Difference Between Guilt And Shame

Guilt vs. Shame

Guilt can be healthy. When you make a mistake, especially if it hurts another person, a certain amount of guilt can be appropriate.  It can be positive to acknowledge your mistake, feel some guilt, take action (in the form of taking responsibility, sharing with someone else, apologizing, etc.) and then move on.

Shame results when you are unable to move on.  Instead of feeling upset about a specific behavior, you judge yourself as a bad person.  This can lead to false beliefs that you are not worthy of love, incapable of getting what you want, and unable to love others.  Sometimes shame is so powerful that it blocks healthy feelings of guilt and keeps you stuck in negative thoughts about yourself.  You may assume that your mistakes mean something bad about you. And that they define you. You are your mistakes. YOU are a mistake. Thereby the shame spiral continues.  In this state, forgiving yourself seems impossible and fear of making mistakes increases.

Where does shame come from?

Shame often develops at an early age.  It differs for everyone, but frequently results out of relationships in which you believed that you were not loved unconditionally or that your wants and needs were somehow bad and inappropriate.   Shame can also be the result of behaviors or desires that you do not choose, but that are stigmatized in society.  If you want to be different, but cannot, shame may be present.

Negative core beliefs, define and reinforce shame.  These messages fuel and validate negative self -concepts. Some examples are: “I’m not good enough”, “I’m unlovable”, “I don’t deserve love”, “I don’t measure up.”  You can only imagine what havoc these beliefs create in relationships and in the world!  When you carry these beliefs around, you look for evidence that these beliefs are true.  In this world view, small disappointments and rejections can feel even more devastating because they confirm your negative beliefs.  If you don’t trust that you are good enough how can you reach your full potential?

How do I stop feeling shame?

Shame is difficult to face alone.  If you have lingering shame, it can be helpful to find a safe person to talk to about it with so that you have the space to let it go. You deserve to free yourself from such a heavy burden. In therapy, I work with clients to change core beliefs and shift their attitudes about themselves.  Confronting shame, as painful as it is, can open new opportunities in life and in self -awareness.  I have assisted people grow emotionally in ways that help them achieve things they never thought possible for themselves.