All of us are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. However, I believe that it is more common for people to feel guilty until they are able to convince themselves of their innocence.
‘Catholic guilt’ is a common punchline in pop culture. Rather than being raised a Catholic, I was raised as the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister. As a result, I carried a lifetime of shame due to my Baptist upbringing. Now, I don’t think any of my childhood religious leaders meant for me to take their teachings in that direction; it’s just how I took them. If I don’t find it funny, please don’t take it personally.
I was told that I am incredibly fortunate if I have a roof over my head, food on the table, and a community that encourages my growth in addition to the bare necessities. However, it was rather harsh. The implication was clear: I wasn’t meant to develop and showcase those abilities.
There was a part of me that worried that if I let my true colors shine, I’d make other people feel inadequate. Really getting down to the root of the matter, I now realize that feeling of guilt was rooted in a deep sense of inadequacy. Maybe I turned a reasonable amount of guilt into unnecessary shame.
According to Brené Brown’s summary of her book The Gift of Imperfection, shame prevents us from feeling worthy and makes us inherently flawed. Shame tells us we’re bad people while guilt tells us we did something wrong. Shame corrodes our sense of self-worth and prevents us from seeing our own innocence. Innocent until proven guilty.
It seems that we are much more critical of ourselves than the judge would be. Most of our lives are spent fighting a losing battle to prove our value and atone for our mistakes. For years, I was prevented from breaking free of the destructive habits that it encouraged. My heart breaks for the years of my life I wasted trying to escape myself.
But I do remember another song and its message from my youth: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine….”
What I’ve learned from life is that it’s impossible to appreciate the gifts that lie beneath the surface if I’m afraid of my own light or ashamed of who I am. It has become clear to me that when I let my light shine, it encourages others to do the same. Light is drawn to other forms of illumination.
Those of you who, like me, have had trouble letting their light shine because of shame are welcome to join me in doing so. Please believe that your gifts and blessings are waiting for you just beneath that layer of shame. When you realize the value of your strengths and abilities, you will be able to fulfill your destiny. When you’re feeling prosperous, you naturally want to help those less fortunate. What’s inside of you is too big to keep to yourself; you’ll realize this soon enough.
The underlying sadness and grief is palpable. You should feel sorrow for all the time and effort you’ve spent trying to measure up. I encourage you to let your heart break. Realize that a childlike yearning for love and acceptance lies at the heart of your flaws and feelings of unworthiness, as does a natural yearning for healing and for being healed. Don’t be so hard on yourself and acknowledge your own special qualities. Get overwhelmed by your own beauty. If you love yourself enough, you’ll be oozing love to everyone around you. Recognize that you are not only adequate, but more than adequate. You’re at the point where you can no longer satisfy your own need for information and must instead seek out and saturate others.