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Guilt and Shame: Is it All the Same?

Understanding the difference between guilt and shame

The two most confusing emotions I encounter in my sessions are guilt and shame.  I think that it is crucial to know the major differences between them because they’re commonly used interchangeably. You have a better chance of overcoming these negative emotions once you understand the difference between them.

Guilt (I’ve done something bad)

Guilt is what we feel when we’ve done something wrong and feel bad about it.  A more thorough definition could be that guilt occurs when a person believes or realizes, accurately or not, that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or have violated a moral standard and bear significant responsibility for that violation.

Guilt can be triggered for many different reasons but most often by these 5 things:

  1. Guilt for something you did.

  2. Guilt for something you didn’t do, but want to.

  3. Guilt for something you think you did.

  4. Guilt that you didn’t do enough to help someone.

  5. Guilt that you’re doing better than someone else.

Although no one likes to feel guilty, it is not always a bad thing.  It can create motivation to try harder, learn more, and do differently.

How to Deal

  1. Face the behavior that hurt yourself and others.  

  2. Take responsibility for the harm done.  

  3. Seek forgiveness from the person affected.  

  4. Change destructive behavior and attitudes that created the harm.  

Shame (I am a bad person)

Shame is different from guilt because it is a feeling that causes us to feel we are a bad person. Shame is debilitating because it brings about the belief that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.  While guilt is often derived from something we have done, or want to do, the feeling of shame often stems from what other people think (and how that affects us).

Shame does not motivate; it tears us down and convinces us that no matter how hard we try, or what we do differently, we will never overcome because the problem IS us.

How to Deal

  1. Criticize less and learn to love yourself more.

  2. Confront your negative thoughts and convert them to positive ones.

  3. Practice vulnerability.

Give Amy Wine Counseling Center a call at 832-421-8714 if you have any questions about our therapeutic services or would like to schedule an appointment.


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