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Carl Benedict offers online counseling on his web site Serenity Online Therapy.
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Inner Child Work: Dealing with Shame and Guilt

Feelings of guilt and shame are common among persons who grew up in dysfunction and must be dealt with in recovery in order to heal and grow. Guilt, which can be healthy or toxic, is feeling bad about your behaviors. Shame, which is always toxic, is feeling bad about your worth as a person.

Healthy guilt is when you feel bad because you behaved in a way that you knew was wrong.  For example, if you cheated on your wife, who you promised to love and cherish, and then felt guilty, that would be healthy guilt because you broke a promise you made to her. Similarly, if you left your 8-year-old son home alone because you decided to meet someone at a bar and then felt guilty, that too would be healthy guilt because you endangered your son who you are responsible for keeping safe. In recovery, you would resolve such healthy guilt by making amends or apologizes to your wife and son for betraying her and endangering him and then committing yourself to never behaving that way again.

Toxic guilt, on the other hand, is when you blame yourself for things you were not responsible for, did not understand, or Toxic guilt and shame can affect every aspect of your life.could not control. For example, if you felt guilty for your husband's infidelity, asking yourself repeatedly, "What did I do wrong to make him cheat?" that would be toxic guilt because you are not the person who cheated. So, the hurt over his infidelity would be yours, but the guilt would solely belong to him.

Shame is when you feel bad about your worth as a person, believing that you are defective, unlovable, inadequate, or even bad. Shame is extremely painful because it is always with you and, thus, becomes a constant feeling of unworthiness that can impact your moods, relationships, and career.

Shame and toxic guilt go hand and hand and are often the result of growing up in abuse, neglect, bullying, or dysfunction. Abused and neglected children do not have the maturity to see things as they are - that they are Ok but their troubled parents are not. Instead, they blame themselves for their parents defects: "I must be doing something wrong that dad is always hitting me," which is pure magical thinking because children do not have the power to make an adult abusive, and yet they feel responsible for the abuse. In addition, when children are treated like garbage, they often come to believe they are garbage, which then becomes a pervasive sense of shame. Thus, they are filled with toxic guilt and shame, which can remain with them into adulthood affecting every aspect of their life.

Below is Carl's 4-minute YouTube video, "Dealing with Shame and Guilt"


If you are susceptible to shame and toxic guilt, you need to learn to be more nurturing toward yourself and more realistic about what you can and can’t control, and what is and isn’t your responsibility in order to heal your childhood wounds and become whole.

If you struggle from shame and guilt, then online counseling might be beneficial to you. Click on the links below, to begin or learn more about online therapy. 

For related pages, go to Childhood Trauma: The Dilemma of the Traumatized Child and My Child Within.

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Copyright 2005-2022 Serenity Online Therapy
All Text and many photos by Carl Benedict

"Our very life depends on everything's recurring till we answer from within."  Robert Frost