You have a sick feeling in your stomach, a dread. You have a voice inside that has started telling you that you’re a piece of shit for what you did.

Sometimes the voice whispers at you and sometimes it screams. It is there in your quiet moments when you are just trying to relax. It is there when you are tired or stressed. It is there when you are sharing a laugh with your buddies or connecting with your sweetie. Even in those moments, it starts, telling you they won’t want you around once they find out who you really are. It says they are only hanging out with you because they feel sorry for you.

You work extra hours, you fix all those niggling repair jobs in your home and your vehicle, you increase your workout routine, or you plan fun activities for your kids and all their friends on the weekends even though you are exhausted. All of it to drown out the voice. “If I just work really hard then I’ll be good enough” is the thought that rattles around in your mind but is never quite put into words. You are so tired but you forge ahead. Eventually the exhaustion takes you to the point of feeling out of control and you are terrified that you will hurt someone again.

Maybe that wasn’t your path. Maybe you feel numb. One hour of television slips into two and then four. Whole evenings spent on the couch. You feel flat. You know you should feel warmly towards your family but there is no spark in you. You cannot muster any excitement. You start drinking or using drugs. It helps. The voice is quiet for a while and you relish the break. But the next day the voice is there again, only louder because your body is even more tired. You drink or use again. And before you know it you have lost yourself.

Now you feel even less in control and you are terrified that you will hurt someone again.

This is shame. It is a toxin. It seeps into your body and your mind and eats at you from the inside.

Shame says that you are no good. You are pathetic. You are worthless. No one will ever love you. No one really wants you around. You are different from those other people; you don’t belong. You’re just not good enough. There is something rotten at your core and people will see it eventually.

Shame is different than guilt, although the two can coincide. Guilt looks you in the eyes and tells you right from wrong. Guilt says you should not have done what you did. It says that you could have done better. Guilt holds a high bar and expects you to meet it. But shame has no bar at all; it says that you will never even come close to meeting anyone’s expectations, much less your own.

It is little wonder than that people who experience a lot of shame are more likely to struggle with aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders and addiction (see this talk). Guilt, on the other hand, is a preventive to those same things. Guilt is your way of reminding yourself of what is right and wrong and it is the way that you course correct when you are not acting in ways that reflect who you want to be.

Guilt, then, brings you to a place of taking accountability for what you have done. In a place of accountability you can start the process of making amends and taking steps to ensure that you do not act that way again.

If you come to me for counselling after you have used violence I will not further shame you. It doesn’t work. It only pushes you further away from the person you want to be. I will walk with you as you course correct, reminding you of what you value, challenging you to be your best self and noticing when you move closer to your goals.