Guilt? Ok Shame? No Way!
By: Karen
February 23, 2018


Allowing guilt to manifest in shame is a harmful process that occurs way too often. Guilt is healthy. Shame is unhealthy. But I am far ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.

Guilt and shame are often thought of as interchangeable. They are even referenced as synonyms in the dictionary. Wrong…they are very different. Guilt is concerned with something we have done. Shame is concerned with who we are, our character, and if left to grow becomes a harmful component of our identity.


It is a companion piece to our moral compass, which is more commonly referred to as conscience. It allows us to manage our course in life. When we engage in behavior which we have determined to be unacceptable we feel guilty and work to change that behavior.

Guilt brings about the realization that we are behaving outside of our standard of acceptability. This allows us to have a frank conversation with ourselves about adjustments we can make. Our self talk remains positive and encouraging because we know a change can be made.

Guilt allows us to offer a sincere, appropriate, and effective apology. We can acknowledge and show remorse for our behavior without self-condemnation. (Hmmm… Effective apologies…great topic for my next blog post!)


Shame carries a component of hopelessness. It converts our undesirable behavior into a belief of who we are at the core.  It takes us to a false place of worthlessness and unloveability. Shame is unnecessary and harmful.

Shame is completely lacking in grace. It heaps every misstep on top of the last and creates a garbage dump in our core identity. It can crush our spirit, bit by bit.  It allows our ‘shadow side’ to dominate and engage us in ongoing negative self talk. The shadow side causes us to dwell in that garbage dump.

Relationships are damaged by shame. This includes our relationship with self and with others. The damage begins with an inability or unwillingness to be vulnerable. How can we be vulnerable when it would expose the darkness within us? So we wear often wear a mask to hide the shame. Some of the masks are perfectionism, addiction, rage, isolation…the list goes on. (Hmmm…The masks of shame….great topic for another blog post!)


How about some real life examples of how guilt and shame show up differently?

Here is a simple illustration that might occur when a child breaks mom’s vase and denies it:

“I feel terrible because I broke Mom’s vase and told a lie”   GUILT

                                “I am a clumsy. I am a liar”  SHAME

A personal favorite:

“I feel sorry that what I said hurt my friends feelings”  GUILT

                                “I am so mean!”  SHAME

Addictive thoughts:

“I _____ too much. I need to seek help”  (fill in the blank) HEALTHY

                                “I am afraid and broken. I cannot be fixed.”  UNHEALTHY



It is possible to journey away from shame. This journey brings with it self-acceptance. Self-acceptance makes vulnerability less threatening. As we offer ourselves grace, light merges with the shadow side and we can let others in.

One part of this journey is to acknowledge the manifestation of shame in our lives. In other words, to see the masks we are wearing. Another step is working to understand how and when the shame seeds were planted. Yet another is to learn how shame grew and how we nurture and claim it over and over.

The paradox in all this is that once we incorporate something into our identity, even something as unhealthy as shame, it becomes part of us.  It can be difficult to let go in spite of the pain it causes. This makes it important to understand how we hold onto the shame and to know we can exist and be whole without it.


There has been great joy for me in helping people as they release themselves from the grip of shame.

If any of this feels familiar to you and you would like to explore recovery, please call me. I want to help you.