What’s The Difference Between Shame and Guilt?

When we feel guilt and shame after we’ve done something we know is wrong our heart may pound and we may feel sad, we might want to cry. Physiologically our response to both shame and guilt is the same, but cognitively the way we interpret these two emotions has consequences we may not realize.

In this edition of Two Guys on Your Head Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke deconstruct the various dimensions of these two emotions

If we feel shameful after we’ve done something wrong we may want to hide away. We may feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with us and therefore atoning for our bad behavior is not possible.

Moreover, when we don’t feel we don’t have control over our actions and that rather it is our circumstance that “made us do it” we are more likely to repeat our transgression.

Guilt, on the other hand, can be a productive emotion in that when we feel we’ve done something wrong we can make up for it by confessing, apologizing or dealing with the behavior. It is the behavior that is bad but we are not bad people.

Yet there are still fundamental questions about the way we interpret the world through these two lenses.

The 18th century politician and philosopher Edmund Burke stated: “Guilt was never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human mind, it perverts them, it leaves a man no longer in the free use of his reason, it puts him into confusion.”

Coming up in a Views and Brews this fall we’ll continue to tackle the topic of guilt and shame with Two Guys on Your Head Live. We’ll ask: is there a difference in the way we interpret shame we can hide vs. shame we cannot hide? What happens when we feel guilty but cannot atone? How does shame and guilt relate to morality, reason and the way we process behavior daily?

 

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Rebecca McInroy