I Did Something Wrong
I did something
I did something wrong.
The differences between these two sentences is the difference between shame and guilt. To illustrate, let me tell you a story.
One day, my parents left me and my two brothers alone while they went to a Christmas party two doors down. We were given strict instructions to finish the TV program we were watching and go to bed in one-half hour. I must have been 7. My brothers were 9 and 5.
All of three of us had the intention to go to bed. Truly we did. Until all three of us heard a carton of Neapolitan ice cream calling to us. In no amount of time, all three of us went to the freezer and carved up the ice cream. There were three brothers and three types of ice cream. My older brother would eat all the chocolate, my younger brother would eat all the vanilla, and I would eat all the strawberry. We thought it was a great idea. We didn't even fight about who got which type.
It would have all been fine, too, if my mother and father had not come home.
But they did.
They explained in no uncertain terms their disappointment in us and the consequences of that event. Needless to say, my brothers and I never did that again. We laugh about it now. In fact, we tell each other that story quite easily. We all have stories like this. Stories that say, "I did something wrong."
We also have other stories that make us feel shameful. These are the stories that make us feel we were what was wrong. That we are the error. "I did something wrong," becomes "I am something wrong." These stories are so powerful that we want to run away and hope no one finds out what we did. Shame can cause obsessive thinking, blowing the story out of proportion. We start to believe that no one will be able to forgive us.
Shame does not have to be caused by something big. Shame can be a reaction to a little event, like stealing Neapolitan ice cream.
We all feel shame sometimes. We feel it so intensely at times it affects our health. The mind-numbing qualities of over-eating, over-working, drinking too much, smoking too much, watching TV too much all are caused by a desire to hide from shame.
Yet this does not have to be. This is the most powerful message of this holiday season. Whichever tradition you follow--Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or something else--this season is here to remind us that shame has no part in our lives. The breath we take demonstrates that we are essentially good and worthy.
Shame does not have to have a hold on us. There is forgiveness for all things and all wounds. Even stealing Neapolitan ice cream.
My best wishes to you during this holiday season.