Ask Golden Willow

Shame can hijack potential and happiness


Dear Ted: In the last few months, I have become aware that shame controls many aspects of my decision process and can interfere with the quality of my life as well as my ability to reach my highest potential. I am amazed at how many of my decisions actually run through a shame-filter and prevent me from taking action in areas that would benefit me. What are your thoughts on this? Thank you, Cutting Tethers

Dear Tethers, The name you have chosen seems to fit the topic you have sent for this article. I think of tethers being on a hot-air balloon and keeping the tethers on does not let the balloon fly and soar. At other times, tethering can keep us safe and in control.

Shame is a tricky emotional obstacle for most people. Many people confuse shame and guilt. Guilt is feeling you have done something wrong or bad while shame is more of a feeling that you are bad and wrong.

When feeling guilty, you can make amends and clean up the situation to your best ability. Shame, however, means you feel that you are not worthy enough to prosper and grow to your full potential.

Shame may come from how you were raised, some perception of your religion or historical actions that have led you to believe you do not deserve happiness. Shame may derive from statements people made to you growing up that you absorbed into your emotional psyche. You may believe deep down that you are somehow damaged goods, not lovable and not deserving.

Shame may make you feel you don't have a right to ask for what you need or to take action on something because you do not deserve to reach your goals. Shame may derive from survivor's guilt, in which you may ask yourself, "Why should I enjoy life if this person isn't able to?"

It is easy to become the warden of your own imaginary prison in which you prevent yourself from feeling an abundance of joy. You may deflect love when someone gives you a compliment because you don't truly feel worthy of it.

You may not give love because you don't believe the person really wants love from you. In these actions, you negate the opportunity to truly share and connect with others and celebrate your unique beauty as an individual.

Becoming aware of the ways you "tether" your happiness, joy and potential to celebrate life is a great start to releasing false imprisonments of unconscious and conscious actions. They do not serve you because they stem from a false paradigm of shame.

Making amends with someone you feel you may have wronged while releasing people you feel have wronged you (with appropriate boundaries) can be the start of allowing yourself to soar and strive and to be the best you can be. Take a chance and release some of your inhibitors. Be silly, loving and give yourself permission to dream and to fulfill the wonderful potential you already have.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Ted Wiard, LPCC, CGC, founder of Golden Willow Retreat at (575) 776-2024 or

This column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.