Guilt is one of our healthy emotions; if we manage our feelings of guilt in a way as to help us repair, it can strengthen our relationships and help contribute to a sound regulation of our emotions. Although there is a belief that shame is an extension of guilt, that is a misconception. Shame may share some characteristics with guilt; they are both self-conscious and fall into the class of “moral” emotions; however, shame differs from guilt as it is tied to self-worth.
When we feel guilty, we did something bad; when we feel shame, we are bad. Guilt will make us feel regret; shame will make us feel small. When we feel guilty, we desire to apologize; when shame strikes, we desire to hide.
People who struggle with shame often have experienced childhoods that planted the seed of worthlessness. Trauma, attachment injuries, abuse or being made to feel shameful can all apply. Although the working through of shame does often require therapy, it is important to remember that if you or a loved one struggles with shame, experiencing a shameful act or being made to carry the weight of shame by a parent does not make you a shameful person. You may have been affected by the experience, but you are most definitely not defined by it.
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