Is it guilt … or shame?


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/08/2020 (789 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I was listening to an audiobook by Mel Robbins called Work it Out, in which she coaches women who are having issues in their workplace.

Mel was coaching a young woman who was the victim of two sexual assaults within six months so, as you might expect, she carries around a fair amount of trauma,and it affects all aspects of her life — at home and at work.

The distinction between guilt and shame came up in the context of the young woman saying she felt a lot of guilt about the sexual assault. Mel stopped her and pointed out that what she was really talking about was not guilt, but shame, and it seemed to me that this distinction is worth fleshing out here.

As defined by researcher Brené Brown, guilt is when you feel bad because you’ve done something wrong.

If you forgot to call your mother on her birthday, or if you yelled at your kids because you had a rough day, you feel guilty. Guilt can be a good thing, if it moves you to appropriate action.

You’ve done something wrong, and you need to take action to fix it — call your mother and apologize, apologize to the kids, resolve to take a deep breath before coming into the house after work, whatever you can do to repair the damage your actions may have caused to the relationship. You want to make sure your actions align with your values, so you fix it and move on.

Shame, on the other hand, is never a good thing. Shame is when you feel somehow flawed, bad, broken or worthless because of something you’ve done, or had done to you.

People tend to get stuck in their shame — they keep playing it over and over in their heads, and seem powerless to take any kind of action to repair the damage they may have caused.

Some, like Mel’s client, did not do anything wrong. But she was left thinking there must be something wrong with her if this person thought it was OK to assault her.

I’m not blaming the victim here — but it’s important to be aware that she’s feeling shame, not guilt, and should be treated as such. Mel advised her to seek out an appropriate therapist, and I hope she did.

If you find yourself in a position where you are beating yourself up for something you did or didn’t do, pause and take stock — are you feeling guilt (I did something wrong), or shame (I am something wrong)?

If it’s the former, you can take steps to fix the damage and move on. If it’s the latter, you may well seek the help of a therapist or a life coach. Don’t stay stuck.

Hadass Eviatar is a community correspondent for West Kildonan. Check out her blog at:

Hadass Eviatar

Hadass Eviatar
West Kildonan community correspondent

Hadass Eviatar is a community correspondent for West Kildonan.

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