Shame and Guilt: Are They Different?
One of the most crippling feelings people experience in life is shame.
Whether that be through a traumatic childhood memory or through some kind of incredibly painful abuse that took place. Or simply the feeling that they were a problem people just had to “deal” with.
I believe that shame is a feeling that touches everyone at some point in their life.
The deeper impact occurs when shame moves from a feeling to an identity. At that point, it doesn’t just come and go out of your life like a wave. For some, they actually become the shame that they feel.
Now let’s take a person who’s addicted. In our case, it could be some kind of unwanted sexual behavior like an addiction to pornography or maybe a same-sex attraction that has caused you to act out in ways you know are unhealthy for your life.
Sure, when we first felt those feelings and chemicals rush through our bodies and our brains, we loved it! We wanted more.
But soon, the more we acted out in these behaviors, we began realizing something was wrong. Something about what we were watching, what we were experiencing, was actually the complete opposite of what love and intimacy really are.
We felt shame. And what we didn’t know at the time was the paralyzing effects of it.
Shame can drive a person into isolation over fear of being discovered. It stops someone from living the full, abundant life that God has for them.
I think what Dr. Robert Weiss says about shame is so accurate:
“Shame, the inherent belief that we are flawed and unworthy, is a soul-eating emotion. Try to differentiate between feelings of guilt and feelings of shame.”
It’s important to understand the difference between shame and that other familiar feeling: guilt. What is the real difference between shame and guilt? Much, much more thank you think.
Shame is more than an indicator of unhealthy decisions we make. Shame works its way inside the soul convincing us that we are the problem. That there is something wrong with US.
It causes us to take our attention off of what we just did, and turn our focus onto who we are. It literally is, as Weiss describes it: a “soul-eating emotion”.
Guilt on the other hand isn’t necessarily an unhealthy thing to feel. In the criminal justice system, when you are found guilty of a crime, you have been proven with the proper evidence to have committed some sort of offense that typically causes harm to others.
So if we keep that general idea in mind, feeling a sense of guilt doesn’t mean we have to live with shame. It means that we recognize we’ve messed up in some way or made an unhealthy decision and we own up to it.
Feeling guilty over something can not only help us look at our choices, but it can help us dial into our hearts. What’s happening inside of me that I’m choosing porn over community? That I’m isolating in secrecy versus being with people who love me and really care for me?
Thankfully, if you’ve invited Jesus in your life, you don’t have to live with shame. He paid the price for your shame. This is what we celebrated recently on Easter.
Today, almost 13 years into recovery from porn addiction, I’m thankful I don’t live with shame. It didn’t come easily, but throughout the last several years, I’ve learned my real identity: a beloved child of God who has value and worth.
I am not the choices that I’ve made in my past or the mistakes I will make.
If you’ve become a friend to shame, it’s time for a serious breakup. Shame will attempt to define you as someone unworthy of love and care.
Guilt, on the other hand, has a way of pointing to our actions, not our identity. If you’re feeling a sense of guilt today, thank God for the sensitivity you’re feeling to something in your life that is harmful to yourself and other people.
Own up to your actions, not to shame. Shame doesn’t deserve one more moment of your life.