step into this sparkling fountain with your Basic Self, immersing yourself in its waters, you will be released from the past, forgiving yourself and others. You will know that you are loved. Bathe in the Fountain of Grace until you can really feel this emotional shift. Then gently come back to the room

More than one of you suggested I watch the following video. Wise souls that you are:


Next up: Doubt and Confusion

21 comments:

Butternut Squash said...

It is often harder to forgive ourselves than it is to forgive someone else. Good advice. *I couldn't see your link to the video.

Nancy said...

Butternut - So very true! Weird that you can't see the video - it showed up on Safari and Firefox. Here is the link:

http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

Hilary said...

Wonderful post, Nancy. I've copied and pasted the excerpt to reference later. Thank you for that. Also a wonderful video. Much to think about. There always is at your blog. Thank you.

DJan said...

It also shows up in Chrome, which I use most often. I just finished watching it, and it was very valuable, as usual, Nancy. I realize that shame and guilt are very old friends of mine, but until now I didn't realize that they are also vehicles to propel me into love and vulnerability. Thanks for the journey. :-)

California Girl said...

Guilt: I could write a book on that but then I'd have to confess everything. Aaak! It is amazing how long we do hold on to things that are over and done. Learning to forgive myself has been a hard task. I'm getting better...
finally.

my longest guilt trip lasted 30 yrs and had to do with bullying another student. I believe I was in 5th grade? Not sure. It was that old need to be "popular" and we had to fall in line. I was the last one to succumb because (this is the worst part) she was my best friend. We pelted her w/ orange peels in a bathroom. It took 30 yrs to write her a ltr & ask forgiveness. She pretended not to remember. Talk about kindness!

Rose said...

This was a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.


Hugs, Rose

Brian Miller said...

ugh. this was much needed...great vid too...saved this to ponder again in a bit...

Pat said...

This was so interesting to read. I don't remember much of my childhood, so I'll have to think long and hard about this!

Jayne Martin said...

As hard as we are on ourselves in a world already quick to judge, it's a wonder any of us makes it through this life in a semblance of working order.

The Good Cook said...

Nancy,
Loved this post and really enjoyed the video. Thanks!

Lori said...

I am really touched by this...I am going to copy this to read over again and then do these things...I really struggle with shame and guilt...this is my year for facing these these things and putting them in my past once and for all. Thank you for sharing this...can't watch the video right now but will watch tomorrow. Thank you Nancy!

Lori said...

Nancy, I forget to say that I am sorry that you experienced the loss of your mother at such a young age...I am sorry that you had this woman treat you in this manner when you were there to visit your mom. (((Nancy)))

susan said...

What a sad thing for you to have lost your mother when you were so very young. My mother died only a few years ago and that was difficult enough. The saddest thing is that the nurse was as cruel as that to a little girl in those circumstances.

I'll have to return to watch the video as it's too late now but her advice about healing the deeper self this way is excellent.

Nancy said...

Hilary - Thank you and you're welcome. :-)

DJan - I've learned much from your journey, DJan.

California Girl - I think it goes back to not realizing that the things we do as children or adolescents are done without the maturity and hindsight of an adult. Time to forgive yourself!

Rose - Nice to see you here!

Brian - It was a good video. She knows what she's talking about.

Pat - Maybe you have nothing to forgive yourself for...

Jayne - So true.

Good Cook - Thanks. :-)

Lori - You deserve to feel really good about yourself. If you have anything to feel guilty over, then get rid of it. You've earned some peace of mind. Thank you for the comment regarding losing my mother. It's a reminder that what we do in very small ways can have lasting impact on those around us, doesn't it? That nurse was probably just having a bad day.

Susan - She probably didn't realize what the long term impact of her actions would be. The result was that I was left with a sense of guilt and shame that the last time I saw my mother I was insisting on leaving. In reality? My mother probably didn't think anything of it - I was only six and it was late. She thought I was just tired. I realized this after having my own six year olds. Weird how we can carry negative emotions for years, and the bottom line is it really is senseless. Sorry for the loss of your mother - we are all little girls inside when it comes to our mothers.

Natalie said...

Wonderful post and meditation.
YES! Brene Brown is awesome.
Guilt and shame have a way of strangling me, I am going to do this meditation until I can no more. ♥

Jo said...

You know, as I read this, it occurred to me that the nurse who pulled that curtain must surely have felt shame and guilt when she found out that your mother had passed away. The nurse must have later realized she had treated you harshly on what was to be your mother's last night on earth.

We are often harder on ourselves than we need to be.

gayle said...

I wonder why it is that most often people remember the sad or bad things that happen in their lives and not the good. I guess the guilt or shame blocks how the good stuff.

I enjoyed reading this!

d page said...

If we could always remember what effect our words and actions have on the children we interact with!

Thanks for sharing "shame" with us, and reminding us to let go.

Amanda said...

thank you for sharing these very powerful, early emotions........ i'm so sorry you lost your mother at such a young age...

you are so right - events that seem inconsequential to adults may have life-altering effects on a child's life.

Deborah said...

Nothing keeps us from moving forward like the weight of guilt. Its unfortunate that it is so hard to let go of our past experiences, and so interesting to see how they still affect us later in life. I'm finally learning what I need to do to move forward...

Nancy said...

That is so sad, I'm so sorry for you to have lost your mom at such a young age. :-(

This is a good post, I have no guilt from childhood anymore, though I used to. Every single bad thing I ever did, was a reflection of the abuse I was enduring. I grew up to be a good nice person (eventually...in my 30's) in spite of all that happened. But its been a long road and there is a long road ahead of me.