Guilt vs. Shame – Rhoads Life Coaching

Do you know the difference of guilt vs. shame? We feel guilty when we are responsible for something that went wrong. A mistake or an accident. We feel shame when we believe there is something wrong with who we are. Our culture struggles to separate the two.

If I cheated on a test, or caused a car accident, or step on someone’s foot, or use unethical business practices, I am guilty. I am responsible for the damage I cause to a someone else, to an industry, or to myself. All of these things are outside of who I am as a person. They may have been intentional or accidental and if I am help accountable for my actions, I am responsible for making amends and correcting the error. Being guilty or feeling guilty is the mechanism through which we as human beings identify where justice needs to be served in order to repair something that was damaged (even if it is just an apology for stepping on someone’s foot).

If I believe I am worthless or a bad person or an idiot for a mistake I made, then I am feeling shame. Shame is a commentary about being flawed as a human being. We shame others for for who they are, what they believe, and actions they take. We shame ourselves for being inadequate, unworthy, or unlovable. We are not good enough. If I am feeling shame then I am stuck. It is difficult or impossible to be something different than who I am and shame keeps me in that stuck place.

The dilemma is our culture swims in shame. We use is almost universally in addressing conflict with others and ourselves. Guilt and accountability allow us to look at problems that have potential solutions. Shame keeps us stuck and prevents us from resolving conflict. Understanding the difference between the two is critical in creating a healthier environment in resolving conflict (criticism vs. complaint).

Pay attention when you are speaking to yourself and others! The guilt vs. shame statements make a big different! “You should know better!” and “What were you thinking?” are shame. “Ouch that hurt!” and “I didn’t study enough for that test” are guilt. This is such a pervasive problem in how we communicate on the news and on social media and with each other at work and home that ANY reduction in shame will make a difference. The solution to shame is empathy. Being able to understand someone’s perspective without being judgmental. Where are you using shaming statements? What is one step to take to reduce them? –

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