“I’m an idiot.”
“I am worthless.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“I am nothing.”
If these type of statements are a common thought in your head, you may struggle from a common condition called shame. Shame is something you may experience everyday without even knowing it even while it is having an effect on your life. Even though shame is a silent happiness killer, overcoming these thought patterns is possible.
Understanding shame, along with comparing shame to guilt, is helpful to overcoming the shame mindset. There is a difference between shame and guilt, which will be demonstrated in a graph for direct comparison.
|Correlated with addiction, depression, suicide, and other maladaptive coping skills
|Inversely related to addiction, depression, suicide, and other maladaptive coping skills
|Painful and debilitating feeling
|Painful feeling leading to change
|Leads to isolation
|Leads to relationship building
|Is a judgment of self
|Is a judgment of behavior
|Focuses on relationships and improvement
Secrecy, Silence & Judgement
According to Brene Brown, shame needs three things to thrive: secrecy, silence, and judgment. To combat shame, one of these three factors needs to be challenged. For example, if you tell someone a shameful thought you are having, this gives the person an opportunity to be empathetic, which is the killer of shame. When someone responds, “me too” to the shame, this alleviates judgment and strengthens the relationship. If there is not an opportunity to share the shameful thought, a skill that can be practiced on your own is erasing judgment since shame is a judgment of self. Instead it can be healing to practice self-compassion and acceptance.
Shame causes a person to look inward; this leads to isolation, which can cause a continuous shame spiral. Guilt is a judgment of behavior rather than of self. This leads to correction, rather than leading to the hurtful judgment of self that leads to isolation. When there is guilt, a person realizes what they have done is wrong and takes steps necessary for healing. This can include reaching out to the one that you have wronged and admitting fault and apologizing, thus strengthening the relationship.
People may feel that shame can be helpful to motivate you to get better, but it leads to destructive behaviors, whereas guilt can lead to change and be a motivation to get better. Another quote from Brene Brown (she’s a shame researcher, so is basically queen of this subject, hence all of the quotes from her), “I’m just going to say it; I’m pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it’s about our behavior. It occurs when we compare something we’ve done-or failed to do- with our personal values” (Brown 2012).
I hope through this comparison, you have been able to see that guilt can strengthen relationships and motivate change, whereas shame leads to isolation and maladaptive coping skills.
Bradshaw, J. (2005). Healing the shame that binds you: Recovery classics edition. Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, Inc.
Brown, B. (2008). I thought it was just me (but it isn’t). New York, New York: Gotham.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.
Brown, B. (2012, June 14). Brene Brown’s Top 4 Life Lessons. Retrieved from http://www.oprah.com/spirit/life-lessons-we-all-need-to-learn-brene-brown.