Excerpt from Prem Vandan’s new book, The God That You Are: “A god … is empathetic and sympathetic. He has a moral sense of right and wrong and he is concerned with human welfare. These are all positive aspects. Shame, guilt and regret are not.”
Most of us carry certain baggage with us in life. There’s stuff to do with our childhoods. There’s stuff to do with relationships. There are events that happen to us in life which cause distress, trauma and psychological damage. These things can affect us greatly, and we go on dragging this baggage around with us into our current lives; our current relationships; and our current behaviour.
When you look at your self-esteem and notice any areas where it’s not as strong as it might be, can you see whether any of these areas have been impacted by this baggage? Have there been any specific events in your life that now cause you to not be who you really are? Do you therefore doubt yourself?
Shame, guilt or regret are common for most of us. But these are emotions which you can acknowledge and be aware of, but not allow them to control your life. They serve no purpose to you whatsoever, and if you can work on eliminating them from your life you will be the stronger for it. Also, if there is someone about whom you feel guilty, your feeling of guilt serves them no purpose either. Do something practical instead. The trick is to acknowledge whatever you feel shame or guilt for (or regret) without letting it control you. If there’s something you haven’t done or said and you feel guilty about that, either do or say it and then let it go. If you’ve done something or said something which you’re inclined to feel guilty about, it is far better to do something useful about it instead. You could apologise or make amends in some way. Recognize the event, honour it, and then drop it. It doesn’t need to control you now. It certainly doesn’t need to affect your self-esteem. That’s all easy to say, I know. But it really can be as easy as that. It’s up to you. If you make the firm decision to drop it any time it comes up, it will eventually fall away by itself.
You can certainly learn from the experience and let it guide you in the future. This is an opportunity for you to grow into the god that you are.
The question is why do you want to have any feelings of shame, guilt or regret? Does this sound like a strange question? Well, there are many reasons. For example, there’s something called ‘secondary gain’. This is something which you might not be consciously aware of. It’s actually an advantage that you might receive, such as increased attention from others or being released from responsibilities. In this case it might mean that you feel that you don’t have to put in maximum effort. So your tricky mind will stop you (subconsciously, of course) from dropping your shame, guilt or regret because they give you an excuse not to have to commit yourself 100%.
One other reason why we hang onto shame, guilt or regret is that they’ve become habits. We do them unconsciously and automatically. We don’t examine those feelings. This is partly because we’ve actually been taught to have these feelings: if you do wrong by someone, then you should feel guilty about it or you should be ashamed. Why? It is possible, as I say, to acknowledge the action and then move on. You might have hurt someone. Well, apologise and move on. You might have done something which, in retrospect was a mistake. Recognize it (and learn from it) and then move on.
If you believe that shame (in particular) is driving your life because of something that was done to you – maybe when you were a child – I strongly suggest that you work with a professional counsellor such as a trained psychologist to process the shame so that it no longer is in control.
(In the workshops that I run about shame we talk about the snowball effect, where you keep adding shame to your life. We also work on dis-identifying with our shame.)
A god acknowledges his responsibilities and his role within society. He is empathetic and sympathetic. He has a moral sense of right and wrong and he is concerned with human welfare. These are all positive aspects. Shame, guilt and regret are not. They are negative aspects and will simply affect your self-esteem and cause you to not be who you could be.
Excerpted from Prem Vandan’s (Martin Guinness) new book, The God That You Are (Ch 8: Accept yourself, accept yourself, accept yourself)
John Howard’s review of Vandan’s book
The God That You Are: The fully realized man
British-born Prem Vandan took sannyas in Pune in 1981 and for some time, lived in the South of France at the Sangam commune, creating jewellery. Over the last three decades he has become a multi-award-winning producer and director of more than fifty documentaries, feature films and television series. One of his latest projects is a workshop called Exploring Shame, which raised a lot of interest in people who want to deal with that emotion. He is also the author of ‘Melting’. Vandan lives in Sydney, Australia. lifedancerpublishing.com