accepting responsibility: shame, blame, guilt & resentment…

About three weeks ago I started the final segment of my educational journey: the internship.   In a series of three classes I have to complete a minimum of 700 hours over the course of approximately ten months. This will require a 60+ hour work week for almost a year.  I will continue to work full-time as a weekend night shift CNA in a float pool for large hospital system.  I will be adding 20+ hours of unpaid work as an intern at an inpatient treatment facility for recovering addicts.   As a wife and mother, this means I’m literally spending most of my waking hours in the service of others.

Keep in mind, a good majority of those I encounter will not appreciate my efforts, (and if they do, they don’t necessarily show it).
***Parenting a teen often involves being the bad guy as you set firm boundaries.
***Counseling individuals through recovery entails addressing varied levels of resistance.
***Working as a CNA requires you to provide care to individuals who often feel like crap.

I’m now in the third week of my first internship class and have finally settled into this new routine.    I’ve tried to hold onto the glimmer of hope that graduation will come sooner than I expect.  I continue to plan cautiously this new career path.  I registered for that big “exam” required for licensure. I’ve researched other internship placements that can provide experience in populations outside the addiction community.

However, as I muscle through each week, I find my mental health slipping from my grasp.

As a new student therapist, I’m running several groups on my own…

I spend approximately ten hours a week teaching subjects to residents in an inpatient treatment facility that I have little knowledge of.  Since the facility is redesigning the curriculum I’m told it’s my responsibility to come up with the subject materials myself.  I enjoy this part, but the experience of standing in front of class each day brings me back to speech class in 8th grade where my childhood bullies taunted me merciless throughout a presentation.  Despite my best efforts, my nerves always end up getting the better of me.

I conducted my first intake evaluations & individual sessions this week…

These experiences have had a perplexing effect upon me.  While appreciative of the learning opportunity a burgeoning ignorance wells up within.   As I learn more I feel I know less – if for no other reason than simply because I’m forced to face the breadth of my lack of knowledge.  More importantly,  book knowledge and interpersonal application are completely different things.   I have one but must work on developing the other.   I’ve come to an awareness that I really give to others based on who I am.

***All my efforts thus far have held a unique flavor that is very “Kathleen-like”.
***My life history and personality quirks are found throughout all l do.
***My preferred coping mechanisms (i.e. isolation & withdrawal) are not allowed.
***I must face my fears & allow others to see me fully – if I wish to succeed…

In this (& future) posts I’ve decided to share the material I’ve created for my therapy groups…

The subject matter often leaves me with much to reflect on personally. What follows is material I put together on blame, guilt, remorse & shame: concepts that all have potential to interfere with our efforts to creat lasting change.  If handled correctly they can also provide an impetus for a personal transformation.  Since this is a personal blog, I’m not sharing this information to educate or give advice.  I’m presenting it as information relevant to my life story personally….

Understanding Guilt…

Defined as a feeling if responsibility or remorse for some offense,  or wrong-doing it’s important to examine carefully how you handle it.  The following quote comes from a blog post I found online on the subject of guilt, shame, remorse, and recovery:

“Oftentimes addicts in recovery need a great deal of time before they can even begin to understand that they are not inherently defective, that it was their choices and not their true selves that caused their addiction & its related negative consequences. (, 2013)”

As this quote indicates, a monkey-wrench in the recovery process is a misinterpretation of guilt.   Interestingly, when replacing a few words, this quote applies to me as well:

[when healing from trauma], a great deal of time [is needed] before [I] can even begin to understand that  [I am] not inherently defective, that it was [my] choices and not [my] true [self]  that caused [the] … negative consequences. (, 2013)”
With this parallel clearly drawn, further contemplation is now in order: How is it I’ve managed to turn guilt into something else so self-destructive, (i.e. Resentment, Shame, or Blame)????

Misuse of guilt : shame, blame & resentment…

Unhealthy guilt carries a punitive vibe that allows us to play victim and avoid personal responsibility.  It prevents us from finding happiness in life by concealing the effective solutions to our problem.  For a convenient example, read my blog post on the “stages if change”, where I describe a four-year abusive relationship I endured while in college.  With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I see the clear logic in the obvious question, why did you stay so long!?!? (((I was too busy blaming others, shaming myself & resenting him)))).

When guilt is good….

Interestingly, guilt is not necessarily a bad thing (by itself).  It hast the potential to provide an impetus for lasting change.   Remorse – a characteristic of healthy guilt – encourages us to looking at past actions in order to understand their consequences.  This information has predictive value for our current decisions:  If I do “A”, then “B” is the result.  The key is in learning how to use guilt for purposes of growth.

What follows are insights on how to use guilt as an impetus for change.  
  1. Use your remorse to take a personal inventory of your life.

  2. Share your feelings of guilt & remorse with others (i.e. blog 🙂 )

  3. Examine the origins of your guilt, Is it rational or reasonable?

  4. Learn to forgive yourself & all involved.

  5. Avoid the blame, shame and/or resentment traps (See below).

  6. Change the behaviors that caused you to feel the guilt in the first place.

  7. Apologize where necessary & let go for the sake of inner peace.

  8. Commit to living in the present & moving forward.

guilt can also become healthy when misused:

As stated earlier, guilt can provide us with an understanding of how specific actions result in certain consequences.   This information, however can be misused when we focus on attributing responsibility for punitive purposes.  This punitive nature, causes us to focus on emotion instead of action.  We live in the past, rather than act in the present.  We are often blinded by a desire to complain about our problems.    Guilt becomes blame when we assign responsibility to others for the “bad thing that happened”.   In time, this blame can produce feelings of resentment.   Shame, in contrast, is the attribution of responsibility to oneself.  In time, they can produce feelings of resentment towards oneself.

when guilt becomes blame….


Blame usually involves assigning someone responsibility for the bad things that happened to you. Synonyms of blame include to condemn or accuse.  However justified we might be, it is worth noting that blame is often counterproductive.   In the short term, it allows us to escape elements of the truth which are often too painful to examine closely.  However, the price we pay in the long term is a huge well of unresolved hurt that pollutes all life decisions.   Blaming others has polluted my life with a crap-load of unresolved bullshit.  This tendency to blame misery on externalized factors has caused a lifetime of willful blindness us to even the simplest solutions.

There’s more than a grain of truth to the saying that we perpetuate what we deny.  So how did I overcome the blame that blinded me??? 

Step One – Identify your blame-laden complaints.

Listen to the words coming out of your mouth.  Start a blog and note the underlying patterns in the ways you tell your life story.  Or, if you don’t like writing, get an old digital camera and tape yourself, let the thoughts and feelings flow.  Set it aside for about a week or so, and view this video when you’re mind is clearer.  You’ll be surprised by what you say.   When you notice a blame-laden complaints that involve a sad victim-story, write them down.  Here’s a convenient example from a recent post in which I describe a minor misunderstanding between my sister and I that blew completely out of proportion….

“SHOULD I HAVE APOLOGIZED? if it means being made to feel I’m denying my reality – NO!!!. Sadly, I hate to say it but since you are all very ignorantly unaware of my reality that’s how the apology feels – to me.”

Step Two – State your complaints neutrally.

Think like Joe Friday says: “Just the facts ma’am”.  In other words, try restating your blame-laden complaining.  How might you objectively describe your concern?  The following example is a convenient neutral concern that takes any blame-laden language out of the above complaint.  It also includes a link to a post titled “Transactional Analysis… A Move Beyond Misunderstanding”, where I provide 20/20 hindsight into the “Anatomy of a Misunderstanding” post.   As I understand it now, this misunderstanding reflected larger issues pertaining to unmet needs in my childhood.

Perception is reality in the sense that the our life experiences become a fulcrum of understanding.  Nobody can truly know what it is like to live in our shoes.   

Step Three – List all contributing factors.

When you think about it, blame takes the focus off of you, and places it squarely upon others.  You can’t see effective solutions because you’re not looking at what actions you can take to create change.  Playing victim is good for the ego, but highly self-destructive.   Accepting responsibility and seeing the situation in full and complete detail has taken time as it pertains to the above examples.  My relationship with my sister has improved with time, and has required much work on my own part…..

I considered the alternatives: holding onto hurt or letting it go.

I came to realize that underlying our differences are two very different temperaments.  

I sought out the hidden lessons in this experiences & second chance opportunities

I started to work on my own healing through forgiveness.  

Resentment as a byproduct of blame…

Resentment is a bitter and angry indignation over unfair treatment or perceived wrongs.   It is the emotional cousin to blame-laden thinking.  Blame is a thought process that involves the attribution responsibility for our situation to the action of others.  Resentment results when you ruminate over this realization endlessly.  When you focus on it too much the anger can build and you can’t see further.  All you know is you hurt and they need to understand and pay.  Trust me when I tell you, resentment can eat you alive and leave you with nothing else.

It is for this reason that I believe that forgiveness is essential for healing, it is necessary in order to make room for the good stuff.  

When Guilt Becomes Shame….


As I mentioned earlier, guilt can be impetus for lasting change.  It has the potential to provide valuable and empowering insight.  However, when this insight is used to assign responsibilty for punitive purposes, it becomes highly self-destructive.  Blame is the attribution of guilt to external factors (i.e. people, events, situations).  It causes resentment.  In contrast, shame is the attribution of guilt to yourself with a punitive belief that “we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance or belonging.” (Brown, 2010, p4).

  1. Shame is being rejected.

  2. Shame is feeling like an outsider.

  3. Shame is that part of yourself you hide.

  4. Shame is not belonging

Shame vs. Guilt….

Shame tells us we are bad. It is a useless emotion we are all susceptible to. Guilt tells us we have done something wrong and indicates a need for reparation?

  1. Shame = I am bad. It is about the person.

  2. Guilt = I have done something bad. It is a reaction to a person’s actions.

Shame vs. Humiliation…

Humiliation results from a situation of unequal power in which we are made to feel inferior or ashamed. Shame is a private matter. Humiliation is a public event.

  1. Shame = Is a byproduct of internalizing messages from others.

  2. Humiliation = is caused by messages from others which causes us to feel degraded.

Moving Beyond Shame….

Step One – Examining Our Shame Webs.

Shame is the consequence of our interactions with others – and society in general.  These interactions carry implicit messages of who we should be to in order to garner acceptance and belonging.  For the most part, these messages exist as unresolved expectations. The are a filter through which life experiences are examined and resolved.   With this in mind, there are several critical questions to ask yourself:

  1. What messages of perceived-worth underlie your feelings of shame?

  2. Can you describe these wanted and unwanted identities?

  3. Where do these messages of shame come from?

Step Two – Understanding the Consequences of Shame.

Shame is about fear of disconnection (Brene, 2010).  This fear of being ridiculed, diminished or ostracized can cause us to actively avoid situations that we associated with it.  However, by avoiding situations that make us feel shame, we end up re-living old messages from others about what and/or whom we should be.   Others from long ago in our past, tell us who we should be in the present whether we realize it or not.   The end result is a hamster-wheel life in which you can create no more of the same thing…

Step Three – Define Your Shame Triggers….

Individuals, who are highly resilient to shame, understand their shame triggers (Brene, 2010). These triggers reflect early messages of shame from our childhood.  For example, standing in front of my group therapy class produces heightened anxiety.  I recognize this as a byproduct of the implicit messages from peers in my speech class in 8th grade.   I feel shame and embarrassment, and want the attention focused away from me.  By acknowledging this, I am aware these emotions reflect past memories, and not the current situation.  With this in mind, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How would you like for the world to see you?

  2. How would you hate for others to see you?

  3. How do these aspects of your self-image reflect messages you receive from others?

Shame & Belief Systems….

Shame is based on a system of belief about who we are in relation to others. This belief-system consists of a collectivity of messages about who we are. As belief system, the underlying concepts are matters of opinion and not fact.  Beliefs are opinions about how the world works & our place in it.  When we share these ideas with others, they become systems of belief.  When taken on blind faith they appear to function as objective truth.  In reality, they are simply shared systems of meaning that we support collectively as self-fulfilling prophecies with social consequences for violation.    The key to overcoming a system of belief based on messages associated with feelings of shame is in differentiating between facts and opinions….

You can change beliefs with facts but you cannot change facts with beliefs.  In other words, beliefs require a believer while facts exist independent of them.

For example, lets say you’re boiling noodles in a large dutch oven.  When they’re done you drain the noodles in a strainer.  The water goes down the drain and what remains are noodles.  Life functions like a strainer, it is the perfect reality filter.  Bullshit doesn’t hold water, and goes down the drain.  The noodles remaining are facts and/or consequences that go nowhere until you deal with them.  They are here to stay.  KNOW THE DIFFERENCE!!!

References… (2013, December, 9).  The ‘recovery value’ of shame, guilt and remorse (part one). [blog post]  Retrieved from:
Brown, B. (2015). Shame Resilience Theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame. Families in Society. 87(1), 43-48.


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