I Sewed a Crooked Line vs. I’m a Crooked Sewer: The Difference between Guilt & Shame
Excited at the possibility of continuing the tradition of sewers in my family, I made sure there was a sewing machine for her under the tree. She was eager to learn and I was eager to teach.
However, the idea of sewing was more romantic than the reality. Knowing her, I’m sure she envisioned a magical process —the sewing fairy making an appearance as she sat down to push the pedal, waving her magic wand and voilà: a beautiful creation would appear! Far from ideal, reality hit rather quickly and she found herself frustrated at the machine’s lack of alignment with her vision. Unable to repeatedly sew a straight line and despite my efforts to encourage her to keep going, my daughter uttered these words as she stormed out of the room in tears: I’m a terrible sewer!
Photograph by Clinton Naik via Unsplash
I. AM. A. TERRIBLE. SEWER.
Does this statement sound familiar?
At one point or another, I believe, you and I have echoed my daughter’s words. Whether in a moment of frustration or disappointment we’ve let our mistakes become our identity.
In this previous post, we explored the fear of beginning something. Fear, along with frustration and shame usually appear when we’re working in the gap —the space between creator and creation. This month, I’d like for us to look at shame vs. guilt and how confusing one for the other can change the stories we tell ourselves about who we are in the creative process.
Shame research expert Brene Brown defines shame as: “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” (Gifts of Imperfection, 2010) Shame focuses on who we are and pushes us to create false stories about ourselves. When it shows up, it can make us feel humiliated, discredited, inadequate, unsuitable, imperfect and flawed. Shame thrives in isolation —making us want to hide, fearing what others might think of us if they discovered our “truth”. In my previous work as a mental health therapist, I witnessed how shamed had twisted countless stories of men and women who once had a dream involving the expression of their creativity.
Moving Through Shame
There’s no doubt shame will threaten us in the gap. How do we best move through it so that we continue to own our creator identity and not fall prey to its accusations?
- Acknowledge your feelings. Denying that you feel shame will only reinforce it. If you respond negatively to shame, consider a positive response that honors your identity as creator.
- Challenge your thoughts. What is triggering the feelings of shame? Once you identify it, find evidence to the contrary.
- Practice Forgiveness and Self-Compassion. We’re human and bound to err. Be gentle with yourself.
- Cultivate awareness. Becoming aware of our reactions and responses to shame increases our resilience. With time, our own truth becomes more powerful than shame’s.
- Share your shame story with those who’ve earned the right to hear it and accept their love and kindness.
Explore: How do you respond when you feel shame?
What stories have you told yourself about who you are as creator?
What story do you want to own as you move forward in the creative process?
Guilt is different than shame in that focuses on behavior. It’s something we’ve done that makes us feel uncomfortable and pushes us to apologize and make amends. When guilt shows up, it tells us our behavior is not balanced with our social standards and it’s caused damage to someone or something. Guilt makes us feel bad about our actions not about ourselves as individuals. Most of the time, the effects of guilt are positive, moving us towards asking others for forgiveness, fixing what we’ve damaged and replacing unhealthy behaviors with positive ones. In the creative process, guilt points to what needs to be fixed or learned so that we can continue to move along the process with enjoyment and a sense of fulfillment.
Moving Through Guilt
- Understand guilt. Remember, guilt alerts us to something that’s been damaged. Becoming aware of it can help us repair it.
- Choose if this needs to make you feel guilty. A crooked seam is not the end of the world. Worst case scenario, you might need to restart your project. That’s ok! You’re still an amazing creator!
- Fix the damage. Grab your seam ripper and go to town. It exists for a reason.
- Reflect on the situation. Take time to understand what prompted the damage and decide what needs to happen so that you don’t step into the same story twice.
- Practice Forgiveness and Self-Compassion. Yes, I already mentioned this. Still applies here. Be gentle with yourself.
Explore: What happened? Recall the facts, leave out your perceptions.
What do you need to learn in order to prevent this situation from happening again?
What have you accomplished already in the creative process that indicates you’re making progress?
A Different Story
In a matter of minutes, my daughter had created a story about herself as creator. She was a terrible one. My heart ached for her. I knew shame had written a faulty story and she had accepted it as truth. My daughter and I worked through the shame and I held space for her to process her feelings. Eventually, shame lost its power over her. I wish I could tell you that she and the sewing machine lived happily ever after but she chose music and dance as the space where she expresses her creative aspect.
I invite you to consider the truth of who you are in the creative process. Perhaps, write affirmations that speak to your truth and set them in a place where you can access them when threatened with untrue stories about who you are.
I’d love to read your comments. If you’re feeling courageous, please answer this question:
What do you need in order to write an accurate story that honors your identity as creator?
Thank you for your time! Much love,
*This post was originally written for my column in Sew Sew Def Magazine.
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