People tend to confuse taking responsibility with accepting shame and guilt. What’s the difference?
Taking responsibility is about self-awareness. You admit to yourself that some action you’ve taken has led to pain and suffering for you or someone else. When you realize fire burns your hand, and when you can admit you keep putting your hand in the fire nonetheless–this is the first step toward taking responsibility. You give up your tendency to blame the fire, or your hand, or the economy or social media, etc. You let go the various ways in which you defend your actions and you simply see the pattern for what it is. You can resolve to change this pattern, you can apology to those you might have hurt, but the first step toward authentic change is being honest with yourself. This is NOT the same thing as marinating in your own shame and guilt.
Dropping Shame Bombs
You’ll never feel better by making yourself feel worse. Shame and guilt involve self-punishment. You replay cringe-worthy events to torture yourself. I call this “dropping shame bombs.” But shame-bombing yourself–or others–does not bring about genuine, lasting change. In fact, getting lost in guilt and shame can be a big distraction as it requires you to keep retreating to the past. If I can just feel badly enough for the terrible things I did in the past, then maybe I can be a better person in the future… But change only happens in the present. Make a concrete plan to improve. Put a reminder in your phone. See a therapist. Make a vision board. Do something intentional, something positive, but do it today.
Letting Go Resentment
You can’t quit shaming yourself so long as you keep shaming others. Playing the Blame Game is always a losing strategy. Can you remain open to the idea that everyone, including you, is doing her best? Being a person is hard, sweaty work. The answers are often not obvious. Obsessing about the ways in which someone has wronged you inflicts pain on you–not the other person. Bring more non-judgmental awareness to your own nervous system, your own life circumstances, your own self-defeating patterns, and the rest will eventually take care of itself.