Shame vs Guilt – what we need to know

We need to have a discussion about guilt and shame. Often we don’t know the difference between the two. We hear or are told from a very young age “They should be ashamed” or “you should be ashamed”. From a very early age guilt and shame are treated the same, and often behaviors are shamed by our parents, our community and our religion.

The difference is that guilt is feeling bad about something you have done. You cut someone off in traffic, and you feel bad about that. You told your partner that you hate them, and you feel bad about that.   Shame on the other hand, is believing as though you are bad, who you are, who you always will be is bad. When therapists work with people to find empathy, we work with them to find a concept of guilt. We want people to feel bad for things they have done that cause pain to other people or things. Without guilt we would have destroyed each other long ago as we wouldn’t have cared if we hurt someone or they died because of our actions. Guilt is what let us survive before we had all the technology to keep us alive and we were roughing it out on the planes, just us, our intellect, and our capability to care about each other against a very hostile world. Shame on the other hand does nothing but cause suffering.

When someone is ashamed or shamed, the belief is that they are all bad. Well, if someone is all bad, then they can never be good. There is no chance for change, for light, or beauty. There is only darkness and will only ever be darkness. Can you see why shame is a big problem when it comes to healing and recovery? If we feel guilt, guilt means that we did something bad but can do something better in the future. There is an inherent belief that we are overall good, and that even though we make mistakes we can do better in the future. It is a belief that we can learn from our mistakes.

Shame cripples. It is 1000 pound weight tied around your heart that keeps you from being able to recover and move through life. Shame not only keeps you from being able to see your own beauty, but it keeps you from being able to see the beauty of everything around you. It keeps you from feeling a sense of belonging. Brene Brown said “Our sense of belonging cannot be greater than our sense of self-acceptance”, and our sense of self-acceptance will be hindered by our sense of shame.

We all make mistakes.  Every one of us is an imperfect being that does imperfect things.  At times these imperfect things impact ourselves, and at times they impact others.  They key isn’t calling ourselves and idiot, or calling ourselves stupid, as these imply that we are too stupid to ever do anything else. The key is in noticing what the mistake was and learning from it.  When we see our mistakes for what they are and learn from them, we can let go of the guilt once the lesson is learned.  We keep the concept that we are good people that have made mistakes clear, and with that we can let others see that we are good people.  It is easier to let people see our imperfect selves because it is OK.  It is easier to see other’s imperfect selves, because we know they can be imperfect and still be a good person.

We all want to feel as though we belong somewhere.  Whether that’s a family, a community or a religion we not only want to fit in, but feel as though we are accepted.  In truth though we can’t feel as though we are accepted by others without believing within ourselves that we are acceptable.  That means we have to ditch shame and focus on guilt.  When I let myself feel guilty I can know that I did something wrong while still being a good person.  I give myself more room to find myself acceptable when I make mistakes.  Truly, when you see yourself as acceptable even with your imperfections, you can finally let others see all of who you and finally feel as though you are accepted and as though you belong.


Finding meaning

I work with many people that come to me struggling to find meaning in their lives.  They often work in jobs that they don’t see as giving back to the community.  It is often something they are decent at that makes money, while their passions are elsewhere.  My parent’s generation were just learning the concept of work to find meaning. Their parents were the first to have both parents working out of the home because of WWII. For my grandparent’s life, employment was about what needed to be done.  The concept of working for anything other than providing for family was just starting to come as my parent’s generation began going to college. Before then work wasn’t to find meaning, it was to provide.

Think of how recent that is; less than 60 years of our existence on this planet. Only within the last 60 years, out of the 50 thousand we have been on this planet have we been able to focus on finding meaning with more than our free time, but with our daily jobs. If any of you are familiar with Maslow’s Heirarchy  we need to have a lot of things in place before we can really be able to focus on self actualization, such as food shelter and clothing, followed by safety then love and belonging. Often just finding the first two are difficult enough without adding meaning into the mix.

Think about what your life would have been 10,000 years ago.  Life would have been about making sure there was enough to eat, clothing was made, and homes were protected.  Life was pretty much the same day to day.  While there was some specialization, the goal of the community was entirely the same. We were not as differentiated as we are today and meaning was found in different ways, and was only really focused on after daily requirements were met.

I had a neighbor with a hot tub that they used a professional company to maintain.  The guy that worked for the pool company was happy to hang out with them, drink their beer (smoke their pot) and maintain their hot tub.  He had found meaning in his job, though in my mind at the time (I was about 22 and full of myself) the job itself itself had little to no meaning.  It was a wake up-call.  1. Meaning doesn’t always come from your day-job.  It can, (it often does we just don’t see it) and if you are lucky you can have a job that you overtly see as meaningful. 2. Meaning is also what you make of it.  The guy that makes my bowl at FreeBirds has meaning to me, if only for that moment.  He provides food  and often  a smile that can reverberate throughout my day.  The guy that makes sure my internet is working has meaning to me, as I know I’m not alone in my internet not working can put a big crimp in both my professional and personal day.  Though the job itself would not be fulfilling for me, it is meaningful and provides for our community as much as mine.

Many people have a job that brings in the bacon but has little to no meaning for them.  They feel as though they are a cog in the wheel and don’t know where to turn.  Their life is turned toward making sure they and their families are provided for, which 60 years ago would have been enough.  It would have been meaning to help their community in they way they could, and providing for their family in a meaningful way.  Today many are seeking a different meaning.

If you are unable to find the underlying meaning in your daily job, meaning does not have to come from your day-job. Yes, I fully understand the irony of a person that gets to find meaning daily in helping others telling you to find meaning outside of your daily life.  I can say though that even though you love what you do and find meaning in it, doing something everyday, making it a requirement, makes it a job.  Meaning still needs to be found elsewhere.

The first step is to find what the meaning actually means to you.  Does it mean volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters?  Or does it mean going to the animal shelter and reading out loud for hours to keep the pets company?  I see thousands of ways to find meaning, some big such as joining the Peace Corps, and some little like cleaning up the local lake once a year.  I know people that help build trails, that provide supply packets for the homeless, that volunteer for their church, or for the poor, or for the animals, explore all the planet has to offer, or create beautiful music.  They all found a way to find meaning in their lives after their 9-5 job.

Meaning is what you make of it. A job is a job, and even if you love what you do it is still work.   Allowing yourself to find meaning both in your day job (if it isn’t there) , and in your life is a quest.  What is meaningful to you.  What helps you feel as though you give to your community, to the world around you?  What lets you know that you helped, even just a little bit?  First, as you start on your quest, let yourself be thankful that you have the room in your life to be able to go on that quest.  Then work to decide what really has meaning for you and find a way to do it.

What’s in a breath?

Take a moment to take a deep breath. The kind that makes your ribs creak and pushes your tummy out. That one breath helped you in the following ways: It purged toxins that were being help in the bottom of your lungs. It massaged the nerves along your spinal cord encouraging blood flow to the spinal chord and your extremities. It massage your internal organs, encouraging blood-flow and increased productivity. It let your brain and limbic system know that you aren’t being attacked right now, and it can start releasing calming hormones and chemicals. That one breath did all of that. Imaging what 5 more can do.

We are a society that has forgotten how to breath. When I teach meditation, I often have to teach people to breath, because they have forgotten what it is to take a deep breath. For some the entire meditation is about practicing the unfamiliar feeling of breathing deep.

For some the shallow breathing is a skill that helps keep the emotions from being felt. Those emotions well up, swirling around, creating havoc and pain in the rest of their lives. The deep breaths let to emotions flow out, letting go of the pressure that is being kept up. This can be painful or difficult, but cleansing and releasing. The concept of a clean pain is often foreign to some people. A clean pain has movement and helps move the pain clear out, breath helps do this. The trick is the pain has to be felt, it can’t be ignored anymore.

Breathing is key. It reminds us to slow down and be present in the moment. It helps the body function better. Breath helps cleanse not only toxins from the body but toxic emotions that can build up if we let them. If you have listened to the most recent meditation you know that breathing can help cool the body, and when the cooler weather comes, it can help warm the body as well. It sounds cliché, but a deep breath helps calm down anger and fear, bring you more in the moment, and helps with focus. It all starts with the breath.

Should’ve kept my mouth shut!

We all have goals. We set goals involving our careers, weight loss, relationships, finances, productivity, and health. With all of these goals we set there are many roadblocks to meeting them. Roadblocks can be both internal and external; physical limitations, environmental limitations, and emotional limitations. A big surprise is that one of our roadblocks ends up being something that we originally believed helped; telling our friends. This is an amazingly insightful talk on that discusses the concept of completing goals how sharing with our friends actually sabotages us. is an extraordinary site that give short talks on multiple topics.

Life online

Today so much of our world is online. The internet has changed the face of dating, communication, work, shopping, travel… In 20 years the internet has changed the world as we knew it. As part of changing the world, making it smaller, it has also made it more impersonal, created a new place for us to bare ourselves, and created a new world for us to re-invent ourselves. John Suler, PhD

Did you know that at any given time you are part of at least 10 experiments that you don’t even know about?  And that is just on Facebook.  We are learning more and more about the new normal, who we are online.  We are finding what gets us to feel happy, included, angry, and sad.  We are finding what people are comfortable saying and not saying to each other with a computer as an intermediary.  We are finding that our online presence brings us closer together as we can share our life with people far away.  And it moves us further apart as we disconnect from the true emotion of interaction.  We respond with YELLING or lol’s or even lmao’s.  But we say lol, when we grin.  We yell at people we haven’t met, and will probably never meet.  We create pages that post hope or hatred for people we know, and that we don’t.

Individually, each of us has to decide what we want our online presence to be.  What we “like” and what we “share” does define us.  It speaks to what we believe and how we process, it speaks to how we see the world.  We have to decide each time we log on who we are.  Because we will see the infuriating, the inspiring, the haunting, and the cute at any given moment we have to decide how we want to respond.  We even have to decide who we are.  In games where we create avatars we can be whomever we want.  You can act as though it isn’t you that is doing what ever it is you’re doing, so if you’re hurting someone, it isn’t you.

It is easy to get lost in anger when you see someone’s opinion or belief that is the opposite of yours.  The key is to walk away from the keyboard instead of getting in to a discussion with someone online.  First, there is no finesse and no body language to see nuances, and second it is  unlikely that someone is going to change their mind based on a comment from a random person online.

Karma isn’t just for our offline actions.  What we do reverberates and because we can’t control where it goes we aren’t able to see how big our splash is.  It is easy to forget, sitting behind our computer screens, that there are thinking, feeling people on the other end of what we say.  We wouldn’t call a person fat to their face, but online, fat is one of the nicer things people say as an insult.  We have to remember that no matter where we go there we are, even online.  When you jump in to the ocean to surf the web, remember to swim nice.


The foundation of love

We think the first step of love is attraction. Tinder is a fine example of this, where you see a person and you have to decide if there is attraction to find out anything more about them; swipe left or right to decide a person’s worth and fate within your life. We do ourselves and each other a disservice when we take this approach. Of course there is a level of physical attraction that is important. What we find is more important is shared ideology, philosophy, principles, values and morals. Physical attributes will fade. Shared ideologies, principles, values and morals can shift together.

When is the right time to bring up that you want kids? That you have kids? That you don’t want kids? When is the right time to talk about your thoughts on retirement, saving vs spending, where to take vacations? The next question to ask is how long you want to spend on someone that doesn’t want children when you do, or who wants a beach vacation when you want to ski, or who wants to live life now instead of save for retirement? When you’ve been married for 10, 15, 20 years, when is the right time to talk about the fact that your beliefs have changed?

Beauty is only skin deep, and once you move forward in to a relationship a person’s attractiveness just isn’t going to cut it. Relationships are about fondness and admiration, and we can’t be fond of someone if we don’t know them. Many people’s ultimate fear is that their partner will see them. Truly see them, that they will be naked and their partner will know them. This is because letting someone in, letting someone see us requires vulnerability. When we let someone in, letting them see us, there is a chance they will take what they know, a chance they will get in to our heart and run around wreaking havoc. The truth is: when the right person comes along, they will be OK with all of you, even the not-so-awesome bits. And you will be OK with them, even their not-so-awesome bits.

While we are letting our partner to get to know us, we are also getting to know our partner. When we take the time to get to know them, we start seeing if they are worthy of being let in. We are all very well aware that this is part of the process of dating. We forget that our partners are changing and growing just like we are, and we forget that the “getting to know you” process needs to continue as the years progress. After 10 years we think we know our partners. We stop asking what their wants, wishes and would-likes are. When we get in arguments we think that we know why they believe what they believe, because we learned it 7 years ago in that argument way back when. But in 7 years there is a possibility that the why’s of desires have changed. If we don’t ask, if we are so lost in our own hurts, in the last 10 years of hurts and angers and frustrations and fears that we don’t ask, we don’t know our partner anymore.

In the beginning it is scary to talk about what we want and believe because of the fear that once our partner knows who we are they won’t like us anymore. When we’ve been in the relationship for years we have the same fear. We don’t want to tell our partner that we don’t like the beach anymore and we want to go to Germany instead, because we don’t want to upset them, or don’t want them to rethink their relationship with us. We don’t talk about how our sexual fantasies are different, how we don’t like Chinese food anymore, or we want a dog, when it was agreed years ago that you wouldn’t get one. But then we don’t let our partner know us. In hiding things we become resentful, fearful, frustrated and alone.

Then getting to know each other process doesn’t stop. It is the foundation of relationships, the place where everything else starts. Every building needs a strong, healthy, complete foundation to build from. Keep checking in, learning, and knowing your partner. You’d be surprised at what you learn. You’d also be surprised at the closeness it creates between you and your partner. You get to let go of loneliness and anxiety. You get intimacy, closeness and happiness.

Who am I?

The question we will ask ourselves our entire lives. Who am I? Am I successful? Am I playful? Am I intelligent, sarcastic, trustworthy, fun? What makes me, me? The difficulty is that what makes up each one of us changes. We have pieces of us that are consistent. When we are stressed, feeling romantic, feeling playful, working, in general we have a certain reaction. You aren’t the same person when you are having fun as when you are working, or when you are stressed.

The tricks is finding the parts that you like in each situation and cultivate them. I heard a couple of you say that you have a hard time finding things that you like. We are trained from a young age to find the problems. As a culture and as a country we focus on problems and “solutions” instead of focusing on what is going well and building from there. It is considered egotistical to like something about ourselves. It is seen as narcissistic. Narcissists is believe they have accomplishments they don’t, they haven’t earned. Confidence is seeing where you are strong and allowing yourself to build on those strengths.

Ultimately we are who we decide to be; we are the habits and characteristics we cultivate. If you want to be a source of light for others, find the light within yourself and help it grow. You have it in you, no matter how buried it is by life’s experiences. Find people, find experiences, find the joys that help the light grow. You decide who you are in any given moment. Decide wisely.


I wonder
from these thousand of “me’s”,
which one am I?
Listen to my cry, do not drown my voice
I am completely filled with the thought of you.
Don’t lay broken glass on my path
I will crush it into dust.
I am nothing, just a mirror in the palm of your hand,
reflecting your kindness, your sadness, your anger.
If you were a blade of grass or a tiny flower
I will pitch my tent in your shadow.
Only your presence revives my withered heart.
You are the candle that lights the whole world
and I am an empty vessel for your light…



The not knowing

We move through life, surfing through our days. In general we have achieved a homeostasis, where we are OK. Sometimes, we aren’t great, but we are OK. If we happen to mention to someone that we aren’t perfect or great, they ask us what we can do to feel better. Sometimes we do know, and we don’t like the answer. And sometimes we just don’t know.

It is OK to not know. The answer doesn’t need to be right there, and we can’t always find the answer right away. It is OK to not know. The struggle is tolerating the not knowing. Not knowing can be unpleasant because we are do-ers. As a country and as a culture, do want to have a plan and a course of action. We want to DO. If we don’t know what we want, then we have nothing to do.

This is OK. The answer is in us, and will come to light in time, when we are ready. It may take a day, a week, a month, or years. When the time is right, we will know what to do. The trick is to make it through the in-between. One of the tricks of making it through the not knowing is trusting that the answer will come eventually. At times it will feel hopeless, and the answer will come, in it’s time, when the time is right. When you are ready.

I hear you saying “I’m ready. I’m ready for the answer to come, the answer of what I should do. I’m READY!” Relax. A watched pot never boils. The knowing will come when you least expect it. It will come.

It is OK to not know. It feels miserable, and the situation may be horrible. And it will come. Have faith, have strength, and have trust. The answer will come.

You do not have to be good…

You do not have to be good.

you do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert,


You only have to let the soft animal of your

body love what it loves

Tell me about despair,


and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun

and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are,

no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imatination,

calls to you like the wild geese,

harsh and exciting-

over and over

announcing your place

in the family of things.


Mary Oliver


Living life isn’t about repenting (though I know some religions that disagree).  It is about learning from our mistakes, not making them again, and learning to cherish that which can be cherished.