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.
- Defining the Pain of Shame (readingremy.com)
- Coping Mechanisms and Shame (readingremy.com)
- TED Talk by Brene Brown on Vulnerability & Shame – outstanding insights
- Guilt and the Gifts it can bring (frscottsblog.wordpress.com) A look at the value of guilt
- On Shame (enderslife.wordpress.com) Thanks for exposing me to Brene Brown!