There’s a Difference between Guilt & Shame

Guilt

Remember when you ate that third slice of Swiss roll at the birthday party you went to last week? And remember how you felt a little guilty over it?

Then later that day someone offered you some caramel chocolate digestives (which are outstanding) and you said ‘no I won’t, feel bad already’. That was the work of guilt.

Surely that’s a good thing, right?

Well according to countless Instagram influencers supposedly not. That guilt is this emotion that is not positive in any shape or form. It’s been demonized.

Why Demonize Guilt?

And you know what? I think that’s complete BS. I’ve always seen guilt as a hugely positive thing, guilt has led me to do things I know I should be doing and refrain from activities I shouldn’t.

Unless you felt guilty over that Swiss roll episode, you’d have tucked into those caramel digestives too.

Or what about the day you didn’t want to go to the gym, but went anyway because you knew you’d feel guilty otherwise?

It was guilt that dragged you into the car and drove you to the gym. I’ve never understood this notion of guilt being completely bad.

You know another thing? It’s unavoidable! I used to hear people say ‘oh eat that chocolate muffin, but don’t feel guilty over it’. I’m sorry, I know it’s not exactly murder, but I can’t help but feel guilty.

There are countless other snacks I could have had that would be ‘better’ for me.

Up until now I thought it was just the measure of guilt was the problem. For those that felt guilty and moved on it was positive, but those that felt a continuous guilt would let it consume them; leading to unhealthy behaviours such as binging.

It’s only now that I’ve started to understand what’s really going on. I hadn’t taken into consideration ‘shame’.

Defining The Words

Guilt and shame may seem similar but they’re completely different. Let’s look at the definition of guilt;

‘The fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime.’

Now let’s look at shame;

‘a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.’

Or

‘A loss of respect or esteem; dishonour.’

Guilt is related solely to an action; i.e. I did something bad.

On the other hand shame relates to the person themselves, i.e. I am bad.

Those are completely different. With shame there is no separation between the person and their actions. Just because you did something ‘bad’ means that you are ‘bad’.

But that’s nonsensical. You wouldn’t apply that to other areas of your life?

Just because you hit one golf shot like Tiger Woods does not mean that you are Tiger Woods or as good as him.

A single action does not define you as a person.

There’s an issue with linking your feelings about specific actions to your thoughts about you as a person. Feeling that you’re ‘bad’ for eating ‘bad’ means you feel unloved, unworthy and a failure.

Then it’s no wonder that this can lead to binge eating behaviour, lack of motivation and general unhappiness. The cycle will continue.

You Can Feel Guilt Without Shame

Feeling guilty without feeling shameful is all about detaching yourself from your actions. So if you go eat a whole cheesecake some evening, understand that the single action does not define you as a person.

When you’re feeling guilt rather than shame you’re able to detach yourself from the action. Letting yourself feel the guilt and move on is key.

So next time you over consume food or don’t exercise, realise that it is ONE action. Understand that your next action can make amends.

You aren’t ‘bad’ because you acted ‘bad’.

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