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Guilt and Shame in the Land of Oz

Erika-bentBy Erika Bent, B.A., graduate student intern

In the Wizard of Oz, the entire community was built upon the reputation of a powerful and knowing wizard. The tin man, lion, scarecrow and Dorothy admired his great power and sought guidance. They succumbed to his great voice and awing appearance. However, when an innocent dog peeled back his masterful disguise, the Wizard of Oz was revealed as an ordinary human. As a result, he became insecure, self-conscious and ultimately felt ashamed of his failure to exercise his great and supposed power.

In this classic story, the Wizard of Oz experienced significant shame for failing to live up to his own and his community’s expectations. We have all experienced forms of guilt and shame at some time during our lives. Many situations can bring about feelings of shame or guilt, such as making a mistake or crying in public. Feelings of shame are different from feelings of guilt in that guilt reflects a wrong-doing, whereas shame indicates something inherently wrong with oneself as a person.

Both guilt and shame can be debilitating and isolating. It is important to express these feelings in a healthy way and develop healthy coping skills. Some techniques that can be helpful to deal with the painful feelings of shame and guilt are listed below: 

  • Express your thoughts and feelings through journaling
  • Relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, deep breathing and muscle relaxation
  • Turn to your support system
  • Work through your guilt/shame with trusted people in your life, such as friends, family, therapists, etc.

There are several ways to cope with debilitating shame and guilt in a healthy manner. It is important that you find techniques that work for you.