Learn the Difference Between Shame & Guilt


I talk about this a lot with my clients. I learned about this idea from Brene Brown. Her research found that people who are shame resilient know the difference between shame and guilt and practice it in their daily lives.

So, what is that difference?

Shame is who you are as a person. Guilt is your behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something I’d do differently next time.” The story she tells to explain it is this: Let’s say one night before an important work meeting the next morning you go out with friends, drink too much, and wake up with a terrible hangover. Because of this you’re late to work and to this meeting. If your internal talk is shame-driven, you’re likely to say to yourself, “You’re so stupid. You’re always messing things up at work and sabotaging yourself. I can’t believe you were so lazy and selfish.” However, if your internal talk is guilt-driven, you’re more likely to say, “You know that wasn’t the best idea. I wish I had done that differently. I don’t like that I did that and I want to change that. Next time I’ll try not going out the night before an important meeting.”

Do you hear the difference? Too often we conflate these shame and guilt. We think that if I did something bad I must be bad.

And what’s truly amazing about her research – and why I love it so much – is that she shows how shame actually stops us from being the person we most want to be.  We tend to think the only way I’ll change is if I’m really hard on myself.

But it’s just not true!

In fact, the harder I am on myself the more likely I am to continue behaving in ways that bring me down. Brene Brown calls it the shame spiral. I feel bad about feeling bad. In the above example, if I shame myself for getting drunk I’m actually MUCH MORE LIKELY TO GET DRUNK AGAIN. If I experience guilt, I’m less likely to do it!


If you’d like to learn more about the difference between shame and guilt and how it applies in your life, call me.

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