I had an incredible moment of clarity with my therapist this week. As we were discussing my issues in how I process and work through my mistakes, she helped me to wrap my brain around something that I’ve always known as factual, but I have never been able to accept about myself.
When it comes to our mistakes, there are three types of reactions: Guilt, Shame and Confusion. I have known this, but I’ve always struggled to differentiate between these, feeling two or all three simultaneously more often than not.
As a 9 year-old, I was a victim of sexual abuse. I never told anyone about this until about 10 years ago – because my 9-year-old brain could not comprehend what had truly happened to me, I felt all three of these feelings, and have always thought that this was the “normal” way that I should have felt and should feel when I have wronged someone or felt wronged by someone.
In junior high, I had an incident for which I was teased immensely, and absolutely no one had any idea of how it had a similar correlation to my abuse experience. From that point all the way through my adult life, I’d always felt flawed, and that I was not as good or worthy of the people around me. It impacted my self esteem, my grades, and my ability to make friendships. My temper manifested itself as sarcasm, blatant immaturity, and a constant feeling that I had to prove myself.
I consider my 20’s as my “total fuckup” decade, as my inability and confusion about guilt versus shame only added more gas to the fire, causing me to make even bigger mistakes, where I truly hurt people, and then it just became a vicious cycle. There was one girl (for sake of anonymity, I’ll just call her Francesa) for whom I had a serious crush, and although she was always kind to me, my feelings of not being good enough for her triggered many decisions that did not warrant good judgment. The mistakes I made only made me feel more guilt and shame, which triggered the desire to try and prove to her that she was wrong…..which led to more mistakes, and the cycle just kept going around and around. Francesca did not deserve that, and for the last 25 years, I’ve felt not just the guilt, but the shame (and the inability to forgive myself) for the pain I caused her.
In my head, my mistakes have always “played on a loop” because I remember the majority of these in great detail. As easy as it is to say there’s a difference between guilt (acknowledging a mistake, asking for forgiveness, then forgiving yourself) and shame (the inability to forgive yourself, even if forgiven by others), I still struggle to feel the difference.
I’m not writing this to receive sympathy from anyone. I’m writing this because after nearly 50 years of keeping this all bottled up inside and feeling a level of shame that is off the charts, I can’t do it anymore. As much as there’s a part of me that wishes that I could apologize to everyone that I’ve hurt for many years, the only thing I can do is to finally forgive myself and move forward. #ImWorthy 😊