“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.“Brené Brown
The whole concept of shame vs. guilt is somewhat new in my world. I really never stopped long enough to contemplate how these feelings are different, why it mattered, or how this could change my opinions, thoughts, or beliefs.
I realized I have been confused or never actually been taught how both shame and guilt can play such an important role in my life.
You may sometimes confuse shame with guilt, a related but different emotion.
- Guilt is a feeling you get when you did something wrong, or perceived you did something wrong. Guilt means we feel like crap over something we have done, apologize and hopefully move past it.
- Shame is a feeling that your whole self is wrong, and it may not be related to a specific behavior or event. Shame is a title, role, or identity that we accept from an early age, entangled in our core.
The scary part of shame is that very few people realize or identify with the feeling. It is not like someone is going to walk around thinking, “I am full of shame”. That would be silly and self-defeating. It is more like individuals live with owing and accepting every other persons negativity, blame, or being the reason for most things that go poorly.
“We desperately don’t want to experience shame, and we’re not willing to talk about it. Yet the only way to resolve shame is to talk about it.”Brené Brown
How Shame Happens
From the day you were born, you were learning to feel that you were okay or not okay, accepted or not accepted, in your world. Your self-esteem was shaped by your daily experiences of being praised or criticized, lovingly disciplined or punished, taken care of or neglected.
People who grow up in abusive environments can easily get the message that they are undeserving, inadequate, and inferior—in other words, that they should feel ashamed.
“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”Brené Brown
Over time, intense feelings of shame can take hold of a person’s self-image and create low self-esteem. Feelings of shame often stem from what other people think. The person may become super-sensitive to what feels like criticism, even if it isn’t, and may feel rejected by others. Inside, they feel painful self-contempt and worthlessness.
Guilt and shame are useful feedback mechanisms. But left unchecked, they can interfere with our sense of self, close relationships, and how we show up in the world.
After lots of reading, I feel Brené Brown is the leading expert on this subject. Here is a list of her books and where to begin:
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CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.