Shame and Guilt

Shame and guilt are two emotions that tend to get in our way of loving ourselves and allowing ourselves to be loved. In order to face them, we must first understand what these are.

In my therapy groups, we talk about them in this way: Shame says I am bad; Guilt says I did something bad. Those are simplified definitions. With guilt we feel bad about the action. With shame we feel bad that we’re the type of person who would do that. Both can used as a gauge that something is wrong.

Let’s look at guilt first. If you’re found guilty in a court of law, the court is saying that you did something wrong. It never says that you are wrong, horrible, or bad. Society just attaches that message to the sentencing. Guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse. Sometimes we feel guilty about things beyond our control. That kind of guilt is not healthy.

Shame. You’ve probably heard someone say, “you should be ashamed” or “Shame on you.” Those statements are placing blame on someone. It comes across as an attack on one’s character. It leads to internalization of guilt.

We should feel guilt. It can motivate and bring awareness to our faults and missteps. But shame is another story. It can do the same as guilt, but too often we hold onto it, as if it were a life preserver and we’re drowning.

My coworker likes to tell our clients that they are good men who just made a mistake. And that’s the truth out all of us.

We are good people. We make mistakes. We do stupid things. We wrong things for selfish reasons. But the wrong we do doesn’t define us. That’s not our character.

I refuse to believe that this world is full of wrong evil people. The God I know created kind loving people. But in fallen world, we sin, make mistakes, let our emotions control us. But that does not negate our capacity for good thing.

Now that we have some understanding of guilt and shame, how do we combat shame? How do we live unashamed? That is for next week.

Remember: You are not a mistake, you just make mistakes.

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