It is healthy to have guilt about bad behaviors. Guilt gets our attention and helps us make amends and change our behaviors when necessary.
Shame is a different matter.
Shame is a deep emotional belief that we are worthless, bad, and unlovable. It is the result of inaccurately internalizing our childhood experiences. Something bad happened to us, or we were shamed, neglected, or abandoned, and we inaccurately assumed that we caused it – therefore, we must be bad.
We then tend to go through life finding ways to substantiate those inaccurate inner beliefs about ourselves and tend to act in ways that are consistent with those distorted low opinions.
As I said, healthy guilt is an alarm. It goes off when we violate our values and moral code and helps us change direction, repair the damage, and learn from our mistakes.
Shame doesn’t do any of these three things. It just beats us up and makes us feel even worse about ourselves, which leads unconsciously to more bad behaviors. We feel like a worthless person, so we act in worthless ways to support what we believe to be true.
I suggest you go to a 12-step group, men’s group, and/or therapist and practice being a completely honest person. Practice releasing your shame: it doesn’t serve you.
If you have already made amends to your girlfriend, stop. You don’t need to keep doing it to manage your anxiety and shame. Tell her your plan for working on your shame and your dishonesty. And then work your program.
Your girlfriend might come to trust you again, but it will probably take time. She probably wants to trust you but doesn’t want to let her guard down and get hurt again. She may accuse you of things you haven’t done or bring up the past. Tell her you will only talk with her about those things in the presence of a coach, therapist, or unbiased third person.
She may never get over her mistrust. Many people don’t, especially women, since they are by nature, security seeking creatures. Some people don’t want to let go of their mistrust or their partner’s past mistakes because they want to keep them as weapons, which gives them a twisted sense of security and superiority.
If you work your program and make progress toward being an honest, trustworthy man, and your girlfriend still does not trust you or keeps bringing up the past, this is her issue. She doesn’t want to let go, and she probably never will. Then you have to decide whether you can live with that.
I send myself the following Oscar Wilde quote on my cell phone every day: “I have learned this: it is not what one does that is wrong, but what one becomes as a consequence of it.”
Also, consider checking out my online course called “All the Way In.”
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One of the things that makes ATWI so unique, is that it takes the responsibility for the well-being of the relationship off the shoulders of the woman and put it squarely where it belongs – on the man.
As a man, ATWI will give you all the information and support you need to step up and take responsibility for leading your relationship forward in a powerful, loving way.