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Guilt and shame, the five letter swear words.

You may have just read that title and thought, "Whaaaaat? Guilt and shame are not swear words."

Hear me out.

Guilt is a sucky sorta thing. It can arise from many sources:

  • Putting a boundary in place

  • Going no contact with someone

  • From a tragic death - suicide and overdose, especially

  • Feeling that you let someone down

  • Saying "no"

  • Criticism from other people

  • Hurting someone's feelings

  • From doing something criminal, immoral, unethical, etc.

Sometimes guilt is a REALLY good thing. For instance, you should feel guilt after hurting someone. You should feel guilty if you break the law. It makes sense. Guilt helps us keep our behavior in check.

Things fall off track with guilt when we feel bad for standing our ground and honoring our own wellbeing.

When we start to honor ourselves by setting boundaries, saying "no" to the things that don't bring us joy this weird thing happens to some of us.

We feel BAD.

Sometimes feeling bad causes us to rescind our "No" and make it a "Yes" instead. Then we get angry and resentful because we are doing things that we don't want to do.

Sometimes feeling bad causes us to feel immense guilt which we internalize and the result is shame. All of a sudden, we feel that we suck because of the guilt. The amazing Brene Brown shares that shame says "I am bad" and guilt says "I did something bad". See the difference?

For me, I feel guilt because I worry about what other people think - way more than I would like to admit (I'm working on it!). When I say "No" there are two pieces in play:

  1. Pride - I'm so darn proud of saying such a simple word and sticking to it. I don't want to do things that don't bring me joy. Yay for me!

  2. Guilt - Darn. I feel like crap because my friend is disappointed in my "No". I don't like disappointing people.

Sometimes, a 3rd one shows its ugly face when I haven't really understood and put the value I need to on my "No". Guess what it is.

3. Shame - Yep. There that sucker is again. For me, all the fear of disappointing other people really messes with how I see myself. Crappy thoughts like, "I should be able to take care of xyz for my friend. She must think I am a horrible person." In reality, my friend likely thinks, "Wow, look at her prioritizing herself and her needs."

So, how can we feel less guilt and shame around holding our boundaries?

  1. Know your values. What is important to you? Is it family time? If so, make sure you are carving out ample quality time with your loved ones. Is it spirituality? Honor it by doing whatever fills you up spiritually - attending church, reading the Bible, meditating, etc. Know your values and prioritize them. Write down your top 5.

  2. Build your boundaries around those values. If attending church weekly is important to you, prioritize that time by saying "No" to anything that would interfere with your attendance. If respect is something you value, create a boundary that allows for space between you and a friend that uses you as a doormat. Create a boundary (or two for my over achievers!) for each value you listed above. If we're doing the math, this means you should have at LEAST 5 boundaries.

  3. Communicate. We can't expect people to conform to boundaries we created if we don't share them. I know, I also wish that people just knew what we are thinking. No such luck. Sometimes your boundaries will piss people off. That's okay. If they love you, they will come around and accept them because YOU are that important to them. Be patient.

  4. Follow through. What good are boundaries if we don't enforce them? About as good as a bowl of chili on a 90 degree day. No good. If we truly want peace in our lives, we need to follow through. I like to think of this one in parenting terms because its much more relatable. You wouldn't tell you 12 year old that he couldn't have a friend over until his homework was done and then abandon ship, would you? Heck no! You'd make sure that his homework was done and then let him play. It works the same in adult life. Say what you mean, mean what you say.

Seems simple enough, right?

Yes and no. Everything is easier on paper. Many of these boundaries we try to hold will be with family members or friends that we have known our whole lives or several years. Our hearts (those sweet little buggers) get a little confused by the shoulds and coulds of the situation.

Trust me on this. If you love yourself enough to know what you stand for (aka your values) your behavior must align with what you say you will do. It's a game changer.


Want some help navigating this? Comment below or email and let's work through it in a free 60-minute coaching call. I'd love to hear about your situation and how I can help you find peace.

Grab my free Build Fences Not Walls guide to better boundaries!

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