In my work with self-compassion, we talk about guilt vs. shame. Both Brene’ Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, and Kristin Neff, Associate Professor of Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas, describe guilt and shame the same way.
- Guilt – “I feel bad about something I did.”
- Shame – “I am bad.”
Now, think about the difference between the two. We can repair guilt when we’ve done something bad, e.g., offended someone. We can apologize to that person, take responsibility for the hurt we caused, and ask for forgiveness. As Kristin Neff says, “Research shows that self-compassion allows us to experience our feelings of sadness, regret, and guilt without getting trapped by feelings of shame.”
But shame is different. Again, Kristin Neff says, “Shame is the feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with us that will render us unacceptable or unlovable.” Shame can become so intense “that it feels like our very survival is at stake.”
I’ve recently facilitated several workshops on compassion and self-compassion. Stories of shame about individuals’ bodies, not meeting parent or their own expectations, or never giving permission to love oneself surfaced during the workshops. The weight of carrying that shame breaks a person down, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Restoring love for oneself is an arduous journey. But, the first step, as people told me, is to recognize and verbalize the shame they’ve carried. As one participant shared with me, “I felt like the yoke I’ve been carrying is finally lifting.”
Learning about self-compassion and bringing loving kindness to ourselves is the start of our journey of healing from shame and becoming whole again.
Here is a short YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqGFrId-IQg&t=2s by Brene’ Brown on guilt vs. shame which I use in my workshops. I invite you to watch it.
Contact me to learn more about my workshops on compassion and self-compassion, and how they can apply to you individually and your organization.