As a coach and as a friend, my goal is to be ME unapologetically and always encouraging. It is always enlightening when I get glimpses of how my ME is perceived by others. It was a conversation with a friend that prompted my reflection on my influence.
MyFriend: I have so much to write. So, much so that my friends say I need to write a book. I thought, “Don’t let Dr. Wright hear that.”
ME: Why not? All I’m going to do is encourage you to do it.
As I contemplated the conversation continuing my exploration of motivation, I hit on a familiar set of distractions that plague individuals and frustrates productive relationships. First, guilt and shame are different. Second, sustainable relationships often incur guilt as primordial motivation. Third, your prioritization of value determines whether you respond productively to the conviction of guilt.
Distinguishing Guilt and Shame
In every situation in which you fall short of a goal, you are faced with either guilt or shame. Simply put, guilt is active, taking responsibility. Shame is passive, having blame assigned to you. Guilt causes you to assess what you have done wrong and take steps to correct your behaviors. Shame causes you to seek cover. If you do not like conflict, you hide with denial and avoidance. If you are more comfortable with conflict, you engage attempting to refocus the light of conviction on something other than your behaviors and your choices.
When you have fallen short, determine whether you are responding to guilt or shame. If you are responding to guilt you will ask, “What choices did I make that were not in line with my goals? What choices can I make now to move sustainably toward my goals?” If you are responding to shame and engaging in conflict you will exclaim, “There are many reasons why I am not achieving my goals! Few people understand my struggle.” The problem with shame is that it obscures the desired goals in favor of self-protection or saving-face goals.
Social Control and Relationships
Four types of social control exist. I want to focus on INDIRECT social control. In this type, the relationship influences choice behavior. You want to do “good” in order to honor the relationship you have with another person.
For example, you want to finish your college degree to honor your grandmother. You do not necessarily WANT to study or write papers, but you are motivated to complete these. Completion means passing grades, which means graduation, which means honor for your grandmother. It would be great if you developed intrinsic motivation and wanted to achieve for yourself. It would be exceptional if you developed an interest and aspired to research and contribution to the knowledge base of a profession. But, it is enough that you are motivated even at the most fundamental level.
The challenge occurs when you fail a course. You can respond with guilt or shame. Guilt causes you to find tutoring and address your study habits. Shame causes you to blame teachers or the system. My point is that your grandmother still loves you and has not changed her support. Yet, you feel that you have let her down in some small way. Relationships incur guilt. Because you value the relationship, you are motivated to respond. Your chosen response to the situation has implications for your ability to meet the challenge. Again, your grandmother’s love has not changed. The conviction is YOURS. It can be your motivation. Use it to overcome the obstacle. The problem is not your relationship with your grandmother. Replace mentor, teacher, friend, spouse or other supports where “grandmother” is above.
Values in Your Response
Accountability is not shame. Accountability will have guilt when a target is not met. What is critical to understand is stated in cliché, “Actions speak louder than words.” Your choice tells all observers what you value. But, more than that understand that to respond with shame diminishes your ability to self-correct and reach your goals. You in effect state through action, “It is more important to APPEAR driven than to drive myself toward my goals.” You value approximations and appearances, things that can be explained through redirection and rationalization. Your actions state this clearly.
To respond with guilt empowers you to take responsibility. You can even seek help because you are able to identify some areas you may need help to improve. Many obstacles still exist, but you choose to value your PROGRESS and eventual goal above the appearance of sobriety or piety in this moment.
The “excuses” that no one wants to hear are shame and denial that offers no perceivable opportunity for redress. Those who have committed to support you want to hear that you have recognized where you need help, and you are choosing to engage in consistent help seeking and corrective activity. Resist the urge to consider the conviction of accountability as shame. Enjoy and self-correct from guilt. It indicates that there is value in the relationship. I hope you are convicted at the thought of ME while contemplating your goals. I hope you are also encouraged that the conviction of ME comes with my active investment in your success.
[ Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a leadership coach and organization consultant based in Nashville, Tennessee. With over 16 years of experience guiding individuals to their goals, Michael has the techniques and patience to help you succeed. Follow @MAWMedia on Twitter or connect for a consultation at MAWMedia.com ]