I recently found myself on Oprah.com listening to Dr. Brené Brown explain the difference between guilt and shame. If you have two minutes and fifty-two seconds, this video is worth your while.
In summary: Guilt is the recognition that we made a mistake and we need to do better. Shame is a label or identity we take on as a result of a mistake. For example, if I lose my temper with my teenaged son and end up calling him an idiot (hypothetically speaking, of course), guilt would lead me to recognize it wasn’t my best parenting moment, and I need to apologize. Shame would lead me to call myself a bad mother. It’s clear which is the desired state.
What is frightening, however, is not only how easy it is to slip into a “shame cycle,” but also the correlation between shame and addiction, mental illness, and other serious issues. Examining how we cope with problems when they arise in every aspect of our lives is critical to our relationships and mental health. As writers, it is also important we examine our reaction to setbacks in the creative realm with a healthy response.
If you are a writer, rejection is a certainty. Every single writer at every single step of the process has and will experience it. From teachers, to critique partners, to agents, editors, reviewers, and the reading public, wanted and unwanted feedback is as ingrained in the work as pen and paper. Those authors who make a career out of writing aren’t necessarily more talented than unpublished writers, but they are more stubborn. More positively: they adapt and move on. They understand rejection is not personal, or the work isn’t ready, or the timing isn’t right. Instead of labeling themselves “bad writers,” they revise the work, make changes in their presentation, or write a new book.
Our internal voices probably have a lot to do with how we were raised. Were our parents, teachers, and other adults in our lives encouraging, open, honest, and trustworthy, or did we grow up in a home where we were put down, told we were no good, or witnesses to bullies and victims? I was fortunate. My parents were supporting and loving people. It is likely easier for me to understand failure is a detour and not a stop sign. But during periods of darkness, the demons of shame are hard for anyone to overcome. [Read more…]