I really did need to break the window.
When I was newly pregnant I was renting an adorable little house in the heart of downtown Charleston. At the time, I was incredibly physically sick and mentally I felt a whirlwind of shock, uncertainty, crystal clarity, fear, hope, anxiety and faith. Morning sickness was a 24/7 experience, but feeling grounded and sure was not.
One afternoon, I had decided that tea and toast sounded doable so I put a few slices of bread in the toaster oven, lit the gas burner under the tea kettle and walked out onto my little front porch to see how fresh air and sunlight felt.
I also locked myself out of the house.
I tried all of the doors and windows with no luck. No neighbors were home, which wouldn’t have helped much anyway as I hadn’t given any of them a spare key. The only person with an extra key was my landlord who lived on the other side of town. I couldn’t call him though, as my phone was inside on the counter, right next to my keys.
I thought abut walking to his house but there was no way I would have been able to walk across the city as sick as I was, with no shoes, jacket, money or phone.
So, in my chaotic physical and emotional state, I broke one small window pane thinking that I could unlock the window and lift it up to climb through. Unfortunately, it was a really old house and the window wouldn’t open wide enough for me to squeeze through without laying hard on my stomach. So I broke another pane of glass in the back door.
I got back into the house just in time to see the toast begin to smoke and smell the metallic odor coming from the tea kettle that no longer had any water left to boil.
A few days later, my landlord stopped by and was not happy about the broken windows. I explained and apologized and agreed that the cost of replacing the windows should come out of my security deposit. He was not happy, but he was incredibly compassionate. I still felt awful about breaking the windows and felt guilty about not calling him to tell about what had happened right away. Surely, telling him myself would have been better than him pulling up in front of the house and noticing the damage himself.
Four years later, I found myself in a photoshoot for a new yoga studio getting my photo taken by – none other than – my old landlord! When I saw him it occurred to me that I never expressed my gratitude for his kindness and that I was still carrying around guilt about breaking the windows.
I expressed my apologies and gratitude briefly at the photoshoot and then followed up with a sincere email a little while later. I also forgave myself and gave myself permission to let go of the guilt.
In doing so I felt a weight lift. It wasn’t as if I’d been walking around consciously aware that I felt the burden of guilt, but the relief was welcome.
Guilt is an interesting feeling. I think it can be a productive one – when it isn’t wrapped up with shame.
As Brene Brown writes in Daring Greatly, “Guilt is just as powerful as shame, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive…We live in a world where most people still subscribe to the belief that shame is a good tool for keeping people in line. Not only is this wrong, but it’s dangerous. Shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying. Researchers don’t find shame correlated with positive outcomes at all — there are no data to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior.”
So how do we know when we are holding on to guilt and when we are holding on to shame?
I’ve always felt like guilt is a feeling that surrounds my thoughts and beliefs about something I did and shame is attached to my beliefs and thoughts about how that action impacts my self worth.
Brene Brown simply says “Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad.”
Guilt is an interesting feeling to work with because we can come at it from two different angles: Self-forgiveness and making amends.
Sometimes both are possible and in the highest interest and sometimes only self-forgiveness is available.
The 8th Step in AA based 12 step programs is the twofold process of making amends.
1. Make a list of all of the persons we have harmed, and become willing to make amends with them.
2. Make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when doing so would injure them or others (and I would add – or ourselves).
Making amends can be hard, but it is incredibly freeing, it allows us to take responsibility for actions that we feel guilty about and learn lessons from the feeling of guilt rather than allowing the guilt to fester and morph into shame.
So, how do we apply this today?
Perhaps we commit to making a point to say “I’m sorry, or I was wrong” more often – when we believe it.
Perhaps we take action as described in the 8th step or we call just one person that comes to mind that we are willing to make amends to.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas around the feelings of guilt, shame, and making amends.
And, as always, if you found this helpful – please share this blog with your friends.
PS. If you haven’t read Daring Greatly, I highly recommend it. You can find it on Amazon or wherever books are sold.
This article was originally published on Katie’s website.
Katie Ashley is a positive body image and Self love activist. She offers yoga therapy based mentoring to clients worldwide from her studio in Charleston, SC. Through her writing, speaking, live workshops and online programs she offers her vast array of tools, insights and experiences to those who want to fall unconditionally in love with their bodies, find their voices, and connect with their pasts in useful and inspiring ways. She believes that every person is capable of unlimited healing and inspired personal evolution and it is her calling to help guide those who desire it, and are ready, on their journey towards experiencing it for themselves. She writes often as a regular blogger for Recovery Warriors, Women Enough, and Charleston Grit and contributes occasionally to Yoganonymous, BaliniSports and Elephant Journal. She is a Gather Yoga Local Collective member and Jade Yoga ambassador.
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