How to Let Go of Shame and Guilt after a Suicide Loss and Why It’s an Important Part of Healing

Shame can creep in at any moment. 

Even if it is something that you hadn’t thought about in a while. For me and how it creeps in typically is that I might have a flashback of my sister and a memory we shared together. This could be a conversation we had…

Or, something she said that made me laugh out loud. (Remember this is what LOL stands for) But to be completely honest, at least in my own experience, shame and guilt don’t enter my mind with bells and a blowhornNo, shame is more subtle and subduedWhat do I mean by shame being less loud? Let me illustrate what I mean.

It Was a Beautiful Fall Day

My husband and I were visiting my mom as we often do on the weekends, but this time we managed to notice Gina was outside blowing leaves with the leaf blower. Which was no surprise because Gina never seemed to slow down. (But this, constantly working,  is also one of the unique qualities of my sister that I dearly miss.)

So we walked over to her and asked her how she was doing? She warmly replied but sternly said, “I’m okay, I’m fine.”

After looking at her with more intent and saying boldly, “Gina, we know you are not fine. Look, I don’t know what you are going through, but Chris does.” She finally cracked. The hard exterior as she was putting on the “brave face,” came down. “It’s hard. We are getting a divorce.” We said how sorry we both were to hear this news. That if she needed anything, let us know. 

But why do I share this story with you?

Because the word, “divorce,” carries shame with it. I wish it didn’t. But it painfully can. You see, when my sister announced out loud, let alone to another family member, that she was getting a divorce, she didn’t have to verbally say, I feel shame.”

I could visually see it on her face. the weight, the heaviness, the inner turmoil. It was all there, plain as day. 

I have a theory…

I have a theory that it doesn’t matter how long you were together, aka, married, it could be for 2 years o2 decades, my theory is… that it still stings. 

And shame? Well, this is something that comes with the territory. According to Webster, the definition of shame is: “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior..” 

It says “conscious”, meaning, you are fully awarebut the bigger question is…

How much is unconscious?

How many times is our natural reaction to make ourselves feel guilty? 

Sound of Silence

I also believe that this is when shame, again in my own experience, can be more quiet than loud. These are all words I’ve said before and I felt ashamed afterwards…

Maybe you might recognize some of these phrases in your own life?

“You could’ve done more…”

Why didn’t you stop it?”

“The “signs” were all there and yet, you did nothing…”

Sound familiar? but now the question becomes,

We Recognize Shame, But Now How Do We Stop It?

“How do we stop it?”

“How do we stop shame from creeping in?”

How do we let go of shameful memories?

For me, the answer became simple. I DIDN’T NEED to not stop the thought or feeling of shame from entering my mind…

InsteadI wanted to shift my focus and decide if I wanted to let the thought or feeling of shame stay and take root.

Psychologists call this “reframing.” Although, I didn’t know that was what I was doing at the time. I was reframing the thoughts that entered my mind rather than trying to avoid them in the first place. Which would be downright impossible for anyone, in my opinion. (To not even have the thought or feeling of shame and guilt…) How to let go of shameful memories?

Let’s Practice

For example, “You could’ve done more…”

I shifted this to say, “I did the very best I could.” “Why didn’t you stop it?”

Became, “I did multiple times prior to stop this tragedy from occurring. It was a group and family effort that was taken very seriously.”

“The “signs” were all there and yet, you did nothing…”

(This one was very difficult for me, and can still creep in if I’m not careful. )

But for the “signs”, I now understand that noticing them ahead of time is crucial but also simply asking someone if they are in fact struggling can literally be a lifesaver. I also wanted to remind you of “The Talk That Saves Lives.” This 4-question assessment guides you through what to say to someone who you suspect might be struggling. It is evidence-based and written by trained professionals.

I’m Definitely Not Perfect Here

I am in no wayperfect” when it comes to how to let go of shame and guilt. Some days, I feel like I get it right. And other days, not so much…

But it is okay! I am doing the best I can. And I know you are too. So keep up the good work!

Don’t beat yourself up! Through regular practice, this is how to let go of shameful memories…

If you know anyone who is dealing with shame and guilt after a suicide loss and is wondering how to let go of shame and guilt in their own life, please share this with them.

Another resource, for those who haven’t watched or seen it yet,  is Brene Brown’s fabulous Ted Talk on shame.  If you still are looking for more support, please reach out to me at hello@scatteringhope.com or you can visit my Facebook page and Instagram

Love,

Crystal 💜

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