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Friday, October 10, 2014

Understanding the Nature of Guilt, Shame, and Vulnerability - Part 1


One of the things you learn in my program is that mind is the cause; the observable world is the effect.  Perception is a mirror, not a fact, and what you look on is your state of mind reflected outward.  Now, in order for us to completely heal from our past, we have to understand the nature of guilt, shame, and vulnerability.  It is something that people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and trauma are constantly fighting against, which is the regrettable memories of their past.  The things they wish they would have done differently, the things that they feel are unforgivable, that they can’t free themselves from and are imprisoned by.  Guilt and shame is a preoccupation with sin.  Sin has been used over the centuries in order to manipulate and control people and keep them down.  Religion has turned something that was intended to be used in guiding one’s conscience in order to do well and learn from one’s mistakes, and perverted the understanding to keep them in fear of God, in fear of eternal damnation, and so, as a consequence, they've been able to keep people in control through the use and manipulation of guilt and shame.
Sin actually is an archery term; it means ‘you missed the mark.’  It’s really about learning from your mistakes.  What sin has become is an exaggerated fear of eternal damnation.  If we sin, and God condemns us for our sins, our souls will live in the fires of hell for all eternity.  This idea has so embedded itself into our unconscious minds that we often punish ourselves in the present moment for the ‘sins’ we've made in this life before God has even passed any kind of judgment against us, and then, because we see ourselves as unforgivable sinners, we continue to do things that bring us pain, which only strengthens the idea that we are sinners, we are bad, and we are going to hell.  It’s a vicious cycle we do to ourselves without us even being aware of it.  The lives of people who suffer from guilt and shame, by virtue of these unconscious negative beliefs, can be so tortured and debilitating that one’s life is completely altered because of the things they have yet to learn from. 

So what is the nature of guilt and shame?  Guilt is ‘I've done something bad and I should feel bad about it.’  Shame is ‘I've done something bad and therefore, I am bad.’  Shame is total despair, an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, life has lost all its meaning, and there is a feeling that our errors are totally unforgivable and we will never be able to recover from it.  It is the total imprisonment of one’s self.  Shame is the lowest energy of the universe.  Someone who is so self-absorbed into their own shame cannot see how they will ever extricate themselves from the place in their lives they find themselves in.  Guilt is intimately connected with shame.  Guilt can be turned inward or guilt can be turned outward.  Guilt turned inward is self-violence; you are committing violence towards yourself.  Guilt provokes rage.   So let’s say you are guilty of doing something, or having done something, or having experienced something, and if you are non-violent, you will turn the rage that guilt provokes against yourself, and this shows up as ‘I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve this, I’m a failure, I’m not worthy, etc.’  If you are prone to violence, acting out from your pain, and projecting hatred out, you will put it ‘out there’, and then seek the means for revenge and retaliation.  That’s how guilt manifests itself.  Guilt is “the consequence of the memory of regretted past actions as they are recalled.” (Hawkins, p. 51).  What you feel is that what you have done is so bad, and what follows are the self-punitive judgments you make about your past actions. ‘I don’t deserve to have anything, I’m not worthy of anything, I’m not love-able, I’m a worthless worm in the face of God or the Universe, in the face of all my friends and loved ones’, and what pins this all together is the belief you don’t deserve to have any good and you are completely unforgivable

Guilt and shame have been exploited by people in position of power throughout mankind’s history to keep man down, in fear and trepidation for the welfare of his soul, and trapped in the tragedies of the past.  I’m saying to all of you, who are reading this blog; you can break free from your past!  What I want you to know is guilt is something that ages you and will make you sick.  It will show up in your body if you don’t change it and heal it.  It can be changed, it can be re-contextualized, and it can be used as a means to re-calibrate your life and your story, which helps you to make peace with your past.  PTSD and trauma suffers must learn how to overcome and transcend their guilt and shame. 

The foremost authority and expert on guilt and shame is Dr. Brene Brown, who spent ten years researching the nature of guilt, shame, and vulnerability.  Her research is a part of my program and we watch a video where she goes into detail about what she uncovered and discovered through her years of collecting data and information regarding this topic.  I’m going to share with you what’s in the video, what the meaning in it is, and what I got out of it.

Brene Brown begins by talking about connection.  The reason why we are here on this planet is to connect with others.  We want to connect with them physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.  When we have connection with others, this gives us the meaning and purpose in our lives we so deeply cherish.  If we have connection, to others, to ourselves, to all of life, our lives become imbued and filled with meaning and purpose.  We are neurobiologically programmed to feel connected to others.  When we experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or trauma from a traumatic event, whether it is war, physical abuse, emotional abuse, accidents, disasters, etc., we feel disconnected from life; we have been disconnected from connection. 

What unravels that connection is the shame.  This shame is the fear and disconnection that there is something wrong about me.  And that if others know and see this thing inside of me, what I've done, what happened to me, what I experienced, then I won’t be worthy of any connection.  This deeply rooted fear is something we all have, this is not an ‘American’ issue, this is universal.  The only ones who don’t have this fear are those who are sociopathic, who have no empathy whatsoever, who are unable to feel compassion for others, and therefore cannot connect to people on an emotional level. 

We don’t want to talk about this stuff.  No one wants to talk about their shame, no one wants to talk about their guilt, because we have been taught to suppress it.  This is the dark, ugly side of us we should avoid and separate ourselves from.  Hence, we project these unwanted qualities within us out into the world and they become our shadow figures and theses shadow figures are the things we hate about ourselves, and when we see it in others, we end up hating that quality in them.  When we project it out into the world, it can lead to violence and the acting out of our repressed desires to destroy that which we hate in them, which is really about us.  However, this doesn’t produce the desired effect of eliminating that which we loathe, and instead, what happens is our acts of violence only create more violence. 

“If you don’t talk about your shame and guilt, there’s a good chance you got it.  And the less you talk about it, the more you got it.”  Brene Brown points out that shame is lethal, it will destroy you.  As she defines it, shame is “the profound sense that you are unworthy of love and belonging.”  If you don’t feel you are deserving of love and belonging, you won’t survive.  Aristotle said that we are social by nature, thus, if we don’t feel like we belong, that is as good as death.  We may be alive, but we are dead inside.

Now, what holds this idea of shame together is the idea that ‘I’m not enough, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve to have good things, I’m such a sinner that I don’t deserve to have the good things life has to offer’.  This idea makes us feel extraordinarily, excruciatingly vulnerable, and as a consequence, we can feel immense despair and total hopelessness of ever being able to connect again to another human being.  This state of existence can be overwhelmingly painful to the sufferer because of the deeply held unconscious fear associated with the total absence of love, which is fundamental to our existence.  

A momentary aside before I continue with the work of Brene Brown as I evaluate my own experience with guilt and shame.  I descended to the very depths of my own hell, thrust down by the heavy weight of all my past, and went through what is often called, ‘the Dark Night of the Soul’.  Now that I have fully recovered and come out the other side, I have some new understandings substantiated by personal experience.  Our greatest fear is not death.  It is the total and complete loss of love, a state of absolute lovelessness, where we have been separated from love.  This is equivalent to a total separation from God, for if God is Love, and love is the binding force of the entire universe, then if we reach the state of total separation, we must be unworthy of love, God has abandoned us, and for this we either must miserably die or savagely retaliate against love.  In my opinion, this is the source of evil.  As A Course In Miracles states, "Love cannot give evil, and what is not happiness is evil."  But that’s another discussion for a future time.

Part 2 next week.


1.  Hawkins, David R., M.D., Ph.D. Transcending the Levels of Consciousness: The Stairway to Enlightenment.  Veritas Publishing; 1st Edition, 2006.
2.  A Course In Miracles, Workbook for Students.  Course in Miracles Society, Omaha, NE.  2008
3.  Dr. Brene Brown video, TED Talk, 2010. 

Charlie Pacello is a PTSD, Depression, and Healing Trauma Recovery Expert and Life Coach, a former US Air Force Lieutenant, and creator of the program, 'Lt. Pacello's Life Training Program.'  He can be reached by visiting his website at