Shame vs Guilt: What's the difference?
The words "guilt" and "shame" are often used interchangeably to describe a certain feeling. However, they refer to different emotions. You may feel both shame and guilt from the same experience, but it's important to understand the difference.
Guilt: Feeling Remorse
Guilt typically relates to a specific action or behavior. For example, if you stole someone's wallet, you may feel guilt. You harmed someone else, and you regret it.
Guilt is a matter of perspective, though. One person may think a particular behavior is wrong, even if others don't see it that way.
Many factors influence guilt, including views of your family and friends, the norms of your society, and personal ethics.
Guilt may sound like a negative emotion, but it can be a helpful motivator, one that pushes people to fix their mistakes. A 2017 study demonstrated that feelings of guilt often lead to an individual taking measures to correct their wrongdoing or to change.
Shame: Damaged Self-Worth
Shame is a layer deeper than guilt—it encompasses your entire self-worth as a person.
Shame arises when you are embarrassed or unhappy with yourself. It doesn't depend on a single action. You can feel shame without having done anything society sees as wrong.
People who constantly feel shame may view themselves as worthless. While guilt can lead to change, shame is usually unproductive.
People feeling shame struggle to forgive themselves because the feeling is more about how they see themselves than what they did.