Guilt vs Shame

“Shame on you. These three simple words can have devastating effect on an individual’s psyche.”

Shame and guilt, what’s the difference? I used to argue with my partner about using shame and guilt to direct the kids. His family used shame to regulate his behaviour. My family’s go-to was guilt. We know that shame is an unpleasant self-conscious emotion that encourages negative feelings of distress that, while motivating, is ultimately disrespectful and harmful. Shame is about distrust, triviality, weakness, and general worthlessness. Guilt on the other hand is an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes that they have compromised their own values or have violated a moral expectation and feel significant responsibility for that violation. Guilt is more closely related to the notion of remorse. Shame is more closely related to embarrassment and humiliation.

When it comes to addiction there’s no shortage of shame and guilt to pass around. It’s not a secret that addiction is looked on by most people as something one’s guilty of, rather than suffering from. Mental health is still a subject that people are afraid to talk about. Addicts are blamed for their own suffering. The World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, among other doctors and researcher’s world wide have concluded that addiction is a disease, but this has done little to alleviate the stigma. Most people remain convinced that addiction is a choice and addicts are responsible for their own suffering. They are characterized as weak and unwilling when science clearly tells us that addiction is a potentially devastating condition that renders the individual incapable of self-control.

We live in a society with very clearly defined standards of success where some obsessions are erroneously respected, and others are unreasonably disparaged. Workaholic is a term that garners praise, an obsession with shoes is readily enjoyed and celebrated, an obsession with fitness is admired and well-regarded. We all experience addiction in some form or another, it’s when an addiction significantly affects our ability to take care of ourselves that it needs to be addressed. Shame and guilt are both significant issues that accompany addictions. Not only for the person who’s struggling but for their significant others who feel helpless, afraid, sad, and somewhat responsible.

Shame and guilt are both are perfectly normal reactions, and both are unavoidable, but one is punitive and unhelpful and the other has a distinctive protective function. Shame makes us want to run and hide from people, guilt reminds us of our connections with people. Shame stands in the way of recovery, guilt opens the door to healing. Recognizing the difference can make all the difference for everyone involved.

See also: Life and Death – Overdose calls , Honestly, we all lie! , I am not addicted! or Contact us 😉