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Guilt and Shame

Guilt and Shame

Guilt and shame are fascinating emotions! Some say they are merely means of control by society: a way of preventing members of society from disobeying its rules.

Who has not had that feeling of “I had better not€”..because if I did I would feel awful€”

In this role, guilt and shame can be very effective. But they are stick rather than carrot motivators. It is important to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate feelings of guilt and shame, and those feeling which are generated internally or those imposed by others.

In the therapeutic relationship, these emotions often provide blocks to progression, sometimes through an inability to get over old guilt, sometimes through fear of encountering the emotions again.

An example of the first might be a client who once caused a colleague to lose their job, simply by being much more efficient and creating an awareness of the inadequacies of the other person. They hold on to an inappropriate feeling of guilt, and stay trapped.

An example of the second might be a client who had an affair and felt so guilty for the pain he caused his wife that he is unwilling to risk feeling this again and so will not approach his wife to discuss problems in the marriage.

My role with these emotions is one of exploration, understanding, and encouragement to allow the client to forgive themselves and to move on without fear.


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