Episode 22: Seven Minutes To Success and Satisfaction: True Forgiveness, or Shame Has Given Guilt A Bad Name
In this episode Mark Michael Lewis, CEO of SmartPowerDrinks.com, examines the nature and power of forgiveness in the creation of money, mission, and meaning. By clarifying the difference between shame and guilt, we can let go of our anger and fear, while still holding firm to our boundaries. The more you learn the process of True Forgiveness, the more you free yourself to offer your greatest gift to the world.
Mark Lewis: Hi, this is Mark Michael Lewis, host of Money Mission and Meaning, Passion at Work, Purpose at Play, and you’re listening to another edition of Seven Minutes to Success and Satisfaction, a series of short, to the point, practical ideas to help you Create Pleasure and Profit in the Business of life.
In today’s show, I’d like to talk about shame, guilt, and forgiveness – because when we understand the difference between shame and guilt it frees us to truly forgive ourselves and others and create more money, mission, and meaning in our lives.
To begin, let’s talk about forgiveness, and why, on the one hand its so important to forgive, and on the other hand it can be so difficult to forgive.
First, we all know that we are “supposed” to be forgiving. Forgiveness is at the heart of virtually every spiritual tradition. We are told to “forgive and forget” and that, while erring is human, “to forgive is divine.” From this perspective, to forgive is to step into our spiritual potential and “take the high road.” In reverse, NOT to forgive is often judged as some type of spiritual failure.
At the same, common sense tells us not to forgive, and not to forget or ignore the trespasses of others. As the saying goes, "Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me." From this perspective, to forgive is to deny reality and pretend that something didn't happen or wasn’t wrong. If we forgive someone who has willfully violated our boundaries (lying, stealing, rape, murder, violence, etc.) it is as if we deny ourselves the RIGHT to defend ourselves.
At first glance, these perspectives are irreconcilable. To choose one is to deny the other. Either we honor our own boundaries and act "unspiritual," or we embrace spirit and ignore our boundaries.
In the face of this apparent (but false) dichotomy, many people end up switching back and forth between these two positions.
First, they "try" to forgive someone, and be the “bigger person,” They try to ignore or deny their anger or their fear. This might make them feel "good" about themselves for a bit, but typically only until they see someone (anyone) repeat the same boundary crossing action that they "forgave." Then they get super-upset, and the anger they have attempted to “transcend” come back in full force. Then, after some time passes and the adrenaline wears off, they often feel shame or get mad at themselves for not being able to "let it go," as if there is something wrong with them that they can't “turn the other cheek” and feel good about letting other people walk all over them.
But let’s get real for a moment. The truth is that they CAN'T forgive in this way, because their boundaries were crossed, and they HAVE to defend their boundaries. Seriously, Human Beings can't NOT defend their boundaries. That’s like telling water not to be wet, or steel not to be hard. People can "try" not to defend themselves, but the more they try to repress it, the more energy it takes, and the more violently they explode when they finally reach their limit, which they will, sooner or later.
The other choice is that, either after trying to forgive and failing, or from the beginning, they choose to hold on to their grievance and say "I will never forgive this - it was WRONG." And they stand up for their right to have boundaries that should not be crossed.
Now, In a practical sense, this really works. When we refuse to forgive others their trespasses, we officially give ourselves the right to defend against them in the future. So, we tend not to get "burned twice." Which is a good thing.
The challenge is that when we hold on to our grievances, we cause ourselves and others intense suffering in three central ways.
First, we feel bad in our body and heart. It just hurts not to forgive someone.
Second, this suffering then spreads to other areas of our lives, and we become bitter and defensive, which makes all of our relationships suffer, as we close our hearts to those we love.
And Third, and most importantly, if we don’t forgive others their trespasses, we will not forgive ourselves for our own, nor accept the forgiveness of others. THIS is the source of our great suffering, and the central "block" to joy, happiness, and often the permission to allow ourselves to be truly successful, financially, in our relationships, in our health, and in our lives.
Fortunately, all is not lost. There is a straight-forward solution to this seeming paradox that takes two steps. First, we must clearly distinguish the difference between guilt and shame, and Second, we must understand that forgiveness is about letting go of shame, while holding tight to guilt. To understand this, let me explain the difference between shame and guilt.
Shame, is the intensely painful experience that who we are, our very person, is somehow inadequate, flawed, or "bad" and therefore not worthy of love, acceptance or belonging. Shame comes from judging our essential self, our BEING, as "broken" or "wrong" in some fundamental way.
This feeling of shame is so intense, it is so uncomfortable, that we will do almost ANYTHING to avoid feeling it. We might distract ourselves through hate, gossip, or entertainment. We might drown ourselves in addiction to drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling, food, whatever. Or in extreme cases, we might split our personality into pieces and become neurotic or even psychotic. Shame is one of the most powerful forces in the human psyche, and can drive us to do things that might otherwise be unthinkable.
Now, While shame judges the value of our PERSON, guilt on the other hand, judges the value of our ACTIONS. Guilt is our soul’s recognition that we have violated one of our own standards for appropriate or "good" behavior. Guilt is an internal monitoring system that alerts us when our system is out of integrity with itself and it guides us to examine and learn from our mistakes.
On its own, guilt is our conscience, and is perhaps the incredible gift we have been given. When we listen to our guilt, we face up to and learn from our mistakes, and make amends for any damage we might have caused to others. In this way, guilt guides us to make our lives continually more beautiful, fulfilling, and powerful.
The challenge comes when shame and guilt get collapsed or confused with one another. When this happens, instead of using our guilt to recognize when we are out of integrity with our own values, we use it as evidence of our fundamental brokenness and unworthiness. Then, instead of guilt motivating us to change our poor behavior, guilt becomes a source of shame.
Then, we begin to avoid our guilt like we avoid shame. Instead of facing our guilt, we hide from it. Instead of correcting our behaviors, we deny or justify them.
Then, Guilt. Our great gift, becomes as dangerous and destructive as shame, and we end up condemning guilt as the problem rather than understanding it as the solution.
In a phrase, Shame has given guilt a bad name.
Fortunately, when we clearly distinguish between guilt and shame, when we pull apart the difference between judging our behaviors as good or bad, versus judging our person as good or bad, TRUE forgiveness becomes possible.
True Forgiveness is when we BOTH forgive the PERSON on the one hand, and declare them to be good/innocent/"doing the best they could given the givens, AND on the other hand, hold them accountable for the ACTIONS that were inappropriate, that must be stopped.
Again, True forgiveness is to let go of the shame, but hold tight to the guilt. It is to judge the person, their essential BEING, as good as perfect, as divine, but judge their actions as inappropriate/unjust/unfair/"to be protected against." It is to say both YES to the person, AND YES to our right to have and protect our boundaries.
The more clearly we distinguish between guilt and shame, the easier it is to forgive the person without forgetting our boundaries. And the more permission we give ourselves to defend our boundaries, the less anger, fear and suffering we need to carry around with us. This forgiveness frees us to open our hearts, mind, and body to those we love, and to the projects that inspire us to bring our best gifts to the world – so that we can make more money, act in alignment with our mission, and experience the meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment of that makes life itself worthwhile.
I'm Mark Michael Lewis, host of money, mission, and meaning, passion at work, purpose and play on personal life media.com and this was seven minutes to success and satisfaction, providing you practical tools, to create pleasure and profit to the business of life.