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Letting go of Shame. Helpful or Damaging?

obormottel Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Q: I have a question. I feel like people who come with their problem to GYE thinking and feeling like they are doing the worst thing in the world, and they see the stories of a lot of people who have gone through the same or worse things, they then feel like their problem is not so bad anymore and they feel comfortable where they are. Actually, someone in the kollel told me that he came to GYE and felt more comfortable and fell more because he realized it is something a lot of people are falling in. What do you think about this?

A: It is true that on GYE we help people see that they are not alone and they are not "bad" but rather "sick" (or you can call it addicted). This helps a person let go of the shame. But that doesn't mean they should let go of the guilt. You see, there is a very big difference between shame and guilt. Shame is damaging. It feeds the vicious cycle of addiction. Instead of "I made a mistake" (guilt), the person feels "I AM a mistake" (shame). I am messed up. I am "broken", I am "bad". This is very unhealthy and makes the person want to give up and just give in more. And our experience is that it is much more beneficial for a person to let go of shame than to hold on to it. Shame generally doesn't help a person stop, even though it seems like it might, in some cases.

On the other hand, it is very important to remain with guilt when we are acting out. The Nesivos Shalom says that when a Jew no longer feels guilt, he has no more hope and is cut off from Hashem. Guilt means that a person acknowledges that they made mistakes in the past. Guilt pushes a person to look for ways to break OUT of the addictive cycle.

So the difference between shame and guilt is subtle but very important. Shame makes a person want to give up, and Guilt pushes a person to action.