I’ve written before about the effects of childhood abuse and neglect. Among adult survivors of abuse it is common to see a persistent feeling of shame, which is characterized by an overall feeling of worthlessness, of “there’s something wrong with me.” This feeling is so painful that it is often suppressed and poorly understood. Furthermore, some individuals may have difficulty differentiating between guilt and shame. This article is to discuss the differences between shame and guilt, as supported by research.
To start, shame, in itself, is not inherently negative. It is a uniquely human emotion, evolved to allow individuals to live both a moral and a social life. Along with other self-conscious emotions, such as guilt and pride, shame allows humans to reflect on their behavior and adopt society’s standards. When developed appropriately, shame is an adaptive response to inappropriate behavior, that is, to a specific situation. However, when shame develops pathologically it can result in negative outcomes leading to significant impacts on mental health.
When triggered, shame takes over the whole self of the person. Shame acts as a judgment on our whole sense of self, proclaiming us worthless, inadequate, and powerless. This negative view of the self may start from the critical remarks of another person, yet becomes internalized as an integral part of the self. When in the grip of shame, the individual has difficulty differentiating their behaviors from their identity; he or she feels a lack of empathy; and is more likely to turn anger and blame towards oneself (or others).
When in a state of shame one’s internal dialogue may look something like this:
“I’m a terrible, awful, horrible person and will be until the end of days.”
“Nothing I do is ever right. All I do is screw up.”
“I’m so bad that no one will ever love me.”
“I don’t deserve others’ care, love, or compassion.” Continue reading “Shame vs. Guilt”