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Shame vs. Guilt


Really???  The 5and2Guy is sharing a post about shame and guilt on Happy Thursday???  It is important to know the difference between the two if you wish to find happiness.  Do you know the difference between shame and guilt?  I never really did.  When it came to shame, the only thing that jumped in my head was when Mom said, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”  Now, I wasn’t told that often, but you don’t have to hear it too many times to know that it meant you did something bad.  And when it came to guilt, I would hear people say things like, “I feel guilty for what I did” or “You should feel guilty for what you have done.”  Again, nothing too positive in either of those two statements.  But if we really tear shame and guilt apart, we can see how one is destructive and one can be healthy.

What is Shame?

Shame is the painful feeling we get when we have done something wrong or brought some kind of dishonor to our names.  Someone may say, “You have brought shame to your name” or “This whole situation has brought shame to our community.”  Shame is a focus on self.  Shame says “I am a bad person.”  When you are ashamed, you tend to think “I am a mistake.”  Shame becomes something you are, which  can put you in a bad place, and keep you there.  Shame has been associated with addiction, violence, depression, suicide, and eating disorders.

What is Guilt?

Guilt is a feeling that you have done something wrong.  Either something that you didn’t do, but should have, or something you should have done but didn’t.  Guilt is a focus on behavior.  Sure, you can feel guilty, but you feel guilty for the behavior you exhibited, not for the person you are.  Even good people can do bad things.  Guilt is saying that I did a bad thing, but I am still a good person.  Guilt says, “I did something bad.”  Guilt will make you think, “I made a mistake.”  Guilt can be used for growth.  We can take something we have done or failed to do and compare it against the person we want to be.  Reflection on this comparison can help us learn and grow.  Sure, it may not be fun to really look at our mistakes, but it can help us avoid those same mistakes in the future.

Final Thoughts

I have to admit, I never really paid attention to the difference between shame and guilt.  I kinda thought they were the same thing.  But as you can tell, they are drastically different.  Shame results in putting yourself down, identifying as a bad person, and is self-destructive.  Guilt can result in growth, identifying mistakes, and help you learn.  It is much better to identify with guilt than with shame.  It is okay to feel guilty, though you definitely want to avoid putting yourself in that position.  But if you find yourself shameful, you need to step back and look at your life.

Review your thoughts and understand that we all make mistakes.  It doesn’t make us bad people, it just proves that we are human.  However, if your thoughts are destructive and you find yourself putting yourself down, you need to take a step back and re-group.  If your mistakes are focused on self and not behavior, you will find it hard to find make positive changes and find happiness.

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