Shame, Guilt, and Asking for a Break

When I was younger, I had such a hard time explaining that I was struggling with my mental health. I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling, thinking, and believing. I didn’t know how to speak my truth because I felt shame and guilt. 

Brene Brown, who is one of my favorite speakers and authors, helped me understand the difference between shame and guilt. In this blog post, she writes:

“Based on my research and the research of other shame researchers, I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.” 

In order to care for yourself, you must do the work to eliminate shame and guilt in your life. For me, therapy and writing have helped me reduce these feelings of shame and guilt.  

Once you’ve recognized the power of living guilt-free, you can work on expressing yourself to a boss or manager when you need a break. There is no shame in asking for a break. You should need to feel guilty about taking a mental health day from work or school. Here are some tips to help you have a productive, intentional conversation: 

  1. Write down your core challenge(s). What thoughts are you keep playing over in your head? When you close your eyes, what picture or person comes to mind when you think about your anxiety or depression? How does this make you feel? Give yourself time and space to write down everything that you’re feeling about this issue or challenge.

  2. Create a list of possible solutions. This way, when you are prepared to talk to your teacher or manager, you have a solution in mind. Some of the best advice I ever received was, “Always present a solution with every problem you bring up.” Brainstorm as possible solutions as possible. Be forward-thinking about any potential roadblocks. For example, if you’ve been struggling with your mental health and need more time to complete an assignment for school, you could say something like this, “I know our project is due on Monday, but I’ve been struggling with my depression and anxiety. Would it be possible to have a 2-day extension on this project, even if I have to take a deduction in points for a late submission?” This type of request is powerful because you own your responsibility and offer a solution with an awareness of potential consequences. The same idea could be applied if you’re needing a day off work, but do not have enough paid time off (PTO) saved up. You could say something like, “I realize that I am out of my PTO, but I am struggling with my mental health. I would love the chance to take a day off work. I will save my upcoming PTO and deduct the amount once everything is saved up so I honor what I’ve saved and used.” You would be surprised by the empathy from teachers and managers, who may even tell you to simply take care of yourself first and work out a flexible solution with you. Sometimes, simply going outside and enjoying nature is enough to reset and find myself again.

  3. Give yourself time before you respond to your options. When you finally hear back from your teacher or boss, give yourself at least an hour before you reply. This is especially important if their response is not ideal and causes more anxiety or depression. I’ve found when I reflect on a response, I can be more responsive instead of being reactive. This also gives you time to pitch an alternative solution, if possible.

  4. Be honest. The best way to approach speaking up about your mental health is to be honest with yourself and those around you. Do not sugar coat anything. Be clear and direct. Another one of my favorite quotes from Brene Brown is, “Clear is kind.” You don’t need a 1,000-word email to explain that you’re struggling. You don’t need to include every single detail and observation during your self-reflection. But, you do need to be clear and honest every step of the way.

  5. Follow-up and share your experience. Did your teacher give you more time to complete your assignment? Did your boss honor a mental health day without taking PTO? Follow-up with them with gratitude. Help them realize what you gained, discovered, or recovered from their support. I realize this requires you to be vulnerable, but in this situation – you’ve gained the trust of this person who is helping you have the time, space, and support you need to get back on track. 

How do you speak up when you are struggling? What other tips do you have for our fellow warriors? 

Much love,