The Alarms – Anger, Guilt, & Shame
Anger, guilt, and shame are important alarms. They let you know that important needs are up and that you are are engaging in "should" thinking. While it's important to feel and name anger, guilt, and shame; it's equally important not to take action from them. These alarm feelings are your cue to pause and reflect on your thinking and your needs.
Guilt & Shame Behind guilt and shame there are jackal thoughts that are some version of "I have behaved badly or been a bad person deserving of punishment". The concept of deserve has paved the way for over 8,000 years of sanctioned violence. Taking action out of guilt and shame can land you into the violent concept of repentance in which someone else decides how bad you are and doles out a punishment. Guilt and shame are only useful when they lead you to connect with unmet needs in someone else or yourself rather than the judgments about good and bad.
Anger Behind anger there are thoughts that things should be different than they are or someone should act different than they are. The word should can lead you quickly to a disconnected state. In the context of recovering from an abusive* relationship anger can also indicate progress. Anger can be an important indicator that the receiver of the abuse is beginning to recognize that they have a right to have their needs met. But even in this context if action is taken from anger, more violence and unmet needs will likely result.
So how can you handle these emotions in a way that leads to connection and honor of all involved? Below I list steps in a particular order, but of course life isn't this neat. These four steps are meant to be touchstones that you come back to again and again in the way that works for you.
Acceptance & Space to mourn.
First, there is just to accept the way things are. I don't mean submit or accept in a hopeless way, but rather acknowledge what is or what was without resistance. This may be a long process. It's quite common that folks who have a meditation practice spend years crying and grieving while sitting.
Name the next layer of more vulnerable feelings
Second, there is to feel the feelings below anger, guilt, and shame. Sadness or regret for needs unmet is usually below anger, guilt, and shame. Feeling sadness or regret requires a level of vulnerability and responsibility that isn't necessary with anger, guilt, & shame.
Name the needs
Third, from sadness or regret you can move to with the needs unmet in yourself and others in that particular situation.
Fourth, responsible action comes from honoring needs of all involved, including yourself, and acting to meet them.
*When I use the word "abusive" I am referring to a relationship in which there is neither awareness nor skill to honor and meet the needs of those involved, but rather consistent behavior that costs needs.
It’s not about NVC