The human mind is very complex. As licensed therapists and counselors who assist individuals and couples, our role at Heart-Centered Counseling is getting to know what causes our patients’ struggles in life. Helping them understand the difference between guilt and shame is part of the approach to healing. If you struggle with knowing how the two differ, you’ll find the answer to be life affirming.
Dr. Brené Brown, author and well-known shame researcher, sums up the difference between guilt and shame eloquently. Shame focuses on the self where guilt focuses on the behavior. When a person feels as if they are “bad,” shame has set in. When the same person mentions that they “did something bad,” they’re doing so because they feel guilty about the situation.
Dr. Brown believes that guilt is a positive. She states, “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.”
Shame, however, is to blame for a multitude of psychological problems including addiction, depression, violence, eating disorders and suicide. A person who is deeply ashamed is often disordered in his or her thinking or action. They may be outwardly aggressive to themselves or others. If you have gotten to this point in your own life, having regular therapy sessions helps in your recovery.
Although guilt and shame are both powerful emotions, they differ dramatically. Understanding the difference between the two can change your life for the better. In fact, the healing that you’re looking for to happen takes place when you admit your role in a situation (guilt) but don’t let feelings of unworthiness (shame) prevent you from seeking the psychological help through individual counseling needed to thrive.