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Brené Brown on Shame vs Guilt

Defining Shame vs Guilt

sticksandstones-shame v guiltShame is a destructive emotion and can be one of the big reasons why we’re afraid of our feelings and our vulnerability. Brené defines guilt as, “something adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” She defines shame as, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
Ask yourself, would you tell your best friend that he or she is flawed? Would you tell the happy, three-year-old girl you just saw at the grocery store? Hopefully your answer is no, of course not. Of course they’re not deeply flawed. YOU are that friend and YOU were once that child (of course with the appropriate gender). You are not flawed. You are inherently worthy. It just is.
I like to remind people that we are all like sunsets. When we gaze at a sunset, we admire it for what it is at that moment. We don’t try to analyze it or change it, we just accept it for it’s natural beauty as is. We are all like sunsets meant to be appreciated for exactly who we are.
Here’s what Brené says:

Shame v. Guilt

 

Based on my research and the research of other shame researchers, I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.

 

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.

 

From Daring Greatly:

 

daring1

 

I believe the differences between shame and guilt are critical in informing everything from the way we parent and engage in relationships, to the way we give feedback at work and school.

 

From Daring Greatly:

 

daring2

 

A couple of weeks ago Steve McCready (a friend on Twitter) sent me a link to a fascinating blog post from researcher Dan Ariely. I love Dan’s work and highly recommend his book, The (Honest) Truth about Dishonestly.

In a set of experiments, the researchers investigate a very subtle difference in language and labeling. They don’t look at it through the shame/guilt lens so we may be evaluating different constructs, but I think it’s very interesting (although counter to what I’ve found and believe).

 

“In a series of three experiments, participants were given a chance to claim unearned money at the expense of the researchers.  There were two conditions in each experiment, and the only difference between them was in the wording of the instructions. In the first condition participants were told that researchers were interested in “how common cheating is on college campuses,” while in the second, they wondered “how common cheaters are on college campuses.

 

This is a subtle but, as it turned out, significant difference. Participants in the “cheating” condition claimed significantly more cash than those in the “cheater” condition, who, similar to when we tempted people who had sworn on the bible, did not cheat at all. This was true in both face-to-face and online interactions, indicating that relative anonymity cannot displace the implications of self-identifying as a cheater.  People may allow themselves to cheat sometimes, but not if it involves identifying themselves as Cheaters.”

 

I believe that if we want meaningful, lasting change we need to get clear on the differences between shame and guilt and call for an end to shame as tool for change. That also means moving away from labeling. 

What do y’all think? What’s been your experience? Could Dan’s research tell us how to motivate better behavior while the findings about shame and guilt point to the danger of labeling in the process of changing behavior? Lots of good questions! Iheart my job (and my grad students who push me).

 

Need help with shame vs guilt?  Our therapists are available for face to face sessions as online therapy sessions in limited areas. 

To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

 

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Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP on Twitter
Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP
Rachel’s passion is to help people discover their personal gifts and strengths to achieve self-acceptance, create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body, and find meaning and fulfillment in work and life roles. She helps people create nurturance and healing from within to restore balance and enoughness and overcome binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression and lack of career fulfillment.

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One Response to “Brené Brown on Shame vs Guilt”

  1. Avatar Love and Blessings Says:

    These definitions and examples have really helped me to understand the difference between the two. I have been using the synonymously all my life. Yesterday, I heard someone discussing embracing repressed shame and guilt in order to release it and I thought to myself “what’s the difference?” This post has helped me tremendously. And the part about parenting is very important to me to because I always want my children to be encouraged. Thank you for this info!