Guilt and Shame: Not the Same

Guilt and Shame: Not the Same July 11, 2016

CindyFosterby Cindy Foster cross posted from her blog Finding Fundamental

This short piece was posted by someone from the ‘Unfundamentalist Christians facebook page
and appeared on my wall.  
The truths expressed are so profound, I wanted to preserve them here since they so eloquently differentiate these two ideas commonly, mistakenly, treated as synonyms.


I have written on this subject earlier titled, “Stress, Pride, Shame and Frogs”.

It is vitally important that we learn the difference between the two and apply them appropriately since they each evoke such very opposing responses.

Guilt = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.
“When we apologize for something we’ve done, make amends, or change a behavior that doesn’t align with our values, guilt – not shame – is most often the driving force… Guilt is just as powerful as shame, but its influence is positive while shame is destructive…

We live in a world where most people still subscribe to the belief that shame is a good tool for keeping people in line. Not only is this wrong, but it’s dangerous…In fact, shame is much more likely to be the cause of destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution.

…[I]t is human nature to want to feel worthy of love and belonging. When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness…

If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive… Empathy is connection; it’s the ladder out of the shame hole.”

Brene’ Brown from her latest book, Daring Greatly

moreRead more by Cindy Foster:

The Pretenders We Used to Be


Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Cindy Foster blogs at Finding Fundamental

Cindy Foster is “Mom” to eight gorgeous, talented, temperamental, noisy, opinionated, alike-but very different kids. She has been married to their daddy, Paul, for 36 years.

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  • RetroPam

    That’s as true as it gets.

  • SAO

    I looked this up. Ruth Benedict, an anthropologist made the distinction that in a guilt culture, you know you are good or bad by what your conscious feels; in a shame culture, you know you are good or bad by what your community feels about you.

    What’s interesting in this formulation is that it explains the gulf between what the Duggars perceived about Josh’s actions and what the public perceived. Hiding Josh’s molestations meant he didn’t feel any shame. He was rewarded with a job and everything was fine. It’s interesting that shame culture encourages people to hide transgressions, particularly if shame is collectively felt.

  • Cindy Foster

    This reminds me of that earth-shattering moment when my 20 year-old daughter, who had been shamed for an unending list of normal thoughts and behaviors, said to me, “I don’t like who I am becoming. I don’t feel guilty about anything”. She was actually afraid that her conscience had been so seared by the pressure to feel guilty for almost everything, she would lose her conscience altogether. This event was a turning point for me and for her…