The guilt or shame you feel and what to do with it.

How much responsibility should you take for his choices?

Oh my goodness, this is such a hard thing to feel, and to talk about! The guilt you feel, what should you do with it? Is it legit? Do you know the difference between guilt and shame? Did you know it matters?

I remember shortly after my husband’s arrest, after my initial anger, I felt like I should of done more, paid more attention, or SOMETHING. I wondered if I could have done something different or better to prevent him from getting to this point. Should I have checked up on him more? Should I have set up better boundaries, controlled more things…

Here’s the thing about guilt…

Guilt is not the same as shame. There is an important difference between them, and understanding this difference will help you deal with that feeling appropriately.


  • Guilt is in response to a wrong you have committed
  • Guilt is what motivates repentance and change
  • Guilt inspires you to be and do better


  • Shame is in response to how you are (or think you are) perceived
  • Shame makes you feel hopeless and unfixable
  • Shame spirals you into depression and self doubt.

What this means for you

Let’s take a look at these two opposing things and compare them to your situation and the feelings you are having surrounding it. Really think about what happened and everything that led up to it. Was there any actual wrong-doing on your part? Did you actually know what was happening and do nothing? If that is the case, then guilt is likely what you are feeling and you should absolutely acknowledge your wrongs and repent (turn away from that behavior and attitude), seek forgiveness from anyone you hurt and from your Heavenly Father.

Most of the time, however, what we as the one left behind are feeling is more shame than guilt. We feel embarrased by the situation they have put us in with their poor choices. Sometimes we feel like everone else is going to blame us – and maybe they do. Others tend to feed into our shame by not understanding the situation and assuming things like “you must have known something was going on, therefore you allowed or even supported his behavior”. So, when shame rears it’s ugly head we need to combat it with TRUTH.

Shame comes from feeling responsible for and embarrassed by someone elses behavior. Shame can also come in response to our own bad choices, when we allow guilt to hang around after repentance and a change of heart it twists into shame. Deal with your bad behavior/mistake/poor choice then you can leave it as simply a lesson learned and not something to beat ourselves up with or allow it to define us. As my lovely friend Jodie Utter says ” we are more what we do after our mistakes than we are our mistakes”.

Truth defeats shame

To defeat that awful shame you are feeling you must combat it with truth. If it is guilt that has twisted, you need to remind yourself of the facts. You know, for instance, that you have learned how to be better than that now; that you have changed your ways; you have been forgiven by God. Forgiving yourself is a habit that can and should be developed. Now you have a life lesson learned, something to avoid repeating. It does not define who you are.

The truth to speak

Speak these truths to yourself every time you need a reminder. These truths help when that shame starts to overwhelm you again.

  • Their choices were not my fault
  • I am not responsible for other people’s behavior
  • I am not responsible for other people’s opinions
  • I am not responsible for other people’s reactions or responses
  • I am not defined by thier choices or behavior
  • I have changed my ways
  • I am not defined by my past
  • I have more wisdom now because of that experience
  • I am forgiven
  • God has a purpose for me
  • I am a child of God
  • I can use my story to help others

Your actual guilt

No one is perfect, obviously, so there will be things that will crop up that you did do wrong in the situation, or that you could have responded better to. Go ahead and take responsibility for those things, seek help on how to change your thinking around that situation and start learning new ways to respond. That’s called life – and growing. Guilt is there to help you grow, not as something that is supposed to hang around your neck the rest of your life.

Jesus died to take away your guilt through forgiveness! Learn to forgive yourself as often as needed. When things go wonky and you react instead of responding well, and you will, forgive yourself again, use it as a rememberance of what not to do and move on. We all are learning and growing every day. Accept Jesus gift of forgiveness and pass it on to those around you.

Some of the thinking errors we have need lots of help to change. Perhaps because they were instilled in us as kids, or because we have told ourselves that defeating lie for so long we don’t even recognize it anymore. Please, if you need councilling, there is no shame in that, there is no wrong in it. People who are willing to ask for help are some of the strongest people there are!

Get support

I know it is so hard to talk about what is happening, whatever your story is, especially with those closest to you. If, however, you have someone close to you that you can trust to be a safe place for you and also a wise adviser, please seek them out and TALK!

It is so important that you don’t try to work through this stuff by yourself. It is too much of a burden for any one person to bear. If you do not already have strong family or community support there are free resources available! The very best place I’ve found for good general support, from people who understand, is the inmate support facebook group run by Jodi Rose. Go check it out and join! There are state specific groups and groups for federal inmates and for reentry too, all connected.

I want you to know you are not alone, there are way more of us out here than you may realize. There will be times you are going to want more personal support and guidance. I am here to help. The purpose of my story of the journey through a 5 year sentence and all the trauma that entailed, as well as our reentry story is to be here to support and guide you today. Come check out my Facebook page or Instagram to get inspiration, guidance, and encouragement.

Want more personalized, private mentoring? I will gladly schedule a time to speak with you, hear your story, and help you see if one of my groups or a personal mentoring program is right for you. Let’s schedule a convo!


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