Guilt and Shame

Understanding the Difference Between Guilt and Shame

Guilt and shame are very powerful emotions that can adversely impact our mental wellbeing and affect our behaviour. They are usually responses to a perceived wrongdoing. Guilt usually follows an action (I did something bad), whereas shame targets our sense of self (I am bad).

How to address guilt:

Acknowledge and accept: As with any emotion it is helpful to acknowledge and accept guilt, denying or suppressing an emotion will only intensify it and prolong your distress. Therefore, acknowledge what you have done and how it has made you feel.

Apologise: If possible, take action to rectify your behaviour by apologising to those affected, this can help to alleviate guilt, and hopefully repair relationships.

Learn from guilt: When you reflect on what led to your mistake you can avoid repeating it in the future, therefore recognise that the guilt can be a catalyst for personal growth.

Forgive yourself: Practice self-compassion and recognise that everyone makes mistakes and making a mistake does not define who you are.

Breaking the cycle of shame:

Shame is a more complex and painful emotion and tends to affect our self-image and sense of self-worth. Shame can become a part of our identity, influencing our thoughts, behaviours, and relationships.

Shame is closely linked to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Shame can lead to social withdrawal due to the fear of judgment or rejection, and avoidance behaviours such as substance abuse or self-harm to cope with feelings of worthlessness.

Addressing shame involves understanding its origins. Shame frequently stems from early experiences where you may have felt criticised, humiliated and rejected by those around you leading to a persistent sense of inadequacy.

 There are many other reasons why you may experience shame, so finding a counsellor who will support you to explore and process your feelings will help you to understand and address the shame which will help you build a more positive sense of self.

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Donna Douglas

Your Calm Caring Compassionate Counsellor

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