Apr 23 2020

Guilt and shame

<a title="Guilt" href="">Guilt</a> and <a title="shame" href="">shame</a>-<a title="Guilt" href="">Guilt</a> and <a title="shame" href="">shame</a>
Guilt vs. Shame [Infographic] What are the differences between guilt and shame? And how could it help our clients to have a better understanding of those differences? We thought it could be

Guilt vs. Shame [Infographic]

What are the differences between guilt and shame? And how could it help our clients to have a better understanding of those differences?

We thought it could be useful for you to have a side-by-side comparison of these powerful emotions that you could share with your clients.

Because understanding these differences could help our clients begin to dismantle their negative self-judgments.

So we created this infographic. (Please feel free to make a copy to give to your clients.)

Click the image to enlarge

If you’d like to print a copy to share with your clients, just click here: Color or Print-friendly black & white

(When you make copies to share, please be sure to include the copyright information. We put a lot of work into creating these resources for you. Thanks!)

How have you helped a client who struggles with feelings of shame? Please leave a comment below.

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Tomy Loth, Teacher, New York, NY, USA says

When I was writing a new article for my blog (read more information), some information I took from another blog (blog of my friend Jessica). And I couldn’t understand I felt guilty or shame.
As for me, Guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
Shame is the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.

Tom Loth, Another Field, New York, NY, USA says

When I was writing a new article for my blog (read more information), some information I took from another blog (blog of my friend Jessica). And I couldn’t understand I felt guilty or shame.
As for me, Guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
Shame is the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.

Nicole Gillis-Copping, Social Work, CA says

Of course! Always credit the source. I’m a trauma counsellor and a big fan! I always follow your work/research and fantastic resources.
Thank you!!

Owen Allen, Another Field, AU says

I don’t agree with your definitions, here. Shame is the foundation emotion. It is an emotion found in all social animals. It is not always found in humans and at the extreme degree of that we have sociopaths and psychopaths. Shame is essentially a predictive emotion based on cultural and social behaviours around a child. The child and, later, the adult, will then feel shame at the mere thought of a behaviour. Evolutionarily this may be linked to the need for a subservient member to have very automatic responses to the adult (male) leaders, many of whom have been and still are psychopathic. Shame will therefore be a natural guide for someone raised in a particular moral framework. Like anxiety, at it’s primary level, it is a feedback loop associated with a learning process. In the case of shame the learning is how to fit in socially and morally and even how to form a strong stand around a principle or ethic eg avoiding aggression or stealing. Guilt is a subset of shame. Guilt is shame after the fact of transgression against the social behaviour that structures shame in the first place. Both shame and guilt are a spectrum. At one end are people who have little shame and therefore no guilt. People without shame are more likely to have behaviours that are determined to dominate others and the easiest way to do this is to induce high levels of shame. At the other end of the spectrum are people who have inordinate levels of shame and guilt. There may be some heritable qualities here but I believe that all people with high levels of shame and guilt have had this induced as children by people who are shameless or unable to deal with their own guilt (behaviour against moral values). High levels of shame and guilt are dysfunctional, however it is not accurate to present either shame or guilt per se as pathological or dysfunctional. I think this gives the wrong impression, and makes it unclear for people to understand what these emotions are all about. Likewise anxiety which is often maligned by the psychology profession as a word meaning pathology, is a spectrum which we all use in a learning and performative processes everyday. Delicately entwined with a low level of anger, anxiety provides us the high motivation to achieve and the keen focus to make it happen. The steady murmur of the shame loops directs our social travels and leadership with the fine response of slalom skier. This then gives us the self measure of all dysfunctional levels of shame and guilt. When the shame and guilt are a barrier to having a vital and energetic ethical motivation and communication, then it is something we could look at. Our vulnerability, integrity and authenticity are all woven from that weave. Shame and guilt are just emotions we can note to others in times of our authentic and vulnerable communication with them, and long may these emotions live. If the shame is too strong to mention or just not alive enough to care about, then a problem is at hand.

Maj Godfrey, Psychotherapy, AU says

I agree- have you read Silvan Tomkins?:
Shame-humiliation is Tomkins’s final affect, but he didn’t use the word “shame” the way that you or I would normally use it. Instead, Tomkins’s shame, which includes the usual definition but also more, is triggered by the abrupt end of enjoyment or interest. It’s easy to see how this could apply to what we normally think of as shame: you’re having fun joking around with friends until you tell a joke that offends someone in the group; suddenly, you are no longer feeling enjoyment and are feeling shame instead. Tomkins argued that the same affect is triggered in this situation as in a situation when, say, a child’s toy is taken away while he is playing with it or when your interest in a book is suddenly interrupted. Our emotional reactions to these situations may be different, but, for Tomkins, the affect experienced is the same. Whether the emotional experience is one of shame, frustration, or annoyance, the facial expression is the same: the eyes look down, head slumps, and cheeks go red.( the compass of shame)

Charlie Stevens, Psychotherapy, IE says

My quick way to help to define guilt from guilty feelings is to check if I actually owe something to someone ie true guilt or is it a guilty feeling in which I feel this but don’t actually owe anything to anyone. For example the conscience of my family of origin is ‘We are nice people we don’t get angry’ so if I feel anger I feel guilty. Actually there are three things one I feel guilty,two I’m alone and three I’m free. This is the price of freedom,however the guilty feelings and aloneness lessen quite quickly .

Thomas Shaker, Psychotherapy, South Lyon, MI, USA says

So many clients; adolescent and adult who have a past full of bullying by peers and parents with substance use, are operating in their life as owing the other because of inherent shame that they don’t know exists.

Nun Katherine Weston, Psychotherapy, Indianapolis , IN, USA says

Under cause of feeling for shame, perhaps you really mean “internal” rather than “innate”? The latter means “inborn” and we all know unhealthy shame can be acquired at any stage of life.
Thanks for a helpful resource.

Sheila, Coach, Boulder, CO, USA says

Thank you so much for this graphic!

Cheryl L., Counseling, Houston, TX, USA says

How then would you categorize guilt that falls right between these 2 guilt categories? I have a 61y.o. client with deep childhood trauma. He has ptsd, and strong sociopathic and narcissistic tendencies. (And truly dreams of becoming a minister of his own church.) He appears to be psychologically/ maturationally unable to stay in honesty/accountability (of anything), especially sex. When in therapy we discuss his wife’s feelings/pain over … anything from his behaviors… BECAUSE he feels guilt (not fundamentally flawed as your chart discerns as shame) he becomes quite emotionally abusive and defaults into a cycle of a new affair (stealth before she finds out, cruelly blatant when she does). Seems there is a category missing, as his guilt goes instantly into denial, projection, and/or a new more grave “escape” behavior (typically freezing her out and beginning a new affair). It truly doesn’t seem he believes he’s inherently flawed — simply persecuted by others’ “focus on negativity” when trying to communicate feelings to him. And it DOES seem this begins with actual guilt over anger/behaviors he wishes weren’t his “discomfort default”.

Beth Simanth, Clergy, GU says

Thank you, great chart but I think it could be more descriptive in details, thus improved. It shows the differences and nuances in those emitions. I’ve always been unable to show my frustration in response to what other think. But I have been told that our brain is at default due to its distortion of our reality. It misshapes outof proportion by twisting how we see ourselves and espiecially when we are constantly comparing ourselves to others and under the influence of what the society gives you an idea of who you are and who you should be instead of who/what you can be. CBT, and other frameworks usually are great to help overwcomeing this daily.

Claudia Elias, Other, Louisville, KY, USA says

Cheryl L. from Huston… Not sure if this reply is to you directly or everyone. I am in a similar situation as you have describe. I don’t know what to do or even if I fully understand. Would you mind answering a few questions to help me? I would really appreciate a little insight and would be very greatful. Please let me know if its ok and I am happy to leave you my information. Thank you for your time..

Paul Radde, Psychology, Austin, TX, USA says

It strikes me that there is a judgment that one is worthless, whether derived from observation of others’ behavior or from a comment directed at one, or the implicit message conveyed in religious teaching. Whatever feeling results from that “conviction” of being unworthy, it could not be as powerful were it not for the judgment of the correctness of that indictment of being unworthy.
Underlying the shame is often a “belief” or conviction that human nature is untrustworthy. In looking at others, one may assess some as “not so shamed,” while assessing oneself as shamed. The isolation this brings, and the lack of expression or discussion of shame means that many go their entire lives bearing this burden of shame.

Vicki O’Brien, Counseling, AU says

Thank you for this resource and all the wonderful support you offer.

Pat Kelly, Counseling, AU says

Thank you for this most helpful resource , warm regards Pat ( Pat Kelly Counselling ) .

Thomas H, Counseling, GB says

Thank you for showing the spectrum in guilt and shame. It looks like it is as hard to resolve unhealthy guilt as healthy guilt than shame in a client in the contrary to what we can think about changing a belief. I can see myself setting up a high standard and not living up to it which can lead to a sense of failure and disappointment. Would this be regret rather than unhealthy guilt?

Pat G, Other, Ventnor, NJ, USA says

Hi, I can’t come up with something that one experience at 15 months that can cause shame. Could you clarify?

Nun Katherine Weston, Counseling, Indianapolis , IN, USA says

Healthy shame as early as 15 months is classically understood to be connected with eliminative functions. The idea that some body parts and functions are private and not for public display.

Jenni T, Counseling, CA says

Awesome resources, thanks!

Marise Rowell, Counseling, Bozeman, MT, USA says

This is brilliant…illustrates what I frequently discuss with clients, especially teasing out healthy vs unhealthy guilt. To have it in this visual form is awesome and something I will use immediately! Thank you.

Lue Glover Wilson, Counseling, GB says

A really useful resource – thank you.

Tracy Crockett, Coach, San Antonio, TX, USA says

Great resource. Never knew there was unhealthy guilt. Thought it was all the same. Thanks for sharing

henk Dehondt, Another Field, NL says

Of course a healthy sense of guilt is a psychological reality,resulting in developping conscience. Quiet obviious it seems to me that unhealthy guilt is rooted in to demanding upbringing i.c. to strict alpplied rules wich are
Interlined with punishment.How could one not be aware

Julie Olesko, Social Work, Ann Arbor, MI, USA says

This is a great resource, thank you so much for sharing!

Sue, Psychotherapy, GB says

Thank you for sharing. Very helpful.

Cindy B, Psychotherapy, Phoenix, AZ, USA says

Thank you so much.

Carol McQuire, Another Field, GB says

How about using ‘regret’ as a clearer name for ‘healthy guilt’?

Karen Craig, Counseling, Graham, WA, USA says

That seems to make sense except regret does not necessarily indicate you’ve done something wrong but rather more like an opportunity that passed you by or feeling disappointed about a decision, outcome or event. Regret does not normally contain the component of guilt.

Shannon Long, Counseling, Olathe, CO, USA says

Thank you. Great tool!

James h, Student, GB says

Thanks for this! – it is useful for understanding what they are and making distinctions between them.

I TS, Psychotherapy, GB says

This is a great tool. Thank you for sharing

Victoria Hamil, Clergy, Lone Tree, CO, USA says

This is very helpful! I like the way it breaks down the healthy and unhealthy guilt and wraps up the process with solution. It is the babysteps that helps my clients.
Thank you…. this will be well used.

Thank you for the great work you are doing

HI I am trying to find a short v > I am not sure how to find out where it might be filed/ stored.
Hoping someone knows the one I mean

Maria Nagy says

I think this chart will prove useful to clients gaining fuller insight to themselves. Great work thank you.

It is easy to follow and simply makes sense. I love charts and those info graphics are wonderful tools for discourse and conversation. Superb!

This is a lovely chart with insightful and reasonable descriptions. Keep up the good work.


Guilt and shame


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