Getting Past Shame & Guilt

Hey guys. Been getting a lot of great feedback from you guys and I really appreciate it. So I’m putting out these videos with the intention of really de-stigmatizing mental illness. No different than physical illness on this. You hear me say this over and over again. Physical health is important, emotional health is important. I’m trying to help you guys better understand this and kind of get ideas on ways that you can think about things, talk to other people about things if you need to see a therapist or need to seek treatment, just having a better understanding of how everything works. So again, if you guys have questions for me, please feel free to ask. I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso, Clinical Director at Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California and I can be reached at But enough of that, let’s get to what I want to talk about today.

There was a lot of information that people had said, hey, can you say something about shame & guilt? Which are really kind of an interesting emotions. They are not one that I typically think off the top of my head. I can say I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m frustrated and so forth. But shame or guilt aren’t really the first things that I’m thinking about. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have that emotion or I don’t feel it at times. You guys have heard me say this before, but it’s worth repeating. When you go to school, they give you the lesson and then you take the test. In life it happens opposite. You take the test and then you may or may not get the lesson.

Why that’s important is first we have to understand that we’re human. So there is no way we’re going to get things right all the time. So it’s going to be the test and I will get things wrong. Hard part is that sometimes with that failure that comes with life and trying new things and so forth, I end up feeling bad about myself. That I should have known better. I could have done things different. So when I’m saying that life gives us a test, it’s not necessarily a specific thing, a goal I’m trying to achieve and I don’t reach it. Then I feel bad. But it could be something that I do that I just don’t feel good about or that I’m embarrassed about. Then when I, in hindsight, I think, “God, I wish I wouldn’t have done that.”

So I’m going to define shame. It’s a painful feeling of humiliation caused by wrong or foolish behavior. Now remember, it may not have been my intention to be foolish. It wasn’t my intention to be wrong, but this is a feeling that I got from it. I just don’t feel good about myself. I’m judging myself. Other people might be judging me as well. So it ends up reinforcing itself.

I want to make a couple of comments about that. You guys sometimes see me sit down and read notes. I do that specifically. I want to make sure that I’m staying on track for you guys and that this information is helpful. So a lot of feelings that I hear from people when they talk about shame, they talk about feeling exposed, they talked about feeling judged, and they talked about feeling devalued. It’s not necessarily by other people. It could be by themselves. I just don’t value myself. I become very self-critical and demeaning.

And then all of this stuff starts to kind of steamroll or almost snowball into where I start to feel very poorly about myself. So my self-esteem can drop, I could end up feeling very depressed, I can feel sad, I can start feeling hopeless about my situation. So I’ll give you an example, at Nsight, I’ll have people come up to me and say, “I know I’ve been struggling with feeling suicidal or I’m being self-destructive in certain areas of my life. I really just don’t like myself.” As we start to kind of look through this stuff, they start to realize, they start to look at, well, why is it that I don’t like myself? Well, I just hate myself for the things that I’ve done. There’s a lot of regret and so forth.

And I think the hard part is, and this is the good part for them, is they were able to, with treatment, start to look at themselves like, wait a second. These may have been unfortunate events. I may have made some poor choices. I may have done stuff that I wish I didn’t do, but that’s not me or who I am as a person. That’s not my character. It was just something that was a mistake I made. But what I’m getting at is the unfortunate part of shame. The guilt that comes along with it. Shame and guilt are different. Guilt could be how they ended up feeling about the situation. And shame is more how they’re feeling about themself.

I’m going to make a quick comment, too, about other professionals that comment on this topic. Brene Brown is a very well-known, recognized therapist that does a lot of work on shame. So I just wanted to at least recommend her work. You can find it on YouTube, you can find it on the internet and so forth. I don’t know her, I’m not affiliated with her in any way, but her work has been very extensive in the area of shame. And that is Brene Brown.

So let’s kind of see where I want to go with this. So when you think about it, shame can come from things I do or that I regret. But it doesn’t have to happen that way. There’s multiple ways that I can end up feeling poorly or shameful about something.

So think about kids and they you grow up, comments that parents make. Like, you should be ashamed of yourself. Why did you do that? That was stupid. It could go anywhere from a parent trying to teach a child in a way that’s not so productive to a way that’s just straight out abusive. There’s, unfortunately, there’s parents that abuse their child in verbal ways. And the problem is the child starts to internalize it. I must be a bad kid. And there’s a difference between, “Hey, I’m a bad kid,” and, “I did something that I shouldn’t have done.” There are two totally different things. So when we look at it how I could start feeling shame and so forth, it could be just this repeated message. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should feel terrible. You should, you’re a bad person for doing this and so forth.

Another thing it could be, and I’m bringing this up as parenting, is what if my parents had a specific expectation for me. If they said, oh, they wanted me to be very smart academically or they wanted me to be an athlete or they wanted me to be a musician and so forth, and that didn’t fit my desire. I didn’t meet what my parents’ expectation was. Now I could have totally excelled in another area. But in that one I didn’t. And so I end up feeling poorly about myself. I was never enough. Meaning, I may have excelled in certain ways, but it wasn’t a way that pleased my parents. And I’m ashamed of that.

And in my head, my, and if you kind of look at this, I used it as I’m ashamed of that or I’m ashamed of me. And this stuff continues to perpetuate itself. It’s a way of thinking that I end up getting in. And every time I don’t meet an expectation, because now it could be an expectation from my social circle, people that I hang around with. It could be, it could even be stuff that I’m set… expectations that I’m setting for myself. So I want to accomplish something and I don’t, and then I’m embarrassed and ashamed.

So the concern about this and why we’re talking about it is your ability to understand, okay, why it is that I’m feeling a certain way. Why is it that I’m ashamed of this? How do I feel about myself? Is it contributing to other things where I’m starting to feel very depressed, I’m feeling sad, I have no self-confidence? And then does it perpetuate itself? And what I mean by that, because I don’t feel good about myself, do I just kind of give up to a certain extent and I started engaging in self destructive behaviors? It could be my way of coping. It’s an escape. So I go do something that may be pleasurable in the moment. And really all it does is it continues to perpetuate the hurt that I have.

So again, this stuff can just be really kind of, innocent isn’t the right word, but it could just be kind of random. My parents make a comment, I’m around people that make a comment. I come up with specific standards I set for myself. I don’t meet them. I end up judging myself. And then the feelings that come with it make me feel very poorly about myself. And then it just becomes self-destructive from that point. So then people ask me, “Okay. Hey Jerry, that’s fine and good. And now I have a better understanding of how shame might be developed and what I might be holding onto. But what do I do with it?”

So again, I’m going to say that there’s no substitute for therapy. Meaning if you can go get good therapy… and it depends again on the severity. I’m not recommending it for everybody, but if this has gotten to a point where it’s really impacted your mood, how you feel about yourself, how you function and so forth. It does not hurt to seek… therapy doesn’t have to take a long time. It can be very targeted. These are some of the issues I’m dealing with. A very astute therapist will be able to help you identify, okay, maybe this is why or how is this, how did it manifest itself with you? How did it start and so forth. You get a better understanding how it developed, how you feel, and then it allows you to get some clarity about as an adult looking at it with being objective and not judgmental. And maybe I need to understand that life gives the test and then I get the lesson. It’s not lesson first and then I make no mistakes. Okay?

So one, you guys need to do is empathy for yourself and I’m going to say empathy for others. Have some understanding that nobody’s perfect and that doesn’t mean we don’t try to strive to be perfect, but it means that I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to regret some of the stuff I do. I’m going to feel bad. Understandable, it’s just part of life. But I’ve got to at least show myself the same respect that I would want to show someone else and have someone else show me that where an ideal parent would say, hey, if I made a mistake instead of I should be ashamed of myself, it should be let me show you the difference between right and wrong here. I understand you’re young and you don’t understand this yet and this is the learning part, but let’s just slow down and let me show you a little bit how life works. Very different approach. So empathy for yourself.

The second thing would be, it’s very important to talk about this stuff with other people. I’m not necessarily talking about a therapist at this point. Look at your support system. Who can you trust to share your feelings with and who can give good feedback that’s objective and not demeaning and disrespectful and so forth. So if I share with a close friend, you know what? I feel really bad about myself. I did this and I and I regret it and so forth, or however it is that I want to share stuff with them that they can listen and they can understand. They can show empathy and compassion and then maybe share some of their experiences and normalize it. We all make mistakes. We all have things that we might regret or feel guilty about, we’re ashamed of and so forth. But where they’re not passing judgment, they’re being accepting and understanding. So those are the two things. Empathy for myself, and then finding someone who’s supportive that can at least provide some validation that I’m not the only person.

And then the third thing is is kind of what I was talking about that can happen in therapy. Recognize why it is that you’re having those feelings, and you’ve heard me say this before. So one, I want to be able to identify what my feelings are. I feel ashamed or I feel guilty or I feel poorly about myself or I’m depressed, but kind of looking at why. And if I can then kind of walk it back, when did I first start feeling this? What happened at that time? What was going on in my life? Everything will start to… it’s kind of like getting pieces of a puzzle as in I start to put the puzzle together, the picture on the puzzle starts to make more sense. Okay, now, it’s coming to be much more clear. The difference between having a camera that’s out of focus and then having it in focus. I can kind of get a better idea, okay, this is what took place in my life. This is why I started feeling this way and maybe I got to cut myself a little bit of slack that, yeah, I made these mistakes, but I made them for a reason. This kind of snowballed, as you heard me say earlier, from other events. And now I can look at how I can make some changes.

So when you look at making changes and I understand we can’t change our past, right? But we can change, I’m going to say, essentially who we are and how we act. So, and think about it like this. I could have a bad reputation because of something. Well, reputation is what someone believes, but character is who I am, right? And I’m going to be the one that determines what my character is. So if I look at, hey, I feel shame for certain reasons, and people judge me, or people look at me in a certain way, I understand that’s their perspective. But that doesn’t necessarily make it right. We all have the opportunity to change. We can continue to grow throughout life. And I’m going to tell you that’s the most important part. As long as I’m growing, I’m changing, I’m developing, I’m maturing and I’m becoming somebody different, the person that I want to be. And so character is really who I am.

And so one of the things that goes to, and I’m going to kind of wrap this part up with that, is that failure is not what stops us. The problem is is when we stop at failure, okay? So we’re going to have these things happen in life and then say I failed. That’s not where it stops. It only stops there if I stop there. If I want to continue to grow, I want to mature, I want to get more out of life, and I want to make more of my emotional health and how I feel and change the life, change my life and the lives of the people around me, I can totally do that.

So again, I started this with in school, they give us the lesson, then we get the tests. Life, we get the test, then we get the lesson. Don’t stop at failure. And I understand that there’s a lot of feelings that happen where we’ve end up feeling bad about ourselves, but that’s not where we’re stopping at. We have to look at the reason why and it could be we didn’t do anything. It could have just been stuff that, where we’ve been judged by others and we’ve just held onto that as if it’s true.

So again, if you guys have questions for me, I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso at Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California. I’m happy to help you guys out in terms of being able to identify specific topics around psychology, emotional health, mental illness. So please send us your questions. If you liked this video, please give us a like, share with other people. If you don’t like it, it’s fine to not like it, but at least put a comment, “Hey Jerry, this was totally stupid, or I didn’t like this topic or I think you were wrong.” Let’s open it up for discussion. I make mistakes no different than anyone else and I’m happy to provide clarity. I can at least let you know where I was thinking, where I was going with this stuff. And it becomes more of a dialogue instead of one specific thing. So again, until I see you next time, I hope you guys have a terrific day. Thanks.

Dr. Jerry Grosso

Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Grosso is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 20 years of experience assisting individuals and families struggling with addiction, depression and trauma. He obtained his Bachelors of Arts degree in Psychology from San Diego State University before enrolling in Chapman University where he acquired a Master of Arts degree in Psychology.  Dr. Grosso continued his education and received a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology with a Specialty in treating Chemical Dependency. He holds a professional membership with the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT).