Shame and Guilt

Shame can be experienced as a result of many different events. Sometimes we feel shame is justified, other times we may feel shame where others wouldn’t. Shame can be useful as it develops our compassion and empathy for others. It is a universal emotion we all experience from time to time. However, if shame becomes a chronic state of mind it can affect the way we relate to others, leading to avoidance or withdrawal. The feeling of guilt could be described as our conscience being bothered by an action we have taken which we then later regret. There are different types of guilt, such as guilt for an action for which we feel ashamed, unworthy or embarrassed. This could be referred to as true guilt. There is also false guilt, which is when we feel guilty for something over which we had no control. This form of guilt can often be more destructive, damaging and unhelpful. Guilt can have important healing properties and can allow for personal growth and development.

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Guilt is aversive and – like shame – has been described as a self-conscious emotion, involving reflection on oneself.

Like other emotions, unaddressed guilt can stick around, making you feel worse over time. Refusing to acknowledge your guilt might temporarily keep it from spilling into your everyday life, but masking your emotions generally doesn’t work as a permanent strategy.

Shame is a feeling of embarrassment or humiliation that arises from the perception of having done something dishonourable, immoral or improper. People who experience shame usually try to hide the thing they feel ashamed of. When shame is chronic, it can involve the feeling that you are fundamentally flawed. Shame can often be hard to identify in oneself.