Understanding Emotions – Guilt and Shame 

 November 20, 2023

By  fouts

Life is a roller coaster ride full of different feelings. Two feelings that we often hear about are guilt and shame. They might seem similar, but they’re actually quite different. Understanding these feelings can really help us feel better about ourselves and make better choices.

Which is it, Guilt or Shame?
Guilt is like that little voice inside you that says, “Oops, I made a mistake.” It’s about doing something wrong and knowing you can fix it. When you feel guilty, you’re thinking about a specific thing you did that you wish you hadn’t.

Shame is a bit tougher. It’s when you start thinking you’re not a good person because of something you did. It’s like a heavy feeling that makes you want to hide away. Imagine feeling bad not just for something you did, but for who you are – that’s shame.

How to Tell the Difference
When you’re feeling down take a moment to look into the emotions you are feeling and ask yourself reflective questions to help you better understand which of these emotions you are experiencing.
For example:

    • Is this feeling about what I did or who I am?
      (Guilt is often mostly about actions, shame is about how you feel about your whole self.)

    • Did I do something specific, or do I just feel bad overall?
      (Guilt is for specific things, shame is more general.)

    • Do I want to fix a mistake, or do I feel bad about myself?
      (Guilt makes you want to repair the issue, shame feels personal and can make you want to hide.)

    • How do I see myself because of this feeling?
      (Guilt can be overcome with time, shame makes you doubt yourself.)

    • Am I okay talking about it, or do I want to keep it secret?
      (We may talk to a friend about our guilt, but hide the shame from others.)

Why These Feelings Matter
Guilt can actually be helpful. It’s like a nudge to make things right. But shame is trickier; it can make you feel stuck and really bad about yourself. As though you are worthless or a bad human being.

Being Kind to Yourself
The best way to deal with these feelings is to be kind to yourself. When you make a mistake, cut yourself some slack. You are human and humans make mistakes. Learning from mistakes, correcting if possible, and moving on is part of growth.

Where These Feelings Come From
Sometimes, what we learn from others–including family or friends–can make us feel shame even when it’s not warranted. Pay attention to your core beliefs and knowledge of what is right and true.

Blaming Others
When we feel shame, sometimes we blame others instead of admitting we made a mistake. It’s easier, but it doesn’t help us grow or learn.

Breaking Free from Guilt and Shame
Asking yourself those reflective questions helps us see more clearly what we are feeling. Understanding why you feel a certain way can really help in making things better. Everyone makes mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we’re bad people.

Moving Foward
In life, we need to balance being honest about our mistakes and being kind to ourselves. When we understand if we’re feeling guilty or ashamed, we can deal with it in the best way. We can learn from what we did without feeling that we are bad at our very core. Through self-awareness, we can be better people and help others do the same.

In short, guilt and shame are part of life, but they don’t have to control us. Knowing the differences and how to handle them can make us stronger and happier. Remember, it’s not about the mistakes we make, but how we handle them that really matters.

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