Should Guilt and Shame Have a Place in Mediation?

From Sarah Peyton’s monthly newsletter.

Have you ever heard the theory that shame and guilt are good things because they support community cohesiveness and personal accountability (eg – that shame and guilt exist, evolutionarily speaking, to help individuals know when they’ve broken a norm which helps defend the collective welfare)?

Regardless of the origins of guilt and shame, we do know that:

  • Both play an informative function about our relationship with the environment by signaling the (prospective or actual) failure or attainment of our goals
  • Both also play a motivational function, triggering goals aimed at favoring the attainment, or avoiding the failure, of our desires

We live in an increasingly isolated world where our humanity is reduced to utility, where we internalize capitalism’s notion that our mattering is conditional on how much we produce.

And we also live in a world with rapidly dwindling resources, where being alive means compromising the lives of others (carbon footprint, the level of nourishment we consume, global trade and resource use) etc.

In this context it is critical to understand the evolutionary mismatch between the world we expect, as social mammals, and the world we actually inhabit… and to re-look at how guilt, shame, conscience, loyalty and innocence function in our bodies as a result of our longing for harmony with those around us.

In our cultural crisis of mattering and belonging, the dysfunctional consequences of shame often lead to depression, generalized anxiety disorder and low self-esteem, and the maladaptive aspects of guilt include obsessive rumination, self-punishment and self-criticism, obsessive-compulsive disorders and more.

Tonight’s webinar explores this and more. Here’s a sneak peek:

> Did you know that guilt and shame look the same in fMRIs (pictures of brain activity), but they feel drastically different in our bodies?

> And that guilt often has a protective and connective function, and has been found to lead to repair action tendencies (apologizing, amending, and undoing harm) where as shame often leads to withdrawal and escape behaviors, as well as hostile and self-defensive reactions?

> Have you considered that, while we traditionally believe that our "conscience" tells us what is right and what is wrong, conscience, in practice, actually is a functional strive for harmony with those around us?

Because assuring our belonging is a matter of survival, we often feel good simply to be in accordance with the norms of our group. This means we can do horrible things (like take children away from their parents) with a clean conscience, and never feel any guilt.

Tomorrow night’s webinar goes into detail about how guilt, shame, innocence, and conscience operate in the brain and body, including the connection between internalized oppression and shame, and where forgiveness fits in.

What can neuroscience bring us about how to heal guilt and shame, and practice radical self-acceptance, in the context of the world we live in where to be alive is inherently compromising the lives of others?

 

                        author

Sarah Peyton

Sarah Peyton, Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication and neuroscience educator, integrates brain science and the use of resonant language to heal personal and collective trauma with exquisite gentleness. Sarah is a sought-after expert who brings neuroscience expertise together with depth work, self-compassion, and the transformative potential of language. She works… MORE >

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