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Understanding Shame and Guilt: What They Are and How to Deal with Them

Have you ever felt bad about something you did or said? Maybe you felt a knot in your stomach and couldn't stop thinking about it. This feeling might be shame or guilt. Even though they seem similar, they are different in important ways. Let's dive into what shame and guilt are, how they affect us, and what we can do to handle them better.

What Are Shame and Guilt?

**Guilt** happens when you feel bad about something you did. It's like a signal from your brain telling you that you might have hurt someone or broken a rule. For example, if you lied to a friend, you might feel guilty because you know lying is wrong.

**Shame**, on the other hand, is when you feel bad about who you are. Instead of thinking, "I did something bad," you think, "I am bad." Shame makes you feel like there's something wrong with you as a person, not just with what you did.

Why Do We Feel These Emotions?

Both shame and guilt are part of being human. They help us learn how to behave and how to treat others. Feeling guilt can make us apologize and try to fix our mistakes. Shame, while more painful, can also push us to grow and change.

However, too much shame or guilt isn't healthy. It can make us feel worthless or depressed. Understanding these emotions better can help us manage them.

How to Deal with Guilt

1. **Acknowledge It**: The first step is to recognize that you feel guilty. Don't ignore it or pretend it isn't there.

2. **Understand Why**: Think about why you feel guilty. Did you break a promise? Hurt someone’s feelings? Understanding the cause can help you address it.

3. **Make Amends**: If possible, apologize and try to fix the situation. Saying sorry can go a long way in making things right.

4. **Learn from It**: Use the experience as a lesson. Think about how you can avoid making the same mistake in the future.

5. **Forgive Yourself**: Remember that everyone makes mistakes. It's important to forgive yourself and move on.

How to Deal with Shame

1. **Recognize It**: Notice when you're feeling shame. This can be tough because shame often makes us want to hide.

2. **Talk About It**: Sharing your feelings with someone you trust can help. They can offer support and remind you that you're not alone.

3. **Challenge Negative Thoughts**: Shame often comes from negative thoughts about yourself. Try to challenge these thoughts. Are they really true? Are you being too hard on yourself?

4. **Be Kind to Yourself**: Treat yourself with the same kindness you would offer a friend. Remember, everyone has flaws and makes mistakes.

5. **Seek Help if Needed**: Sometimes, talking to a counselor or therapist can help you work through deep feelings of shame.


Shame and guilt are normal emotions that everyone experiences. They can help us grow and learn, but it's important not to let them overwhelm us. By understanding these feelings and knowing how to deal with them, we can lead happier and healthier lives. Remember, it's okay to make mistakes, and it's okay to ask for help when you need it.

Scott Donovan LMFT

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