How To Protect Yourself From The Shame Other People Want You To Feel

Much of the guilt and shame we feel comes from other people's expectations, and we don't even realize it.

Red-haired young woman laughing freely JLCo Ana Suanes / shutterstock 

Being yourself can be tough especially with loved ones who have expectations and beliefs that turn out to be different from yours. Showing up with what you really think, and feel is the most glorious freedom in the world. It’s that sweet unconditional love we all seek.

Unfortunately, when you are simply being yourself, others will inevitably disagree, and can feel offended or judge you. The feelings of guilt or shame that can arise when we unintentionally leave people feeling disappointed, hurt, or angry can be devastating. 


You aren't obligated to feel guilty or ashamed of yourself

I once had a family member try to convince me that “guilt is good for you”. She went on to describe how guilt “makes sure I do the right thing”. Another friend insisted that “everyone feels shame and if you don’t - something’s wrong with you”.


At one time, I believed you should feel guilty if you’ve done something wrong. Guilt was like an “appropriate response” that unless you felt, you weren’t going to learn your lesson or must be a bad, uncaring person.

I would hear someone say, “You should be ashamed of yourself,” and I’d think “Damn right - you certainly should be”. I heard parents describe how their children need to be punished to learn right from wrong and how a kind of forced discipline was needed to keep children from misbehaving. I had this all wrong.

RELATED: The Sneaky Type Of Guilt At The Root Of Your Depression

Think back to your childhood. Were you punished for wrongdoings that left you with a sense of fear rather than the deeper lesson? Did you take on the values that were supposed to teach you right from wrong or were you too busy feeling guilt and shame? Maybe you were finding ways your parents wouldn’t find out what you were up to. 


Were your values when growing up ever discussed or simply demanded? Did you ever get asked about why you did something wrong? Did your parents explain why you were treated the way you were when things went wrong? There’s a widely accepted perspective of “rewards and punishment” that only serve as band aids for a much deeper problem.

RELATED: People With A 'Guilt Complex' Share 13 Sad Traits

Letting go of the old-fashioned notion of "right and wrong"

I used to believe “right and wrong” were so clear growing up in a harmonious family with five siblings where kindness, respect and hard work were role modeled and worked well – as long as I followed what was expected. These universal values we could all agree on, but living true to yourself is about making choices that work for you and sometimes it meant discovering you had different values. 

After starting my own family, I began following my own heartstrings to “be myself” which meant discovering I had my own beliefs and some of my values didn’t align with my family of origin. The path to being true to yourself means letting go of other’s expectations and facing another’s disapproval or judgment head on  and unapologetically.


If guilt or shame has crept in when you are being yourself, it means you’ve allowed someone else’s “right way” to override your own sense of your true self. There’s a why behind their disappointment, anger and judgment of how you “should be” according to their ideals that is coming up against who you believe you are.  

What’s wrong, contrary to popular belief is subjective. What’s wrong for me can be right for you due to our differences of choice and the multitude of values we choose to live by. There’s a complex web of “I am right, and you are wrong”, fueled by the mindset of reward and punishment where our judgments get triggered. 

It’s a place where you’ll find yourself stuck in a dark battle of “us versus them” or the ultimate betrayal of “me against my true self”. Guilt and shame show up here. Many great teachers have tried to share the wisdom of this trap of “right and wrong” that we all seem to battle in order to help us shift out of judgment.

Here’s a few examples:

“The pendulum swings between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong.” – Carl Jung


“There is a field beyond right and wrong, I will meet you there.” – Rumi

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Shakespeare

At first, you may be thinking, “But there is right and wrong”. Of course, there’s good and bad. What about people who commit really horrific things? We only know what’s “wrong or bad” from our own internal sense of wisdom that each of us must find within.

“Being yourself” has a wide spectrum of infinite different choices that can make sense and work for you. The problem is not everyone will like it.

RELATED: 11 Ways Narcissists Use Shame To Control You

The difference between guilt and shame:

To overcome guilt or shame, we first need to understand what these are and how they differ.


Guilt is that negative feeling coming from something you believe you’ve done wrong where you’re blaming yourself. Your critical inner voice says, “How could you have done that?” Maybe it says, “What on earth were you thinking”? 

Shame is an even tougher negative feeling that targets not just what you did, but who you are. This inner condemning voice attacks your self-worth saying, “You’re such an idiot!” or “How could you be so careless and mean?” 

The feeling that’s neither guilt or shame, but feels the same:

I call this feeling ‘disharmony’ where you feel ‘unreconciled’ or ‘at odds with’ yourself. It’s the part of us that says, “This does not work for me.” 

We live in a world of duality designed to experience the contrast of what we don’t like to know what we like. Think of why feeling pain is so important. If you cannot sense pain, you cannot sense pleasure.  Those who are unable to sense that a stove is hot can end up burning themselves badly. When you feel that sense of inner resistance or discord “being yourself with someone else”, you can unknowingly turn this feeling into guilt or shame by blaming yourself. 


When you feel unsettled, or disharmonious without blame, you can process any difficult situation from a more powerful place of patience, curiosity and understanding. Guilt and shame come from fear and control, and asks the self-destructive question “What’s wrong with you?”

Growth, choice and having the freedom to be yourself comes from love and asks the constructive questions with compassion, “What just happened, why, and how am I going to choose to move forward with any lessons I’ve now learned?” 

Notice the difference energetically, blame feels controlling and constrictive, while disharmony will simply feel hard. Neither feels good, but one will keep you stuck, while the other is the opportunity to grow into the freedom of being you.  

Respecting our differences will bring inevitable discord, and our journey is to learn to trust ourselves. Blaming yourself for what went wrong leaves little space to take responsibility. Responsibility or your “ability to respond” is where all your power lies to navigate when anything goes wrong. 


RELATED: The 5-Step Process That Can Rescue You From Shame & Regret

8 Ways to Overcome Guilt and Shame for Simply Being Yourself

1. Ask questions.

Check in with “am I taking on other people’s expectations or beliefs of who I'm supposed to be and assuming they apply to me?” Only yours apply to you.

2. Analyze your behavior.

Do I project guilt or shame on people with my criticism or judgment? If so, that same inner voice of punishment and blame will be used against you too. Be willing to accept (not agree with) other people’s differences.

3. Shift your way of thinking.

You have the power to choose your thoughts and shift out of the paradigm of “right and wrong” (reward and punishment) over to curiosity, understanding, and patience (unconditional love).  Instead of “what’s wrong with me?”, ask “am I willing to honor my true self?”


4. Be courageous.

Being yourself means being willing to have some people not like you or feel disappointed, angry, or upset with you. Standing up for yourself unapologetically takes courage to trust yourself more. 

5. Take responsibility.

Know your values and what you stand for so you can take full responsibility for who you choose to be. 

6. Be true to yourself.

Recognize that the negative feelings of guilt and shame comes from taking on someone else’s “should” of who you need to be. This is a self-betrayal gently asking you to choose to believe in yourself. 

7. Acknowledge different views.

Acknowledging how someone else may feel different based on their perspective of who you “should be” can help release the tension that is causing guilt or shame. “I can understand how you may think that way, but that doesn't work for me, and here's why.”


8. Know your ‘why’.

Share why you are making choices based on your values and what this means for you to stand in your own truth.

We all value living a life true to ourselves and want to be seen and heard for who we are not who others expect us to be. Guilt or shame are emotions that keep you stuck in blame and self-judgment and get mistaken for the disharmony we feel when our values are stepped on. When you give yourself permission to simply be yourself - it's the greatest expression of who are meant to be. 

RELATED: How I Moved Past Shame By Understanding My Fight-Or-Flight Response

Carolyn Hidalgo is a soul executive coach with a vision to create a judgment-free world.