Guilt and Shame – A Big Difference

Some people believe that shame and guilt are the same but there are differences:

Guilt And Shame
There are two types of shame:
Legitimate Shame or Guilt:
When we have made a bad choice: “Healthy guilt is the emotional core of our conscience. It is emotion which results from behaving in a manner contrary to our beliefs and values.”
The way out of guilt is through change, support and forgiving ourselves.

Illegitimate Shame:
Is when we have feelings of guilt, blame, exposure when we haven’t done anything wrong.
It is about how I feel about myself – it is a matter of our identity not about a bad choice: “I am flawed and defective as a human being…it is a state of being a core identity…a sense of worthlessness, a sense of failing and falling short…It is like internal bleeding.”
(Source: “Healing The Shame That Binds You” John Bradshaw: Published by Health Communications 1988 Pages 10,17)

The shame can become internalised and then becomes contaminated shame. This is where everything around you tends to be interpreted as shameful. You start to descend into what often becomes extreme self-consciousness. We can attempt to overcome this shame by:
Perfectionism – So we are never exposed
Defiance – Refusal to admit our humanity – anger hides the shame
Responsibility and obsessive behaviour patterns – routines that help us to stop feeling shame.
However, all of these cause our relationships to suffer.

Shame comes into play when we are with people, it is how we re-act towards ourselves or others again effecting our relationships and making closeness and communication difficult.
Shame Check: How do you feel when you spill a cup of coffee in front of others or make a mistake? Are there negative messages you give yourself?

Shame Behaviours:
Tick any that apply to you: Shame Can Make You:
Feel “something is wrong with me” – everything is coloured by shame
Fear of rejection is very strong
Isolated and lonely – fearful when someone wants to have a close relationship
Fear of intimacy – wanting relationship but pushing people away
Defensive when criticised
People pleasing behaviour patterns – not aware of how to get own needs met
Punishing self with negative and destructive self-talk – or physical harm
Feeling over responsible for everyone and everything that happens
Aggressive or abusive behaviour
Suffer from Depression
(Source: Adapted from an ideas in “Helping Victims of Sexual Abuse”– Heitritter and Vought – Bethany House Publishers – Published 1989)