Recognising the difference between guilt and shame—and learning how to let go.
We’ve all heard or experienced mum guilt before. It might be in relation to going back to work, giving kids takeaway or frozen food, or using the TV as a babysitter just to have some down time.
But what if what we’re actually experiencing is mum shame? What if we have feelings of unworthiness around being a parent? Our lovability? Or our ability to handle any given situation?
Brené Brown, a leading researcher in shame and vulnerability, claims that the best way to move through our shame is by being vulnerable. This can be increasingly difficult for mothers, especially given the pressures to be the perfect parent thanks to social media. The greater the comparisons we experience, the more guilt we will feel—and if these feelings are not monitored, they can lead to shame.
Differences between guilt and shame
- When our actions are not separate to our identity
- We believe we are our behaviour
- Most commonly shows up in a parent-child relationship
- Focus is on self
- Highly correlated to addiction, depression, suicide, eating disorder, aggression, bullying and suicide
- Linked to personal distress
When we experience shame, we believe that:
- I am a bad mother
- I’m so stupid
- I’m too weak
- I’m fat and disgusting
- I’m a mistake
- I’m unworthy
- I can’t handle this
- I’m too angry
- Focus is on behaviour, not self
- Our actions are separate to our identity
- Works as a compass for how we should behave or what we’ve done wrong
- Helps us see from a different perspective
- Helps us modify our behaviour for next time
- Doesn’t blame
When we experience guilt, we believe that:
- I made a mistake
- I did something wrong
- I felt anger
- Although I’ve made a mistake, I have the ability to make amends and then adapt my behaviour to be who I want to be instead
How to practise vulnerability (and overcome shame)
It’s important to share how you’re feeling to those you trust—not publicly on social media, especially if you’re still dealing with your shame. Don’t worry about being the perfect parent because there isn’t one. (Once you’ve moved through your shame, your story can also empower others.)
Practise self-compassion daily
Being vulnerable takes enormous courage. That’s why it’s so important to let go of the worry of what others think of you and demonstrate self-compassion. It might not come naturally at first, which is why it’s important to make it a daily practice. You can begin by starting with these mantras:
- I forgive myself
- I am compassionate to myself at all times
- I am worthy of love
- I learn from my experiences
- I let go of what doesn’t serve me
- I accept myself in this moment as I am
Surround yourself with people who are naturally more guilt-prone than shame-prone
We are the product of the five closest people in our lives. Therefore, surround yourself with those who focus on modifying their behaviour, not on making their behaviour who they are or shaming others for their behaviour.
Learn from your guilt
Use your guilt to feel compassion. Ask yourself, What can I learn from this?, How can I grow as a result of this? and Who do I need to be to get through this? And believe you have what it takes to move forward.
Ask for what you need
You can’t get what you don’t ask for. Jesus Himself said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
It’s important to know what you want and need in order to be the best person you can be. Be clear with how others can support you. And establish well-defined boundaries around this.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact: