Gratitude in Guilt

Generating Gratitude Series: Part 4

As I opened up my draft of this post containing only a title, I realized I first started it on June 30th.  Aside from the fact that June 30th is my father's birthday (I'll discuss that later), it was over 5 months ago!  The realization that it has taken me 5 months to get past a mere title is a hard pill to swallow. 

It's not for lack of desire to write more, but it's more about lack of inspiration. With writing such a big part of who I am, not being able to do it leaves me feeling desperate.  Writing is entwined in my soul and a big part of what makes me me so when I can't write, I am not myself.  Unfortunately, these moments are not always something I can control so here I am, 5 months after creating the title, finally with a thing or two to say.  

Because it's been so long since my last Generating Gratitude post, I feel it appropriate to recap my goal and where we have been.  I started this series with the goal of finding ways to feel gratitude in the most difficult of times with the ultimate goal of generating more energy in my life.  Whether that be physical energy, mental energy, or spiritual energy - I am confident that gratitude is the fuel.

I have talked about Gratitude in Grieving, ways in which allowing gratitude a place in our grief can help us through it; Gratitude in Giving, with three separate scenarios where giving is difficult but energizing; and Gratitude in Grounding, where having gratitude actually helps us stay grounded in who we are meant to be.  

So here we are in Part 4 of what I promised would be a 5-part series, and Gratitude in Guilt is up next.

***

Guilt is a term by itself that carries such a heavy weight that those of us who walk around with it on our shoulders can't help but feel exhausted.   

Look.  Guilt has it's place.  In some way, it is the emotional feeling that leads to remorse and if no one ever felt remorse, it would be a far uglier world than it already is today.  I believe a certain amount of guilt allows us to see when we have hurt someone we love, to make amends, to heal, to grow, and to learn from our mistakes.  

But it is when guilt turns into shame that it becomes far more destructive, and I feel this is the most common form we experience.  I personally find shame to be one of the ugliest words in the dictionary.  Yes, I am an expert.  Not because I've studied it, like Brené Brown (watch her amazing TED talk on shame at the end of this post), but because I have lived it.  When guilt turns into shame, we walk around feeling as though we are awful and undeserving individuals, bad for having done or not done whatever we did or didn't do.

Shame is a liar.   

So back to the ironic part of me having started this post on my father's birthday: as I've previously written, he passed away just shy of two years ago.  Growing up, I was very much a daddy's girl and despite the fact my parents were divorced, I never felt like he was missing in my life.  He was as much of a father to me as he could have been and many of my childhood memories are of times spent with him. 

However, as I grew older, things changed rather significantly.  Over time, I allowed frustrations turn into resentments which then turned into a huge brick wall between us.  The truth is that in the years before his death, we were almost a see-each-other-on-holidays father/daughter.

He had overcome so many health hurdles in his life including a rare lung disease, a horrific car accident, a double-lung transplant; it was almost as if he was invincible and the power of my denial over his declining health allowed me to believe he was immortal.    

I may not need to tell you all the ways in which guilt has made its way into my thoughts over the last two years.  I often feel the I should haves easily creeping into my mind and, if I allow them, overwhelm me to the point that I beat myself up beyond recognition.  This is the kind of guilt that leads to shame. 

We carry guilty shame in the deepest parts of us and it impacts every part of our lives and each one of our relationships. We often don't recognize it because it masquerades as anger, violence, addiction, bitterness, numbing, detachment, etc.  As we wear these masks, the world cannot see who we truly are and, if they did, we believe they surely wouldn't like what they see. 

Shame tells us we are alone.  Shame tells us we need to hide from everyone - including ourselves.  And there is no bigger destructive force than that which keeps us from ourselves and ultimately, who we were meant to be. 

Shame is the force that destroys from the inside out.

In the example about my father, the problem for me arrives when my grief is tainted by guilty shame and then anger at myself. My shame manifests in numbing and detachment and when I am hiding under those masks, I walk around as a virtual zombie.  My emotions completely shut down which prevents me from feeling the much-needed sadness and grief I need to in order to heal from the death of my father. 

Shame hinders healing.  

Even further, not only am I shut off from negative emotions, but I struggle to feel the good ones too.  All happiness, love, and joy is tempered, if not completely blocked; and this is, perhaps, the most unbearable part for me.  

So where does gratitude come in to this scenario?  It sounds simple but is actually quite difficult. 

It is about gratitude for the opportunity to see myself

It is about gratitude for the chance to grow as an individual and learn from my mistakes.

It is about gratitude for the chance to change the course of my life and my relationships, to make sure that the important relationships in my life are honored in such a way that I don't have to feel guilty shame again.

Having gratitude in the guilt does not make me immune from all the I-should-haves; but it does help ensure that my guilt doesn't lead down the ugly path of shame.  

I believe my father can see all the ways in which I have struggled and I know he doesn't want that for me.   As someone who struggled most of his life just to simply take the next breath, my dad had very real and tangible reasons to feel exhausted; but the way he fought for his life was proof he still loved living.

I recognize now that carrying the burden of guilt and allowing it to weigh me down to the point of exhaustion is not honoring his fight, nor is it honoring the life I have left. And, for the chance I have to see that, I am grateful.   

What burden of guilty shame are you carrying today?

 

Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity and vulnerability shine through every word.