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Guilt vs. Shame



Hi everybody, I’m Mike Staver. This is Mondays with Mike, a weekly video series where I answer questions from people just like you. Here’s this week’s question:

What is the difference between guilt and shame?


Wow. Man, that is a pretty heavy question. That’s a great question!

It’s pretty basic really. So, guilt is good actually. A little guilt is not bad! You know “I said something that hurt your feelings, I feel guilty.” Guilt is an indication that your conscience is working. Guilt is an indicator that you’ve violated your values, that you’ve let somebody down, that you’ve done something that is out of alignment with your behavioral preferences. Guilt’s pretty good!

Shame, the difference is that it’s about you. So here’s the difference: guilt is “I feel bad that I did something wrong”, shame is “I am bad because I did something wrong”.

Let me be clearer. So if I do something that is wrong or bad and it hurts somebody’s feelings, and I apologize and I feel guilty, so I say “I feel really guilty for that”, then it’s good to feel that. On the other hand, if I feel like I am a bad human being because I did it, that’s shame. Shame is always toxic. Shame always erodes. Shame is always bad.

Don’t ever say to a person “you should be ashamed of yourself”. No person should be ashamed of themselves. Some people should feel guilty, some don’t feel guilty when they should, but that’s a very very different conversation.

So guilt is “I feel bad because of what I did”, shame is “I am bad because of what I did”. You want to shirk the shame, and go with the guilt.

That’s it for this week, go out there, don’t be shameful, but if you feel a little guilt go make amends. I’m Mike Staver, hope you enjoyed that answer! Take care everybody.

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