Dealing With Guilt And Shame At Work
Trying to tackle this subject, I can’t help picturing that image from Game of Thrones when a decidedly unforgiving character Cersei Lannister is forced to walk through the town square naked while the community and nuns alike shout, “Shame!” at her.
It was so explicit, yet so real. Those feelings reminded me of office politics that can have much the same effect without being so obvious. I leave it to you to consider which is more evil.
The reality is we can’t escape politics. Anytime two or more people are involved in anything, there will be politics.
“[Politics is] the total complex of relations between people living in society.”
I find that it’s the people with the least guilt and shame that rise to the top because they are the most free of baggage. And as a good friend of mine likes to say, “The world will charge you for your baggage.”
The problem is the fastest way of getting rid of guilt and shame is pride. Pump yourself up enough and deny everything. People might even believe you. This is a sociopathic tendency that tends to be rewarded in traditional corporate cultures. The risk ironically is that someone can be so inflated that they are incredibly fragile.
So what’s the alternative?
Patience with a sprinkling of humility. Yuck, I know. But it’s this inner work that fortifies us to face trouble at work in the long run. Let’s go.
First, it’s important to separate guilt from shame:
“I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
In other words, guilt is a negative feeling you may have because of something you did – an action. But shame is a deep sense that “I am not good.” In the best cases, guilt can be a catalyst for change and engagement. Shame leads to dissociation and isolation.
Guilt can be useful sometimes. Shame? Never.
It’s worth noting that toxic environments will often conflate the two words to manipulate you and your work. During those times, I leaned on these tips to stay afloat.
Let Yourself Off The Hook
You are not your mistake. As a female executive, I was surprised when people who didn’t even know me tried to attack my character. Remember this: if you weren’t being effective, they would have nothing to talk about.
It doesn’t mean you are perfect and beyond criticism. Nobody is. And yet, I listen to mentees judge or regret their past based on what they know now. But if we really knew what we know now, of course we would have chosen something different.
You must forgive yourself first.
Moreover, if you can’t let yourself off the hook, how can you expect others to? They probably won’t. Because if you are your own punching bag, then it is an implicit invitation for others to do the same. It’s a vicious cycle.
Mentors are real because they’ve been there. And whether you’re an up-and-coming manager or negotiating your first salary, it’s important to take advantage of what they have to share.
Being real means embracing what happened, whatever it was and whatever the consequences. You are not alone…you are now a mentor for that very topic!
My mentor reminds me that scar tissue is stronger than the original tissue that it’s replacing. Wounds heal on their own time, our job is to be gentle with the area and apply a bandage when necessary.
[Read more: What To Do After You Messed Up At Work]
I led a workshop on mentorship last week and one of my main messages is to have as many mentors as possible. Here or elsewhere. Especially for those of us who didn’t grow up with supportive families, it’s so important to surround yourself with mentors who want to help you and cheer you on.
People on the outside can see things you can’t. They can challenge your thoughts and help you brainstorm creative solutions. One of the benefits of being such an early stage startup is that I can guarantee that every mentor on this network is willing to do that for you. Now at the click of a button.
Try it for free today.
“Be who you are and say what you want, for those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”