Guilt vs Shame
There has been some debate over the years in my mind what the difference is between guilt and shame. Although it is now crystal clear in my mind what the difference is between the two, I still come across many who haven't quite grasped the concept like I have. I hope and pray I can express it clearly here.
Webster defines each as the following:
The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of doing something dishonorable. Disgrace. To disgrace or cause to suffer.Synonyms: mortification, humiliation, degradationAntonyms: self esteem, self respect, honor
A feeling of responsibility or remorse.Synonyms: contrite, liable, regretful, sorrowfulAntonyms: innocence
Based on these definition’s it is clear to me that shame is an attack on our very being, our existence, our soul. Shame tells us we are a disgrace; it humiliates us and is a piranha that destroys our sense of self worth. On the other hand, guilt is a necessary emotion that comes as a consequence to something we did wrong. It is the sensation of heat on our hand when we touch a hot burner telling us “don’t do that, it will hurt you.” Guilt is a warning to keep us on track. I see it as a consequential gift to detour us from dark and painful paths.
There is a common saying that sums the difference up perfectly:
Guilt is “I’m sorry for what I did,” where shame is “I’m sorry for who I am.”
Guilt is an absolute essential part of the process to get home. Spencer W. Kimball teaches us this concept:
As repentance gets under way, there must be a deep consciousness of guilt, and in that consciousness of guilt may come suffering to the mind, the spirit, and sometimes even the body. In order to live with themselves, people who transgress must follow one or the other of two alternatives. The one is to sear their conscience or dull their sensitivity with mental tranquilizers so that their transgression may be continued (addiction). Those who choose this alternative eventually become calloused and lose their desire to repent. The other alternative is to permit remorse to lead one to total sorrow, then to repentance, and finally on to eventual forgiveness.
Shame on the other hand is an attack on our character, on our being, on how God made us. Shame isn’t an attack on something we have done; it’s a direct attack on who we are. Does that sound like something from God? No of course not. God loves us. God would not instill in us anything that would leave us feeling hopeless and worthless in its wake.
Gordon B. Hinckley teaches:
How do we know the things of the Spirit? How do we know that it is from God? By the fruits of it. If it leads to growth and development, if it leads to faith and testimony, if it leads to a better way of doing things, if it leads to godliness, then it is of God. If it tears us down, if it brings us into darkness, if it confuses us and worries us, if it leads to faithlessness, then it is of the devil.
Shame can derive from the dark whisperings of the adversary, from us choosing to feel sorry for ourselves and also from not correcting our wrong doings as they happen. Step 10 teaches us to have daily accountability. When I do something wrong I immediately (or as close as to immediately as remaining emotionally and spiritually healthy permits) correct my wrong. If I don’t correct that wrong as soon as I can then it sits in me and festers like bacteria in a sauna. I must expose that wrong to the open air, to the Light of the Savior as soon as I can so He can take it from me and heal the damage it caused. The faster I get rid of it, the less damage it creates.
It was really hard for me to differentiate between guilt and shame early in recovery. I had been immersed in shame for so long that I didn’t know different. I even felt shame for actions that I’d already gone through the repentance process for many years prior. I had no idea how to give that up. It took time and patience. I worked to not focus on shameful feelings. Instead I allowed myself to feel sorrow for my actions as they came, repent for them by apologizing to anyone I’d wronged and/or taking it to my Bishop and choosing to believe that I’d been forgiven. Then the miracle came. I finally grew to believe that I had the complete agency to, after proper repentance, simply choose to let it go. I came to decide that if I accidentally pooped (made a mistake) that I’d apologize for the mess and then clean it up and move on. There is no point in pooping and sitting in it. It’s messy and stinky, and no one likes a stinky poopy Sidreis, especially me.
My definition of the difference between guilt and shame:
I am horrible. I’m the worst person in the world. I am a waste of skin. I can’t believe God even made me. I should give up. I’ll never make it. I hate myself.
Crystal clear:-)I’m sorry for what I did. I’ll strive to not do it again. I will make the necessary changes to ensure it won’t happen again. I will utilize the Atonement of my Savior to wash myself clean and renew my covenants with my Father. I will learn from this mistake. I will let this experience refine me. I can do this