I am of the belief that all feelings carry within them a message for us, and that in their own, limited way they are trying to bring balance to our system.
So, what do guilt and shame have to offer?
First, we have to decide which one we are dealing with. I have found that guilt can normally offer us a game plan, a way forward. It might suggest something like making amends, helping a friend, or taking steps toward sobriety. Shame, on the other hand, can offer no legitimate, self-respecting plan of action for the future, because shame is all about the past. If shame does try to offer a plan, it will be something ridiculous and even dangerous, like withdrawing from the world, not taking up so much space, or not being our real self. Plans driven by shame are never helpful and should never be acted upon.
But shame is bringing a helpful message; It is telling us that there is something from our past that we have not yet fully processed and sorted out. The way the past damages our present moment is by leaving us with lies about ourselves and the world. We may come away from past events with faulty beliefs about our worth, or capabilities, or our ability to be safe. Processing and integrating the past can help to remove these lies. And the good news is that counseling can be very helpful in dealing with both guilt and shame, by helping us to formulate and carry out reasonable, self-respecting plans when necessary and to address, process, and integrate the lessons of the past, removing the lies and unveiling our true selves.