The Difference Between Shame and Guilt

shame and guilt

shame and guilt

The difference between shame and guilt often confuses people. Most people think that shame is something that “other” people have and so they rarely want to think about it or talk about it. But  everyone deals with shame to some degree. As Brene Brown (see TED video below) says…the less you want to talk about shame, the more you probably have it! That’s why it’s so important to understand it…if not for yourself then at least to better understand the people around you.

One misunderstanding people have is that shame is something that only guilty people have…people with lots of regrets. They assume that if they don’t have a life full of regrets that they have no shame. Not true.  Here’s an excerpt from my book that clarifies the difference.

The Difference Between Shame and Guilt

Whenever I ask a group to define shame the first answer is almost always “guilt”. But shame is not guilt. True guilt – feeling a sense of remorse for wrong doing – is a good thing. This is also what some people refer to as being “a-shamed” or “good shame”. Adam and Eve experienced this sense of guilt when they disobeyed God in the Garden. The Bible says that they were naked and ashamed.

When I speak of shame, I am always talking about something bad – something destructive. You see, guilt is con-structive. It tells you that you have done something wrong and motivates you to both make amends as well as to seek forgiveness and restoration.

There is a remedy for guilt. But with shame, there is no remedy. Shame is de-structive. Shame is not about what you have done. Shame is about who you are. It is a condemnation of you as a person. That is why it is so devastating. If I have done something wrong, I can usually fix that. Or, if I can’t fix it I can at least seek forgiveness. But if I am wrong – if there is something inherently wrong with me – I can’t do anything about that and it makes me want to give up. Taken from Healing the Hurts of Your Past.

My point here is that shame affects everyone. It’s not about what you’ve done. More often shame is about what’s been done to you or said about you that is demeaning, disrespectful and undermines your sense of value, dignity and worth.  If you are a victim of abuse, ridicule or neglect then shame has most likely attached itself to your identity.  If your family has secrets or you’ve experienced any kind of trauma then shame may also have entered your psyche through these means.

People who suffer shame  have a whole tool belt full of coping mechanisms to off-set their shame.  Remove the shame and you can  throw the tool belt away and you’ll be amazed how much lighter  your load is every day!

I hope this helps you understand the difference between shame and guilt and how shame might play a role in your life even if you have no big regrets.  Now the question is…how can you go about removing  the shame from your life and dumping that tool belt full of coping mechanisms?  That’s a process that I outline in Healing the Hurts of Your Past.

Question: Are there other ways you would differentiate between shame and guilt? Leave your comment below.


4 thoughts on “The Difference Between Shame and Guilt

  1. Pingback: Tell Me Why I Should Not Commit Suicide Today | F. Remy Diederich

  2. John Hancock

    For the younger people in recovery, they seem to understand that guilt is something you’ve DONE, while shame is how you ARE. Overly simplified, but the best way I’ve found to make them understand…

  3. Sharisa Robertson

    I love the post but a few questions arise for me because I am not so sure guilt is a good thing (at least not all of the time). Do you think those that feel guilty always seek to be redeem or do they just hold on to the feeling? Also do you think guilt (over what you done can lead to shame (who you are now because of what you have done)?

    1. F. Remy Diederich

      I’m not sure I fully understand the questions but I’ll take a stab at it. There is true guilt and false guilt. True guilt is good because it moves you to make things right. False guilt is when you take on guilt that’s not yours to bear. Some people hold onto false guilt because they think they deserve to punish themselves. And yes, this is linked to shame. Shame is when you think and feel worthless. People with shame carry false guilt. Sometimes they feel guilty just for taking up space on the planet. You can see how distorted the thinking can get. I hope that helps. Let me know if I can clarify it for you. Remy

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