Guilt and Shame

As I was preparing to write this blog about the difference between Guilt and Shame, I came across a Brené Brown Ted talk that summed it up very well. The importance of understanding the difference is something that comes up a lot in the work I do.

For most of my life, if I made a mistake, or was criticised, I felt an overwhelming, crippling sense of guilt. And I’d try and deal with it by making sure I never made mistakes, never failed. It wasn’t until I started my own therapy journey that I realised I’d got it wrong. What I was feeling wasn’t guilt, it was shame.

And the difference is this. Guilt is a productive emotion. I made a mistake and I can learn from that, try and do things differently next time, apologise if it impacted on someone else.

Shame is purely toxic, and never productive. I made a mistake because that’s who I am. I am bad. I am the mistake. It’s a stuck, fixed feeling. Always sitting below the surface ready to pounce.

By recognising the difference we can begin to realise that no amount of perfectionism, trying to never make mistakes, can address that underlying feeling. And it can’t succeed either. We’re human, making mistakes is what we do, it’s how we learn and grow.

Instead the work is to explore where that shame is coming from. Why did I feel it was okay for other people to make mistakes, but not me? Why isn’t “good enough”, good enough? Nobody can promise that work is easy, it wasn’t for me, but the results can be life changing.