Is Shame Stopping You from Achieving Your Goals?

Sitting alone on bleachers with head in handsAs we enter the second month of a new year, many of us have taken some time to reflect on the past year and set goals for how we want to feel better, do different, and engage in life. Successful goals are typically those that are broken into smaller, SMART goals. In that acronym, “S” stands for specific, “M” for measurable, “A” for achievable, “R” for results-focused, and “T” for time-bound. A SMART strategy can help you turn a vague goal of “travel more” into a concrete one with actionable steps, as in: “Save $200 each month in my travel fund to buy my ticket to (insert your exciting destination here).”

There are many different ways goals can be structured to improve the odds of meeting them, but there are just as many ways they can be undermined. One of the most destructive culprits goes by the name of shame.

The Difference Between Shame and Guilt

Shame is often confused with guilt, but they are not the same and ultimately can lead us down very different paths.

Guilty thinking, the sense you have done something bad or wrong, can sound something like this: I did not follow my workout schedule this week. I feel bad about that and guilty about letting my gym partner down, but I’m going to give it another try next week.

Shame, a painful feeling of humiliation or distress, sounds more like this: I did not follow my workout schedule this week. I cannot dare show my face in that gym because everyone will know. I really messed this up. I cannot go back ever again!

In short, guilt leaves room for you to feel bad and get back on track. Shame, meanwhile, keeps you stuck.

Is It Guilt or Shame?

How can you identify whether you are experiencing shame or guilt? Here’s a brief checklist:

  • Is this feeling preventing me from doing what I set out to do?
  • Does this feeling leave me immobile and unable to problem-solve?
  • Does this feeling cause me to withdraw from or avoid situations or people that remind me of the initial issue?
  • Does this feeling cause me to have negative judgments about who I am as a person?
  • Does this feeling spill over into other areas of my life?

If you answer yes to any of the above, you may be experiencing shame as opposed to guilt.

What to Do About It

If you find yourself trapped in feelings of shame, take a moment to evaluate your thoughts. Can you exercise a bit of forgiveness or compassion toward yourself? What might you say to a friend who happened to be in the same situation? Are there any ways you are willing to be more flexible with your thoughts in order to reshape how you are seeing the situation?

Shame can be a difficult feeling to navigate and may be tied to deeper issues. If you find shameful thoughts and feelings are holding you back from your goals, consider seeking professional help. A qualified therapist can help you work through your feelings so you can reengage life in the way you want.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deanna Richards, LMHC, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Shayla

    February 2nd, 2016 at 10:25 AM

    I am not sure if this is what you mean, but here have been times when I have up and left the gym because I felt like people were looking at me weird for being there. Yes I am overweight and yes I sweat when I work out but if I am not there sweating and working out then how am I supposed to get healthy and meet my goals?
    Anyway It makes me sad to think of the times when I feel like I have been discouraged from working out just because I am fat. fat people have to get in shape too, just like you, so why not let me work out in peace?
    Or it could be me just thinking these things and no one is paying attention to me at all.
    Clearly I have some issues I need to work on.

  • Otis

    February 3rd, 2016 at 9:44 AM

    I might offer that to myself but there is no guarantee that the people who really be offering it will.

  • lolly

    February 3rd, 2016 at 2:20 PM

    If I am working so hard to get through this point in my life what on earth should I feel ashamed about?
    The only thing shameful to me would be if I knew that there was some changes that needed to be made and I was too lazy to even try to do anything about it.
    I am pretty sure that any time you start taking steps toward adding positive things to your life, no matter the struggle there is nothing to be ashamed of.

  • stressmom

    February 4th, 2016 at 10:46 AM

    The way that I see it is I have spent far too much time in my life feeling guilty mostly over things that I once felt responsible for but now know were not my fault.

    I am not about that life anymore, it is a total waste of my time to worry about the past. There is nothing there that I can change so why not focus on living without the guilt in the present and on into the future?

  • Marie

    February 6th, 2016 at 8:06 AM

    I don’t talk to my Parents because of the shame I have for not living up to their expectations. It’s an awful way to live my life feeling shame everywhere I go. I need to stop this at 48 years of age.

  • Deb

    February 6th, 2016 at 1:05 PM

    I wonder why for some people this holds them back tremendously and then for others it is actually a motivational type of thing?

  • Hollis

    February 8th, 2016 at 7:41 AM

    I think that it is time, past time, for me to jump on the SMART bandwagon. I have spent a lot of my time just feeling pretty miserable and sorry for myself, wondering what will come along that can help me. But reading this I think that I finally understand, truly understand that there is not one thing that is going to help me out of this situation besides myself.

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