The Difference Between Guilt and Shame

Feb 22, 2022 | Uncategorized

The Difference Between Guilt and Shame

“I feel so guilty and ashamed.”

Have you said or heard something like this before? It can be common to use the terms “guilt” and “shame” interchangeably. The reality is, there is a powerful difference between the two. Being aware of this difference can make a significant impact on how you view yourself and your relationships.

Here is an example that can help give some perspective for guilt and shame. Let’s say you were driving and accidentally ran a red light. Guilt would say, “I did something bad” whereas shame would say “I am bad.” Guilt focuses on our behavior, whereas shame focuses on who we are as a person. Now let’s look more closely at the difference between the two.

What is guilt?
Someone may experience feelings of guilt when they did something that compromised their own moral values. Through this, guilt can lead one to take responsibility for their behavior and try to change it for the betterment of themselves and those around them. In this way, guilt helps us to grow and improve relationships. It’s important to note that this can be healthy guilt, which is very different from unhealthy guilt. Unhealthy guilt can look like someone who feels they did something wrong when they actually didn’t do something wrong. Some examples of unhealthy guilt can involve feeling guilty from the death of a loved one or for being abused as a child.

What is shame?
Shame is often a painful feeling that leads one to think they are deeply flawed and broken. Due to this, shame, depression, and anxiety can often coexist with each other. Shame can even be held in the physical body, such as discomfort or tension in your jaw, neck, chest, stomach, or back. When guilt can have us grow and improve in our behavior, shame can often feel so unbearable that it can feel difficult to healthily recognize and learn from our behaviors.

As you can see, there is a compelling difference between healthy guilt and shame. Healthy guilt can lead to healing and improvement, whereas shame left unaddressed tends to lead to more shame.

Since shame often leads to more shame, it’s important to build ways to overcome it. At Trauma Therapy CA, we know a thing or two about overcoming shame. Without a doubt, feelings of shame fester and grow when kept in isolation and not talked about. How ironic is it then that shame causes us to hide when the first essential step to overcoming shame is talking about it within a safe space. By talking about your feelings of shame, you are already taking a necessary brave and courageous step. If you are struggling to overcome shame, our providers would be happy to guide you to identify the root of your shame and find ways to heal at your own pace. Learning to overcome shame day by day will truly be a wonderful gift to yourself. Go ahead, reach out and give this gift to yourself today.

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