Guilt vs Shame


Oftentimes these terms of “guilt” and “shame” are used interchangeably, but did you know there is actually a very big difference between the two? The National Library of Medicine differentiates the two by explaining “Guilt is indeed concerned with one's responsibility for a harmful attitude or behavior. By contrast, shame implies a nonmoral negative self-evaluation.”

Guilt may sometimes be helpful when incorporated correctly and can help you make necessary changes in your life to get better. While shame can cause you to go into an internal spiral with few ways to truly get out and get better.

Here are some examples of shifting from internal shame to healthy recognition of wrongdoing:

: “I cannot believe you are lying again. You told yourself you weren’t going to do that anymore. You are trash.”

: “I see how hard it is for you to tell the truth in this scenario. You feel as if it will cause a disconnect in the relationship and you will be abandoned if you come clean. I understand that. It is important to be honest though, and that is what you said you were going to try to do more of in the future. So, why don’t you make the first move here?


INSTEAD OF: “Why can’t you just be more patient? What is wrong with you? You continually lash out and then cause so much damage.”

TRY THIS: “I get it. It is really hard to wait sometimes for things you want and you can get flooded with emotions in the meantime. Try taking a big, deep breath. 1… 2…3…4… Now remind yourself, you are working on this and getting a little better every day.

Exchanging internal shame for healthy remorse can be a hard pivot to make, but it starts from the inside with your self-talk. Try to be gentle with yourself as you are learning this new skill. Just like a baby doesn’t go from crawling to walking without some missteps, it will take time. But, just like anything with consistency you can retrain your thoughts.

If you’re finding this too daunting and not sure even where to begin, please let me recommend you start therapy with a licensed professional. We can help you sort through these messy emotions and thoughts to find what is true/helpful/of value to you. You can call my office and book an appointment anytime.