Addressing Shame and Guilt After a Manic Episode
I have witnessed the immense pain caused by the shame and guilt experienced by people with bipolar disorder following a manic episode.After a manic episode, most have engaged in behaviors that they regret. The resulting shame and guilt can contribute greatly to symptoms of depression that follow an episode. Understanding techniques and approaches to help work through shame and reduce guilt can be very helpful in the recovery process.
It is important to first understand the difference between shame and guilt. One of my favorite shame researchers, Dr. Brene Brown, explains this well:
“Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is, “I am bad.” Guilt is, “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.”
With guilt, one can apologize for things that he or she did, and for many, seeking amends after a manic episode can be apart of someone’s recovery. This takes great courage and is not easy; and at the same time, can be essential in moving forward.
Using therapy as a means to process guilt and shame can also be especially valuable. Having a safe space to build awareness around thoughts and beliefs surrounding shame and guilt, and promoting compassion and acceptance can assist someone in working through their recent experiences.
Brene Brown explains that there are three tricks to battling shame: talk to yourself like someone you love, reach out to someone you trust, and tell your story. Dr. Brown recommends that “if we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” Empathy is key to battling shame, both showing empathy and compassion towards oneself and receiving it from others. If you are having a difficult time imagining what you can say to yourself to be empathetic or compassion, go back to the suggestion of exploring what you would say to someone you love. What would you say to a friend in a similar situation? Try now saying that to yourself. Is there someone in your life that you trust to share your story with? If so, what would it look like to reach out to them?
In Robin Flanigan’s recent blog post, “Bipolar and Letting Go of Guilt”, she examines what others have done following a manic episode to reduce guilt and move forward with their lives. Check out some firstline experiences here. Also, to learn more about what Dr. Brene Brown has to say about shame, watch her Ted Talk.