Guilt vs. Shame

I have known for a very long time that guilt and shame are probably my most difficult emotions to deal with and process. It has been apparent in my self-destructive behaviors, addictions, and where I carry excess weight on my body. It’s origins obvious in my memory with both my Mother and my Father. Also as obvious, has been that I was missing something. There was an ideal or answer relating to those emotions that was eluding me, that I have struggled to put my finger on for years. Most recently, it gained my attention again after I saw a photo of the chakras and the emotions that block each energy center in my social media feed.

I found it interesting that the areas I struggle most with emotionally, were exactly where I carry the most weight on my body, physically.

I was driving down the road to pick up my daughter a few days ago when I finally realized I didn’t really know what guilt and shame even meant! I couldn’t have described them in words if someone had asked me. I was all-to-familiar with the emotions themselves but couldn’t actually define them. Maybe somewhere along the way, someone had explained them to me, but it must have not resonated with me because obviously it had never stuck. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe I had never asked the questions – “what is guilt?” and “what is shame?”

The Universe and my google search almost immediately provided me with a very clear answer that made absolute sense to me and so many of my life experience from

“Shame is a painful emotion that responds to a sense of failure to attain some ideal state. Shame encompasses the entire self. The thought process in shame involves self-focused attention….Shame differs from guilt. Guilt involves a negative evaluation of a specific behavior.”

Wow. That hit me like a ton of bricks out of the sky. My brain cycled through numerous life experiences where this was absolutely true for me. The “sense of failure” spoke to me loudly, as did, the guilt reference of it involving “a negative evaluation of a specific behavior.” They were different, very different. I had always thought of them as two sides to the same coin, you know, “half dozen of one, six of another.” There was something about this new understanding that, almost immediately, began unraveling knots, long-buried, within my emotional being. Unexpectedly, I received an answer I had been begging to know for almost a decade. It’s funny how that happens. It’s funny I had never asked what those two emotions meant. I knew where they were stuck in my body, but I didn’t have any understanding of what to do with them.

I have spent the last several days mulling over this revelation and the emotions themselves. It feels like I’ve finally been given the right tool to open and clear out the old and deal with any future encounters. Better yet, how I can make choices that prevent a “sense of failure” or “negative evaluation of a specific behavior.” Such as, following through on commitments, looking for small “wins” when working towards a goal, and forgiving and loving myself when I do fail.

I absolutely loved what I read that day. I’m so grateful to Shahram Heshmat for writing and sharing his article, 5 Factors That Make You Feel Shame.

With Grace & Gratitude…


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