We’ve all experienced shame at some time in our lifetime. When we do something wrong and feel that twang of guilt when we are punished, we are experiencing shame.
This article will focus on shame and how it can be detrimental to our mental health.
What is Shame?
Shame is a feeling of humiliation or embarrassment that comes from a perception of having done something wrong or dishonorable, such as something immoral. Considered a negative emotion, shame has its beginnings as a survival technique for humans. Without feeling shame, humans might not feel the need to abide by cultural laws and become outcasts which in our distant past would have meant death.
Humans feel shame when we violate the norms we believe in, such as when we feel exposed and small. In other words, shame humbles us so we can put aside our egos and pay attention to what is required of us.
Women are faster to feel humiliated than men and experience shame more intensely than males. Adolescents feel shame more readily and more intensely than their adult counterparts (Benetti-McQuoid &Bursik, 2005).
Shame allows us to focus inward and view ourselves negatively so we can focus on others and their feelings.
Guilt is Not the Same as Shame
It is common for people to misunderstand the differences between guilt and shame. In short, although guilt is related to shame, guilt is not the same as there are marked differences.
Guilt is a feeling we get when we do something wrong or perceive we did. When we feel guilty about something we did that was wrong, we can make moves to face it and move on from it. With guilt, we feel remorse and responsibility and it is related to a specific action.
However, shame is a feeling that we are wrong as a whole, as people, and causes us to be convinced that there is no way to “come back” to positive feelings about ourselves. Shame is a feeling that we are flawed, unworthy, and inadequate as people. Shame is related to our behavior and other people’s opinions, not a specific event.