Guilt vs Shame.
Both guilt and shame are a set of difficult emotions and unpleasant physical sensations. The experience of guilt lets you know you've violated your own personal standards. That you've crossed a line you didn't want to cross.
Shame is different. The experience of shame is triggered when someone else has discovered you have crossed a social boundary or taboo. For example, you may not feel guilty about some behavior that's done in private, but if discovered by someone else, and it's an unacceptable behavior to the social group for which you both belong (say a church or workplace), you would then experience shame.
Self-esteem & guilt.
And you may now also feel guilt for not having made that taboo your own. Worse, you may condemn yourself for not living up to standards or expectations others have of you and for which you are unable to achieve.
That kind of guilt, the guilt that comes from hating or rejecting who you are as a person, is some of the most destructive kind there is. While guilt serves a purpose to help us have a sense of our own boundaries, it is not helpful when what we despise and regret is something like our creative abilities or physical attributes. So how are you to deal with such guilt?
Facing it is a courageous step. Avoiding such strong emotions and physical sensations that come with guilt and shame takes a lot of energy. With so much effort going into avoiding (food, alcohol, TV, drugs, books, work) there is little left to actually live your life.
Feel it & express it.
Your feelings are a part of you. You are not a part of your feelings. You can slowly learn to experience them without the fear of being lost in them. If not alone, then with a trusted family member or friend, or professional helper. You will be able to express the difficult aspects of your self and still survive.
Live with it.
We've all been guilty of something.
How we make our mark--what our lives are to be known for when we're gone is the question. It may be that most will judge your whole life on that one event for which you feel guilt and shame. Yet life is shaped by many moments and all of yours haven't been lived no matter how many of those moments are left.
But what if deep down you believe you don't deserve to be loved or forgiven? "I'm different", you say, "my guilt is different--it's deserved".
This may mean that the more you're loved and the more you're forgiven you'll hate it and resent it. You may struggle to get away from it. In trying to find a way to live with it maybe you've decided you now want it--you've earned it! It defines who you are--you breathe it and consume it.
But, given enough time, enough love day after day after day . . . Love--undeserved, unrequested, unreturned . . . Your guilt may one day go away. Who will do that for you?
Maybe you're lucky enough to find someone who will love you that way or maybe a therapist can begin that process. But there is always one person waiting to take up that task. There's a part of you that can take small steps to love and forgive you each day. Bit by bit and day after day each small step toward loving yourself, undeserved, unrequested, and unreturned. Your guilt might also go away.
What do you think it takes to make guilt go away?