The Fiji Times
The big four downers
BULA Fiji! Thank you for taking time out to read Bula Vakasaama, a column dedicated to enlightening readers about practical strategies for optimal mental health and mind wellness.
Today’s topic is about the four major downers in our lives — shame, blame, guilt, and regret — that keep us spinning in the whirlpool of depressive symptoms and negative reactive behaviours.
On a daily basis, we feel at least one, if not all, of these four emotions and choose our behaviours and reactions based on them. Sometimes we do it consciously by dwelling on memories that evoke the feelings of shame, blame, guilt, or regret. Other times, they act as subconscious filters in how we react and respond to life.
Try it on yourself right now…see if you can identify if you have had any one or all four of these feelings today or in the last few days in your life. Reflect on your chosen behaviours today and over the last few days and see if you can find a connection between these emotions and your chosen response in behaviour or thought.
How to make sense of these
Let us look at each one of these downers separately to understand exactly what they mean and how they affect us.
Shame is a feeling that occurs in a deep and fearful part of us which we prefer not to acknowledge because it has the potential to take us to a dark place in the mind.
When something terrible happens to you and you end up thinking that you are terrible because of the terrible thing that happened, that is called shame. It’s when you start thinking of yourself as a ‘bad person’ because something bad happened to you.
You begin to identify your worth based on the incident instead of your true value and potential. Shame seeps in slowly and if unaddressed, it can start eating you from the inside and result in debilitating physical health and declined mental health.
One of the most common examples of shame is the feeling that a person is left with after they have been sexually violated. Irrespective of the person’s age, sexual abuse can evoke deep shame in the person’s life. A child victim of sexual abuse grows up in deep shame, perceiving that he or she is a bad person.
Blame is something we feel when we resist taking responsibility for our own actions.
We may deflect from our accountability and responsibility by finding fault elsewhere. In situations where there is no one to blame, we often continue to avoid reflection and responsibility by simply blaming ourselves.
Blameis one of the easiest downers to dampen the spirits. Blaming someone, or yourself, or a situation, can trap you in the victim state instead of empowering you.
No matter what the situation or who all were involved, blaming is never the answer. You lose power when you are playing the blame-game.
At some point we all feel that our past action or behaviour has brought about harm or has been immoral or sinful.
This feeling creates immense mental burdens and can affect our thoughts, words, and actions on a daily basis. There are two types of guilt — appropriate guilt and irrational guilt.
It is easier to learn and transform when one can navigate through Appropriate Guilt because it is clearer why someone feels guilty. For example in the event of a parent yelling at their child due to their own bad temper can bring about appropriate guilt.
The parent can calm down and reflect on the angry outburst and kindly explain to the child that they did not mean to yell at them. And if ego does not come in the way, the parent could also apologise to the child.
Irrational Guilt is when we make something our fault when it is not our fault at all.
For example, if you invite someone to a dinner party and later that night they have a disagreement with another guest who was present at the dinner, you begin to feel irrational guilt that these people argued because you invited them all to the same dinner party.
You forget to see the rationality in the situation and somehow find fault in yourself for someone else’s actions or a situation that was beyond your control.
The inability to accept something or some outcome can lead to constant feelings of regret.
This incessant dwelling in the world of ‘should have, could have, would have’ takes a huge toll on the mind and keeps the person stuck in the past.
It also affects the person’s ability to plan for the future because the regretful feelings keep creeping up and blocking all possibility of positive thinking. Regret makes a person feel that just because something did not go right the last time, that it might happen again.
A good example is when you help someone in need and they forget to acknowledge or reciprocate that gesture when you are in need, you regret helping them in the first place.
This regret creeps back up when someone new asks you for your help. You feel like you are better off not helping because ‘look what happened the last time I helped so and so’ tends to run in your mind. Strategies to overcome shame, blame, guilt, and
regret Shame — understand that it’s not your fault. Whatever bad happened was not your doing. Talk to a counsellor to process the incident to work on forgiveness;
Blame — be the observer of the choices and take responsibility for how your thoughts, words, and actions are affecting your life’s outcomes.
Exit the blame-game. Be the spectator of your choices, be your own referee of the daily sport called life. Keep your record straight and take full accountability of your choices;
Guilt — Accept the truth that some things are beyond your control. Finding fault in yourself for things you are not in control of is unreasonable and irrational. Ask yourself ‘Can I change this?’ If the answer is yes, then change it. If you can’t change it, then stop making it your problem; and
Regret — Perfection is a myth. Do your best in whatever task you undertake. Accept the present moment as it is, without judgement. It is what it is.
■ PRINCESS R. LAKSHMAN is a counsellor, clinical nutritionist, writer, narrative therapist, and certified life-coach. She is passionate about mind wellness and an advocate for kindness and self-care. She lives in Sydney and will soon open mind wellness hubs in Fiji to provide free mental health counselling and workshops exclusively to Fiji residents. The views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org