Guilt and Shame are both negative emotions, that come in response to our actions and behaviors. They are typically driven by our beliefs and expectations.
Guilt is an emotional state that occurs when we feel or believe —albeit accurately or not—that we have compromised our standards of conduct, or have not lived up to our morals. This results in thoughts of failure, self-reproach, and feelings of inadequacy. Often it can lead to sadness, anxiety, anger, and self-blame, which can impact our physical health and lead to nausea and stomach pain.
Feelings of guilt need to be evaluated as objectively as possible. Firstly, identify what it is you feel guilty about, bring those feelings and beliefs into the open. Are your expectations realistic and manageable? Examine and challenge them, are they logical or irrational? It can be helpful to objectively think of how you would advise a friend if they were experiencing the same situation as you – would you tell them they had a need to feel guilty?
In contrast, feelings of guilt can be helpful as they allow us to identify and potentially correct problematic behaviors. Guilt-prone people tend to be able to use their guilt more constructively through making changes and/or problem-solving, much more so than Shame-prone people.
If you are guilt-prone, try asking yourself these questions: What did I do or not do? What were the circumstances at that time? Did I do what I was able and capable of doing at that time? Then ask yourself – What have I learned from this experience and what will I do differently. Use the learning to grow and develop any negative feelings and beliefs you may have about yourself.
Shame is also an intense feeling about the self, where we feel we have not lived up to our own or other’s standards. The main difference is, shame makes us feel that we are a bad person, while guilt makes us feel that we are basically good but did something bad. Shame is about you as a person, not your actions Shame is more harmful than guilt and if not addressed can lead to loss of self-esteem, depression, hopelessness, and suicidal intentions.
Shame-prone people tend to be harder on themselves and can be more destructive in their behavior as a consequence. Shame has a calmative effect, the more shame you experience, the worse you feel about yourself. Instead of believing you did something wrong you believe you are a bad person and are unable to effectively control your actions, make better choices, and change patterns of behavior. Shame is a challenging emotion and it can be difficult to adopt a problem-solving attitude, instead, shame-prone people tend to give up, use alcohol and substances to compensate, isolate themselves to hide their shame, and become defensive, aggressive and. blame others for their bad behavior.
You can overcome your shame, it is not a life -sentence and does not mean you are morally inferior. Listen to your self-talk and the messages that you give yourself. The “must-haves, the could- haves, the should-haves, the what-ifs, and the if-only’s”.
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this blog, then please, seek help and support from a professional.
Realise there is nothing you can do to change the past. Loise Hay, a leading psychologist, and author said, ” We do the best we can with our understanding at the time, and when we know better, we do better”
Stay safe and be well Pip x