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Shame versus guilt- Nuances

JBWD posted 2/10/2020 15:37 PM

Shameís got to be one of the most recurrent words on this site, and I am starting to wonder if expanding the vocabulary might help us place natural feelings as opposed to natural, but destructive, feelings. Caveat here is that I assess these in the vacuum of only being able to gauge based off my examinations- Iím certain interpersonal dynamics cause effects I canít firsthand understand.

Iíll start with definitions as pulled from my best friend Google:

Shame: A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

Guilt: Feeling responsible or regretful for a perceived offense, real or imaginary. (Weíll make the statement for WS that the offense is very real.)

In looking between these two, the definition of shame appears drastically more laden with emotion. And I think that is an accurate reflection of how a lot of us feel about the word shame. We can all think of times when we feel the immense weight of having done wrong, and just wanting to curl up and wish it away. In looking at guilt, it looks in contrast like the simple, objective analysis and acknowledgment that ďYes, I did x. I know it was wrong.Ē

Thatís how I see these definitions and it mirrors how I approach them with one major distinction. I feel guilt about having betrayed my family. I at times devolve into shame, and allow myself those feelings of distress. However, I canít live in distress. I CAN, however, live in guilt, ever cognizant of the pain that my betrayal has caused.

The important element of shame is the motivation to hide I mentioned above. Especially for people who prove to have an unreasonable regard for consequence, this urge to hide can be especially destructive. Simply put, anyone in distress (shame) can be expected to shut down to some degree. I think that becomes especially true of a cheater, alarmed at the reality of what they have done and unable to fix it. This sudden reality of consequence, from how I experienced it, was not an automatic motivator to become a better person. My instinct was simply put, to try to hide from the shame.

It was only when I had the time to get through the shame and overcome my humiliation that I could see the forest for the trees. Thatís when my more rational guilt took the pain that I felt and placed it in the proper context, as far secondary to the pain felt by my victims.

My point- Shame is natural. This is a lot to admit to, and I commend the people who hang on here and own it. But shame needs to be transient, because if the distress remains, it distracts WSs from the real truth that lies beyond- That there are victims who have far more to deal with. That far side consists of guilt, which drives accountability. I canít forget, but I need to keep emotions in check to focus where I need to, which is doing whatever I can for the family I hurt.

Zugzwang posted 2/10/2020 17:52 PM

I view guilt as the what I have done. Did I cheat? yes, I am guilty of that. Should I feel shame or ashamed? Hell, yeah.

I just don't view shame as something that many here have issues with. I should feel shame for something I am guilty of. Period. It becomes transient when you choose to not dwell in it and fix it so you never do it again. It becomes transient when you choose to own the shame because you are guilty of the actions that brought on shame.

What I think happens is the wrong definition of guilt. Many people use it instead of remorse.

DaddyDom posted 2/10/2020 18:22 PM

I think the difference is in how we internalize those feelings.

Let's say someone cuts me off on the road, and I give him the finger. Would/should I feel guilt or shame about it?

If I feel guilty, it is most likely because I know I'm a good person most of the time. Giving the guy the finger was probably not my greatest moment, and I'm not proud of it. But I also won't lose sleep over it, and I feel no less like a good person because of it. Instead, since I'm not proud of it, next time something like that happens, I'll try to do better, and just let the guy go. If I see the guy again, I should apologize. I shouldn't have reacted that way.

If I feel shame, it is most likely because I don't know that I'm good person. The act of retaliating is not indicative at all of who I thought I was, but what is scarier now is the thought that it is exactly who I am. I did something that I am not proud of and in doing so, exposed my true colors. I am not a good person, and I am not deserving of grace even though it is what I want most desperately. If I see that guy again I would probably try to hide.

IMO, guilt tends to be a motivator, a catalyst for change. Guilt often leads to resolving the occurrences that caused it. It grows our self-worth over time by making mistakes, learning from them, and making changes to be better people.

Shame tends to be a de-motivator. It shuts down empathy and devalues our worth. Shame leads to defensiveness, anger, and may actually increase the occurrences that caused it. Shame is selfish in nature, and shifts the focus on the abuser, while ignoring the victim.

ChangeMe1 posted 2/12/2020 13:16 PM

For me I have always seen shame and guilt as internal vs external.

Guilt is the wholly internal feeling for having done something you knew was wrong at the point of doing it. And it can be in total isolation.

If you steal money, no one knows, you have completely gotten away with it. Yet you knew you should not have and you feel a pull inside, that is guilt.

When that thought turns to the impact on others, or how they may now view you it transcends into shame.

It's also why I think that guilt can be the stronger drive to corrective action. Guilt is our internal compass pushing us to correct a pain (our bodies way of saying this hurts you must bandage it) but shame drives us the other way, shame is what we feel facing up to the thing we feel guilty about. Shame is what makes us run and hide.

But it is all subjective, the phrases used around these emotion can never be fully quantified, we can talk about them but never pin them down because these feelings are always judged by the actions they drive, the feelings aren't observable.

Two different BS asked to define why and how they saw remorse will potentially give very different answers, and if their partners behaviour were switched over they may not experience it as remorse. Does that change the emotion.

Let's take nervousness, we can all describe roughly what that means to us, and there is a general consensus on what we believe it to mean, but we cannot directly observe the emotion. But we also can't directly tie it to action, some people go quiet when they are nervous, others laugh, others talk and get more animated. The actions vary greatly, so they alone can't define the feeling, only the action, combined with the description of the emotion can define it.

All that's too say, shame, guilt they are so closely linked that realisticly, how you combine it with action is what matters. And even then, that combination can look like something completely different to someone else.

Sorry i typed and thought at the same time, I may have gone off on a tangent.

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