Guilt vs. Shame [Infographic]

What are the differences between guilt and shame? And how could it help our clients to have a better understanding of those differences?

We thought it could be useful for you to have a side-by-side comparison of these powerful emotions that you could share with your clients.

Because understanding these differences could help our clients begin to dismantle their negative self-judgments.

Infographic: Here’s a tool you can use to help clients work through self-criticism and shame. Click To Tweet

So we created this infographic. (Please feel free to make a copy to give to your clients.)

Click the image to enlarge

If you’d like to print a copy to share with your clients, just click here: Color or Print-friendly black & white

(When you make copies to share, please be sure to include the copyright information. We put a lot of work into creating these resources for you. Thanks!)

How have you helped a client struggling with deep feelings of shame? Please share your experience in the comment section below.


Please Leave A Comment



  1. Christine Curless says:

    This is a great resource! I will put it to work this week!! Thank you!

  2. Akhu Q says:

    I really enjoy our supportive network. I love this. It is so amazing. Thank you.

  3. Ashley Rehner says:

    Love this, thank you!

  4. Heather says:

    I found this infographic helpful – along with the well informed discussions.
    I’m drawn back to a favourite quote that perhaps sums up something of the spiritual nature of these concepts:

    Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between these two banks the river of my life flows. NISARGADATTA MAHARAJ

    If I try to work out why I’m drawn to this quote, it is something about an innate need to know both banks for life to flow: I cannot thrive without being loved and feeling worthy of that love – which seems to me the opposite of being shamed to a sense of inherent lack of value. Likewise, I cannot thrive with an inflated sense of entitlement, because my value is unearned and perfection is unattainable. I therefore thrive if I can attune to both banks, perhaps bringing into consciousness the healthy guilt that guides my conscious actions into being part of a flowing collective consciousness in harmony with humanity and creation as a whole. Unhealthy guilt, or no guilt, might catch me in the reeds on either side so I miss the journey.

    Not sure if that makes logical sense? But it has a resonance for me.

  5. Clare Puskarczyk says:

    These feelings of shame or guilt begin in childhood. A bonded child will feel guilty if he/she harms another, does something that causes pain. Empathy shows itself in the youngest toddlers. A child that is not bonded may feel guilty, but then rationalize (future sociopath) or have no empathy and therefore no guilt (future psychopath). Shame is imposed. It’s the way to control a child, to make the child fit into the image of the authority (parent, caretaker, school, church). It creates bullies. Shaming is imposing, coercive, requiring compliance, or else rejection. No child wants to feel rejected. Very powerful. Guilt is natural, directly related to conscience and empathy. Underneath both is the necessity for mother/child bonding. Something that is ever more rare with hospital births. Bonding is what makes us human. I understand that half the children in the US are bonded, nearly half, now, are along the autism spectrum, and half of married couples stay together. A relationship?

  6. Angela Seaton-Mills says:

    Thank you-a brilliant handout. However shame is often a protective part of ourselves if we have survived an abusive background. It can protect us from sticking our necks out and getting more abused!

  7. Eli says:

    Should read: there is no need for a differentiation between emotions in general, and emotions that have a more cognitive component that accompanies them. Both are emotions, and cognition can be viewed as a component of emotion schemes, that can be more or less pronounced across different emotions or individuals.

  8. Eli says:

    I’ve read about half these comments. Interesting discussion. In the view of DBT (and EFT), Shame, like all emotions, has a function – to alert us to possible exclusion, rejection or judgement by others because of breaking moral norms or social standards and to motivate us to conceal our behaviours, hide, or alter these behaviours to fit others values and standards. It protects our need for connection (non-exclusion). It is based on the perception that others would judge or reject us because of our behaviour (or aspects of our selves), but this internalised perception can be experienced even without others knowing. Like other emotions, shame can also become unhealthy (often due to emotional or other trauma), which tends to focus on the self as inherently bad or deficient, and such shame is toxic,producing little adaptive function. There’s no need for a strict differentiation. Eternal emotions and cognitive emotions. Some emotions have a larger cognitive component than others. But this differentiation is really a matter of semantics depending on your model of emotions – and there is no correct accepted definition that everyone follows.

  9. Kate says:

    What a great tool! Thank you!!

  10. gladys says:

    Nicely done! Well said, thank you.

  11. Ruth Emerson says:

    I am coming a bit late to this discussion, and I have a different viewpoint. I like Ben Wong and Jock McKeen’s distinctions between guilt and shame. “Guilt is always related to some external judgment, or to some morality that has been internalized, so that the external source may not even need to be present at the time of the infraction.” “In shame, people recognize themselves exposed as they actually are; they often see that they are not all they could be.” It’s about self-recognition. Self-recognition is very vulnerable, and very supportive of growth. Physiologically the two are very different: guilt is tight, cold. Shame is hot, flushing. We often slide from shame into guilt, and that may be confusing to both clients and therapists. No need for special names, like “healthy guilt” and “unhealthy guilt. You can read more from Wong/McKeen book “Being: A Manual for Life” at

    • GLADYS says:

      For me, it is like this is going to be an ongoing conversation. I have given the thought about the same thing. I agree to say that “In shame, people recognize themselves exposed as they actually are; they often see that they are not all they could be. It’s about self-recognition. Self-recognition is very vulnerable, and very supportive of growth. ” Although I find the physiologically differences – guilt is tight, cold. Shame is hot, flushing – can bring out some argument, I still believe that it is necessary to differentiate like “healthy guilt” and “unhealthy guilt. After weighting up the pros and the cons, I might go back to the book Wong & McKenn’s that you are referring to check in. I am very appreciative and thankful for your contribution.

      • Ruth Emerson says:

        Gladys, thanks for your thoughts. One more thing, about “toxic shame” or the kind of shame that people describe as feeling essentially flawed . . . When I look deeper at that one, it falls for me more in the realm of self-hate (as in Theodore Rubin Compassion & Self-Hate) rather than self-recognition. And usually has more to do with prior humiliation experiences (guilt territory) rather than true self-recognition (shame territory). The truly wonderful thing about seeing shame this way is that it becomes something to be valued, not something to be eradicated or cured.

        • Nancy says:

          Good morning, I think the same way for guilt, and in particularly for healthy guilt. What is your thought on this? Please advise . Thank you

  12. Sharon Fisher says:

    I think this discussion would be enhanced by including the topic of moral injury. This topic has been around for some time with many authors who have focused on it, but David Wood won a Purlitzer Prize for his research on it. I work with Veterans and find when the issue is PTSD there is at least one event when the person perceives their life or the life of others is in harms way which triggers fight, flight or freeze responses. This often shows up in PTSD as anger, anxiety, or numbness. With moral injury, when one is put into a war zone many times (after already having received specific training in boot camp and AIT about the importance of adhering to a military code of ethics) find that they are confronted with a choice between 2 evils, or some sort of Catch 22. The resulting response is guilt firmly attached to the belief that “I am not worthy. If others knew what I did, they would judge me to be a monster”, or a variation “While I and/or God will forgive others, I will never be able to forgive myself for what I did.” Being able to make a distinction between PTSD responses and moral injury makes a significant difference in how a clinician or therapist would approach working with these clients.

    • Joseph A. Izzo, M.A., L.I.C.S.W. says:

      “Moral Injury” is the cognitive component of a shame-humiliation script. When one consciously violates their values, norms and beliefs, both shame and guilt are triggered. . The biological response of the affect of shame would be automatic.

  13. Suzanne Retzinger says:

    Please heed – proceeding to do a training with an incomplete view of shame can be further damaging to clients rather than healing. I have been working with shame for 40 years first as a professional researcher and them as a clinician. When we don’t have a complete (or a mistaken) view it is very difficult to heal this emotion – we can easily do further damage.

    • Joseph A. Izzo, M.A., L.I.C.S.W. says:

      In a previous response to David Yourman, I cited the work of Silvan Tomkins and especially Dr. Donald Nathan’s book, “Shame & Pride: Affect, Sex and the birth of the Self” (W.W. Norton, 1992) which explains how the “innate” affect of shame is scripted through traumas and other life experiences into personality disorders resulting in a shame based identity, low self esteem & worthlessness. (Attack Self script). Two college’s of recently deceased Don Nathanson, hVe written “The Upside of Shame” (2018, W.W. Norton) by Drs. Mary Lamia & Vernon Kelly.
      The confusion in the postings by many people who have replied to the issue of Shame & Guilt is our collective misunderstanding of the nature and evolutionary function of affects as biological / physical responses to internal & external stimuli; feelings as the conscious awareness that a bodily response has occurred and emotions as the biographical scripts of those innate affects. David Yourman cites Tomkin’s, original masterpiece, the 4 volume analysis of Affect Imagery Consciousness (1963 – 1991), his brilliant lifetime of research into animal and human emotions that greatly expands Charles Darwin’s “The Expression of the Emotions in Man & Animals” (Paul Ekman, Ed., 3rd Ed., Oxford University Press, 1871, 1998) . As a protege of Dr. Donald Nathanson’s, I was privileged to have been exposed to Dr. Silvan S. Tomkin’s ground-breaking research into affects, feelings & emotions. IMHO, even Brene Brown would do well to ground her theories on shame in Tomkin’s research.

      • Suzanne Retzinger says:

        Thank you Joseph, Tomkin’s and Nathanson’s works are quite important, as are Tom Scheff’s many volumes and my own work on the role of shame in conflict escalation. To neglect any aspect of shame creates further misunderstanding of this important emotion, creating a myopic view that cannot serve individuals, relationships or society as a whole.

        It is so clear in these discussions that people mistake shaming for shame – which are different creatures. The feeling of shame is not negative any more than any other innate emotion, while shaming behavior can be quite destructive – just like anger in itself is not destructive, while angry behavior, e.g. shooting up a bunch of kids is terribly destructive they are not the same thing, one is emotion, the other behavior. Once we start judging any emotion, we miss an opportunity to heal. Also looking at it as an individual rather than social emotion misses the true nature of shame.

        • Nancy says:

          Thank you everyone for sharing! What this conversation has taught me is that it can get us closer and sooner. Blessings, Nancy.

  14. doris says:

    Thank you for this conversation! I like Malcolm Stanislaus’ “suggestion of revision” and agree with Sue, “our therapeutic work in response to shame [and guilt] will be wanting if we fail to encompass…” how our experiences and views differ. For me, shame is not about seeing myself “as unworthy and deeply flawed.” What fills me with shame is seeing myself as dangerous even though I also see myself as deeply caring. Self-parts that keep me from experiencing others with an open heart when they don’t meet my expectations, feel dangerous and shameful. But when I remember to be soft and open even when they’re around, my focus is right away less on the “dangerous” and more on the “deeply caring” aspects of myself. I start to trust my nature and, therefore, feel less ashamed.

  15. Sue says:

    I actually find the diversity of views and conceptualisations of shame (and guilt) in the comments to be of greater interest (and of some concern) than the infographic itself. There are fundamental differences in views, particularly on shame. It would be great if someone had the capacity to summarise the comments using qualitative analysis – any takers? My own view is that our therapeutic work in response to shame will be wanting if we fail to encompass its broader social function in how we conceptualise it.

    • Carolyn says:

      I actually have been saving all the substantive comments with the thought of doing almost exactly what you are suggesting, Sue … for my own purposes feeding into an article i’ve been wanting to write about shame before this resurfaced here. (This is at least the second go-round for this infographic and i had saved all the earlier comments from some time last year as well.) I was on vacation when the current go-round started and am just catching up and can’t say how soon i will have something but, given the interest in your suggestion, i won’t do it just for myself but rather post it or somehow link to it (likely to become something a bit long for a simple comment posting … Fwiw, i come from both a John Bradshaw- and Brené Brown-informed perspective, with my own thoughts and therapy practices extending theirs but which i just haven’t had time to share here as yet.

      I haven’t had a chance to read all the saved comments yet but i do share the concerns about the connotations of the word “innate” that were much discussed, I see.

      On the matter of shame vis-a-vis emotion, my own view is that the actual emotion in shame is fear – fear of being unloveable, imperfect, etc etc. but that shame, although often labeled as an emotion, has somewhat different properties from “pure” emotions like fear, anger, sadness… In my view, pure emotions can and usually do trigger cognitive thoughts (like catastrophizings) but they exist independent of cognitions even if only fractions of seconds before cognitions may flood (you can feel a rush of fear or suddenly the tears of sadness without necessarily knowing why or where the emotion is coming from, even if cognitions soon follow. Imho, shame does not exist independent of specific cognitions about oneself and one’s perceived shortcomings, etc. To include shame and guilt as emotions isn’t wrong in my view but it’s also a bit simplistic because of this inherently cognitive component creating a sort of hybrid emotion-cognition that we don’t seem to really have a category for.

      This view of shame is also an outgrowth of my belief that emotions themselves are not our culprits but rather our allies signaling something that warrants attention; the culprit is the cognizing triggered by the emotion. Which is why i can’t say regarding shame what i say regarding emotions themselves not being our enemy, for shame indeed is a problem (therapeutically) and is not our ally. Healthy guilt can be, but in my view of the definition of shame, it is quintessentially toxic because of the inherent cognition of self-humiliation or -denigration.

      Also, in relation to the innate issue, I do not see shame as ever being inborn but arises from socialization experiences, thus also making it different from emotions per se, the capacity for which I believe is inborn.

      Professionally, I’ve seen this view of emotions and of shame make enormous differences in clients’ lives. I often ask clients a basic question: do they think of their emotions in general as their friend or their foe. Almost every client I’ve ever asked has reflected first, usually having never been posed such a question/thought, and then said “enemy.” My view of my work professionally is very often largely about helping clients separate out emotions enough that they can distinguish and honor emotions (e.g., not feeling shame about having emotions, which is a biggie!), while doing CBT-like deconstruction of the adjoining cognitions that are the real culprits, shame being one of those realms of cognition-emotions that is most insidious.

      My two cents.

      That shared, this was mostly just to let you know there’s a “taker” but a taker who can’t guarantee a timeline for completing the task :-), but within the next couple or few weeks.

    • Good idea. I agree with you Sue. Here’s a reference that may be a good start:

      Dearing, R. L., & Tangney, J. P. (Eds.). (2011 ). Shame in the therapy hour (1st ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    • Suzanne Retzinger says:

      well said Sue

  16. Thank you for this fabulous graphic. Shame is very powerful. So much so that it’s even used as a technique in torture, and it can also “lead to the birth of militant ideologies that can perpetuate apocalyptic violence in the world” (Thukral, 2004, p.6).
    In the final words of my research on an unacknowledged trauma and grief (see:, I wrote that the more clearly the inner lives of competent, non-disordered children of parents with a severe mental illness are “seen”, the more likely such individuals themselves will recognise – without shame – that their early suffering was beyond their control and that their needs are legitimate.

  17. It’s shame really an emotion? Shame ‘feels’ for me and my clients like a mix of emotion always with anxiety.This mix can vary. I can’t feel one emotion I recognize as shame.
    There is no sensation of shame. (Bruce Tift)

    I see shame more than a state. What do you think about it?

  18. Suzanne Retzinger says:

    The psychologist Gershon Kaufman (1989) proposed that shame is usually treated as taboo, just as direct reference to sex was forbidden in the 19th century. He wrote: “American society is a shame-based culture, but …shame remains hidden. Since there is shame about shame, it remains under taboo” (Kaufman, 1989, 46, etc.). It is relevant that I could find very few references to Kaufman’s book.

    One puzzle remains: neither Kaufman nor anyone else has suggested why the mention of shame would be taboo in modern societies. One possibility is that unlike other emotions, shame is strongly social: it depends on the attitude of others toward self. Shame is based on the belief (whether true or not) that one is rejected by others, or otherwise not accepted. But modern societies promote individualism, the freeing of the individual from others: family, friends, and community. Since shame is social, it doesn’t fit with individualism, and therefore is taboo.

  19. Nancy says:

    Shaming leads to humiliation and leads to elimination rather than destruction as anger or guilt would destroy. Shame is within and guilt is geared outwardly…

  20. Nancy says:

    Would it be fair to say that shame and blame are the basics we teach to children at early age so that they can learn about becoming more sensitive to what other people feel? going inwardly and learning to relate with others?
    I don’t consider myself a behaviorist, actually, so I wouldn’t go into the behaviors study in deeper way. But EFT would be what I will be leading more towards.

    • Shame is not learned, any more than fear or distress. Blaming others is probably a learned behavior. Again, according to Tomkins, who, in my opinion, developed the most compelling view of shame (and affects in general), shame is hard wired from birth. He argues that the abstract trigger of shame is positive affect interrupted. Shame has been observed in babies — I will try to come up some cites if anyone wants them.

      • Nancy says:

        Please do. Also, I think blaming is issued from guilt not from shaming although the first can lead to the other, right?

        • Blaming is likely to be a defense against shame. Anything, really, can lead to shame. The nature of human affects is that they are very plastic. A person can be angry about anything including something that happened years ago, or has never happened. The same is true for shame.

          Tomkins, S. S. (1962). Affect, imagery, consciousness: The positive affects. New York: Springer.
          Tomkins, S. S. (1981). The quest for primary motives: Biography and autobiography of an idea. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41(2), 306-329.

          I also included a link to the Google Books version — it is not complete, but will give you an idea about Tomkins and his work. Tomkins states that there are three systems that motivate humans — physical drives (hunger, sex, sleep, thirst), Affects (they tell us what is important), and pain. His works are not well known enough, in my opinion, as they provide a way of talking about emotion that is extremely clear. This is in contrast to so much of what is written about emotions. In any case, the first citation is book one of his 4 volume work, “Affect, Imagery, Consciousness.” The second is an article that first appeared in a journal in 1981, but was later included in a collection of his writings.

          • Nancy says:

            Very interesting, thank you.

  21. Arturs says:

    Definition of shame is not good. After all shame is innate evolutionary emotion and has its own adaptive function. There is also better definition, as I think, for guilt. For example – normal, adaptive function of guilt is reparation of harm that are done to others.

    • Suzanne Retzinger says:

      I agree that this is a very narrow definition of shame which makes it completely individualistic. It goes so far to say that it’s “caused by an innate sense of being worthless” . Does this mean we are born with this sense of being worthless? I think not, any more that what Freud said that we are born with a death instinct. This worthlessness is learned. What studies have shown is that we are innately social creatures and fair much better in a loving environment as babies, that we do in a harsh environment.

      A better definition is out there, just have to look.

      • Nancy says:

        Thank you for the clarification and what support it. I agree for the most part. Greatly appreciated.

    • Nancy says:

      This is seemingly a more concise way to states this. Thank you.

  22. Suzanne Retzinger says:

    It’s interesting that there is not an equal column on helpful or healthy sense of shame. Shame is usually depicted as this awful thing that needs to be eliminated. We all know what happens when someone is ‘shameless’. No one wants a shameless society – we see this in the most prominent places in our society today. There is a healthy sense of shame which is tied up in our identity and relationships with those around us. To neglect the positive aspects of shame is a mistake. I would distinguish between acknowledged shame and unacknowledged shame. I see problems arising in interpersonal relations and the larger society when shame is not acknowledged which leads to many social problems, including violence. I’ve written extensively on the role unacknowledged shame plays in the escalation of marital conflict. Tom Scheff has shown the same dynamics in world conflict. You can watch this moment by moment in any escalating social problems. I would highly recommend an early classic book on shame: Shame and the Search for Identity by Helen Lynd. Helen Block Lewis also has a classic Shame and Guilt in Neurosis, which spell out the dynamics quite clearly.

    • Gloria says:

      Seems like you missed the point here: that shame is something which is always damaging to our sense of self.
      It seems you define the term differently than the creator of this presentation.

      • Suzanne Retzinger says:

        Hi Gloria,
        If we’re talking about shaming behavior and shaming others, by putting them down, silencing their voices, I agree. But if we’re talking about the feeling of shame or the sense of shame, it’s a different story. I look at the ability to sense shame as innate , like Tomkins. I don’t think our innate nature is bad. Nor do I think we are born with an “innate sense of being worthless, or inherently defective”. That is something that is learned. If we can remove the shame of shame we get much further, heal much more quickly; it does not occur by saying shame is bad, people will just hide it more. Hiding behavior is a major characteristic of shame – we hide what we are ashamed of.

        If it is possible to face our experiences of shame, rather than hiding from what they reveal, they may throw light on who we truly are, and point the way toward who and what we can become. This is what women are doing these days saying I too was raped, I too was molested/groped, I too was taken advantage of, etc, and no more. They are no longer hiding in shame. It’s being openly acknowledged. I personally see this as a good thing.

        So we’re looking at it from two angles, shaming behavior (which has happened to women throughout history, as an example) and the experience of shame, and acknowledging that it is there. Hope this clarifies.

  23. Laura says:

    IMHO, the definition of healthy guilt connected to objective right or wrong is problematic. Who creates the “objective” right or wrong? Culturally, we have so much toxic socialization right now that could be considered objectively right or wrong because it’s the milieu of our times. Is it healthy to feel guilt around socialization that may or may not be healthy in the first place?

  24. Susan says:

    I’m wondering if the definition as stated is overly broad in that perhaps one needn’t feel “fundamentally flawed” to experience shame. Couldn’t one feel shame as a result of believing that others would judge one as less than for feeling a certain emotion or having a certain thought even if the person him or herself didn’t believe the feeling or belief was bad? The important distinction here would be the judgment of others as opposed to one’s own.

    • Suzanne Retzinger says:

      This is corre t because shame is deeply connected with other people and the most socal of all emotions. Tom Scheff calls it the “master emotion”.

      • Silvan S. Tomkins viewed shame as one of nine fundamental hard wired human affects. He argued that it was a social emotion that allowed pack animals (e.g., humans, apes, dogs) to regulate “errant” behavior by members of the group without having to injure or destroy the offending pack member. But the idea that shame is somehow more negative than other negative affects is not correct. Also that it requires an observing other is not correct. Shame can be triggered without reference to an other. Also, like all of the basic affects, shame occurs on a continuum, from mild embarrassment to complete mortification. Also, shame is a major component of guilt along with fear of consequences. While it can be useful to parse out whether one’s guilt is reality vs. fantasy based, shame is shame. Just as fear, anger, and distress happen, so does shame. Extreme shame can be crippling to an individual and needs to be understood in a way to mitigate it’s effects. People that have “too little” shame, are often very toxic individuals. This includes narcissists and sociopaths. Of course, narcissism is a defense against shame. Sociopaths lack the capacity to have shame.

        • Joseph A. Izzo, M.A., L.I.C.S.W. says:

          David is correct. The nine innate affects as identified by Tomkins, such as shame-humiliation are physiological respones to external and internal stimuli. At a biological level, shame is triggered each time the pleasurable affects of interest-excitement or enjoyment-joy are interrupted. This causes the body to “collapse” into the posture of shame — head down, eyes averted from social contact and a blush on the chest, neck & face. Where people are getting confused is with how this physiological response gets scripted into a cognitive, emotional and
          Behavioral aspect of one’s personality rssulting in diminished self esteem and feelings of worthlessness. To fully understand innate affects versus their scripted emotions, read Dr. Donald Nathanson’s “Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex and the birth of the Self (W.W. Norton, 1992) Don was a protege of Silvan Tomkins and a mentor to me.
          For a full understanding of the important social function of Shame-Humiliation, read Vernon J. Kelly & Mary C. Lamia’s “The Upside of Shame: Therapeutic interventions using the positve aspects of a ‘nagative’ emotion” (W.W. Norton, 2018)

        • Jenna Taylor says:

          Beautifully encapsulated from beginning to end! Thank you!

        • Suzanne Retzinger says:

          Nicely stated.

  25. Malcolm Stanislaus says:

    Greetings, all. With all of the wonderful information that you all have provided, I feel grateful and fortunate to have such we-trained colleagues. Thank you for providing such informative training.

    I worked for the late John Bradshaw at his international codependency center at Ingleside hospital for close to 5 years. In support of that work, I studied the work of Gershen Kaufman, as well as studying the works of Sylvan Tomkins’ Affect Theory.

    John made a unique and quite insightful contribution to the field in making the distinction between healthy vs. toxic shame. He clarified that the emotion of shame is inherently uncomfortable, but provides a healthy function in giving us feedback that indicates that behaviorally we have made a mistake and, as such the energetic experience allows us to correct our course. The healthy experience of shame is correctly connected to our doing.

    The experience of toxic, or unhealthy, shame is connected to our being. Toxic shame is the experience of being flawed, broken, defective, unlovable, or unworthy and makes us into an object, a thing to be devalued or ridiculed.

    Dr. Allan Shore correctly categorizes shame as the only truly social emotion. That is, it is engendered only in social settings or interactions. John Bradshaw correctly states that toxic shame can only be truly healed in a group setting because of this social origin. That means that dyadic therapy cannot uproot toxic shame. We need a number of other eyes and ears to compassionately witness our toxic shame to heal.

    Even Mr. Bradshaw did not go deep enough regarding shame versus guilt. Guilt is NOT a feeling. It is a cognitive recognition of transgression. The FEELING that accompanies guilt is SHAME.

    Your matrix needs revision. Shame is at the root of attachment difficulties and character logical disorders. If it is improperly handled, the clinical picture is unnecessarily made unclear and leads to a client’s inability to find deep, long-lasting healing and a resumption of their developmental journey.

    Please seriously consider my suggestion of revision.


    Malcolm Stanislaus, LMFT

    • CB says:

      Can you be more specific about “character level focal disorder”?

      • CB says:

        “character logical disorder “…

        • Malcolm Stanislaus says:

          Yes. Sorry for the autocorrect typo. “Characterological (personality) disorder” is the old terminology for what we now call “Attachment” difficulties.

  26. Trish Johnson says:

    A wonderful resource – thank you. I have often differentiated between Guilt (my fault) and Regret (I wish it had been different) which is helpful when there is no shame involved.

  27. Susan says:

    Very clear, distinctions easy to see.

  28. Carol Khan Nicholls says:

    Thank you. I think this will help.

  29. Barbara Caspy says:

    Thanks again Ruth! I’ve talked to clients about the differences between healthy, unhealthy guilt and shame, but this infograph will be very helpful because so many people are mostly visual learners. They can also look at it as many times as they need to. Especially with my clients who have experienced traumas in childhood, I’ve been explaining how shame has helped them survive when they couldn’t physically or verbally fight back the person who was abusing them (too dangerous!)

  30. Jen says:

    Thank you! Very clear and ‘getable’.
    Percolates so much into a deceptively simple but deeply resourcing handout.

  31. Jeanette says:

    For moms who lose their tempers, I have them think about someone else who has lost their temper with them (not a family member). I have them tell the story. Then I tell them: “Make up a story for them. What buttons in them might you have pushed based on their past?” They make up a story. Then I tell them: “You didn’t push their buttons on purpose. They were doing the best they could. It’s the same with you. When you lose your temper, your kids aren’t pushing your buttons on purpose, and you are doing the best you can.” When they can stop feeling shame towards another person who did it, it helps them to stop feeling shame about themselves. I would call it a systemic emotional approach.

    • Marsha says:

      Recently i have found myself at ease with myself. i grew up being around boys and acted accordingly. my teen son describes me as a tempered mom. i have been touch by how much he would like me to find my peace. I can not get along with anyone at work and can’t stay on a job for a long time. i learn to restore the positivity by joining a yoga center where i made friends and meet weekly. i’ve found a place where i learn to be a different person and happier with myself. my son is now a proudly young adult and he is hopeful to feel no longer the the guilt I carried that led to blaming others to unhealthy destructive defensiveness. he has no interest in joining with me but his new friends are trying to convince him the opposite. this has been an emotional roller coaster that let me to overeating when i am under perceived stress and make the wrong choice of foods. which then led to more guilt and shameful feelings. my Endocronologist helped me to overcome this and sent me to see a dietician which i first refused because it meant labeling and pointing to do what i have not chosen to do. and it goes ….

  32. Regina F. says:

    Thank you very much! This is very helpful!

  33. Pamela Phyllis Bergner says:

    Thank you.

  34. Lisa Gagnon says:

    Wonderful tool!!

  35. sepkje says:

    Thank you so much.Very helpful to know.

  36. I really appreciate these distinctions. For comparison, I’d love to see a fourth column that describes when denial and defensiveness lead someone to anger, resentment, self-righteousness, etc., rather than facing helpful guilt.

    • Sharleen says:

      I agree that would be helpful. Would the header of the column be blame? Thank you everyone for your comments.

      • My guess is that “blame” is too ambiguous, since sometimes it can be appropriate to blame another. Perhaps, too, both shame and helpful guilt are at times improperly directed outward. I’m not sure whether they’d end up different enough to warrant separate columns. Maybe in the same way that there are the adjectives helpful/unhelpful here for guilt, some adjective like projected or defensive is needed here. One column for guilt and shame if it all looks similar enough outwardly, otherwise separate columns for guilt and shame.

  37. yvonne solorio says:

    thank you

  38. Astrid Abelé says:

    Thank you very much for this very intersting and helpful chart. There is one section I am uncomfortable with though I am unsure if it is because of my understanding or not. It is in the Shame column, section « cause of feeling ». It says that shame comes form an innate sens of being worthless and (unlike unhealth guilt) makes no reference to how education or life events contribute to its development. With this understanding I would personnally avoid giving it to someone who has important shame issues because it seems to induce « not only do feel deeply flawed, but it’s innate, it’s what you are. » I am conscient that english not being my mother toungue I may be misinterpreting the sentance. Could someone help me clear this up? Thank you, Astrid Abelé

    • Taylor says:

      Very good point. Yes, it’s very important to distinguish between “innate” and “learned”/”introjected”, and to identify life events/conditioning that contributes to shame (and guilt). Thank you for your comment.

    • Mary says:

      Relating to psychology, innate can mean “originated in the mind”. Otherwise it does mean natural, instinctive and inborn so this can be confusing for some. I am just another reader but I hope this helps.

      • Sharleen says:

        Thank you for the question Astrid. I agree with your question. Thank you for your answer Mary.
        Therefore, my question: Is the tendency to feel shame innate i.e. natural, instinctive, and inborn for some people from the psychology point of view? If so, does this innate tendency have something to do with epigenetics? Can shame also be learned from our interactions with our early caregivers and teachers and later peer groups and higher authority figures? Thank you anyone for your help.

        • Mary Agee says:

          I appreciate this informational chart and the conversation in response. I agree that the language of “caused by an innate sense of being worthless or defective” is troubling and could lead someone already in a shame spiral further into their shame. Also the language that it is “more difficult to resolve” feels very pessimistic without touching on some of the remarkable and more body-based (less talk therapy based) methodologies that have been emerging (and have been researched) in the last decade. For me, what is missing from the chart is the element of trauma and the role it plays in our sense of ourselves from very early life experiences (it says as early as 15 months but I think it could begin “in utero” when the fetus is soaking in messages from the birth mother and her life circumstances). There is an explosion of research and treatment based on trauma and how it gets locked in the body. Talk therapies have resulted in relatively poor outcomes for people with more complex diagnoses. It seems that this is because much of trauma is locked into the body at a preverbal time in the child’s life, so the cognitive and verbal aspects of our personality are completely unavailable when someone is acting in an unskillful way out of a trauma-based response as a way to “survive” what is happening.

  39. Thank you so much for this very useful resource to hand to clients.
    It is very well put together and as usual, just spot on.

  40. Frank says:

    This information is great! Because I have seen first hand how this unhealthy guilt and shame feelings can have a devastating affect on relationships especially in marriage.

    I believe support groups are important, but also how to teach others how
    To recognize when these unhealthy feelings show up and what triggers
    These feelings.

    I also think this in so import to help adolescents in sorting out these feelings
    especially in grade schools and high schools where clicks form and some
    Are excluded from forming friendships with their peers.
    I believe this could be the answer to stemming the tide of violence in schools
    And in general.

  41. Caroline says:

    Great visual stuff – using this with clients as I’m a big believer of psycho education- empowering clients to understand why they feel the way they do-also sharing resources with my colleagues/peers too thanks so much!

  42. L. Lee says:

    Excellent. Thank you for this easy to follow chart.

  43. Corinne says:

    Thank you for the great work you are doing

  44. kathy says:

    HI I am trying to find a short video I was shown on shame + brain = pain
    I am not sure how to find out where it might be filed/ stored.

    Hoping someone knows the one I mean

  45. Maria Nagy says:

    I think this chart will prove useful to clients gaining fuller insight to themselves. Great work thank you.

    • Kim says:

      It is easy to follow and simply makes sense. I love charts and those info graphics are wonderful tools for discourse and conversation. Superb!

  46. GAry F. says:

    This is a lovely chart with insightful and reasonable descriptions. Keep up the good work.

  47. Vinod Chebbi says:

    Wow, really deep and great!

  48. Karen says:

    Really useful and so clear. Thank you.

  49. Anita Demants says:

    This is a Good synopsis of guilt and Shame. Very useful handout. Thanks for permissions to print it.

  50. Cheryl Lucas says:

    terrific! Very Helpful!

  51. Andrew Leso says:

    “Guilt vs Shame” is Comprehensive, Clear, Concise definitions, examples, cause of feelings, when it develops, and why we feel this.
    I appreciate noting “irrationally high standards”!

  52. Charlie says:

    I see this is the problem because I get this at time as well, Susan

  53. Susan says:

    Easy to recognize description of shame. Feeling like one doesn’t deserve someone else’s time is frequent and easy to identify. Thank you for this!

  54. Janet says:

    This is a very useful tool. My concern is that sometimes people take the responsibility for their actions or inaction; take steps to address the issue or circumstances – but the other person wiill not engage. This can pose as difficult for a lot of people who can remain “stuck” despite making efforts to address a wrong.
    Then is it about moving into a practice of forgiveness for self and others?


    • Cindy says:

      The effort in the action to attempt the steps to address the issue or circumstance is what the person seeking resolution can take credit for. It is unhealthy to depend on the other person to engage. Take credit for personal effort and let it go.

  55. Jane McILVAINE says:

    A wonderful resource; it encourages curiousity instead of self blame.
    Clients can self identify. Bravo

  56. Marie says:

    Helpful chart. Thanks

  57. Susan McCoy says:

    Ruth, Greatly appreciate this handout. Plan to use it and pass it on to others in the field for their resource handout material. Will provide feedback on the results. Be Well, Susan

  58. Susan D. Gorman, M.A., SEP says:

    Thank you for this chart which clearly explains the definitions and clear distinctions between guilt and shame. We can help others by providing the tools to correct irrational beliefs surrounding unhealthy guilt. The person with unhealthy guilt must separate unhealthy guilt from healthy guilt with self compassion and “doing the work” to understand that people are human and possess both strengths and weaknesses. Support groups may be a helpful tool.

    Shame, on the other hand, is a more internalized way of seeing ourselves and feeling unworthy and flawed. Shame causes people to fear rejection. Building self love and self compassion is one of the first steps for helping others who feel shame to shift the way that they feel about themselves which can then free them to pursue healthy relationships by reaching out to connect to healthy people. By shifting away from feeling fear and shame, it is possible for the person to feel a sense of belonging rather than feeling isolated and alone. These steps will assist the person in moving ahead to heal and grow. to stay on the path of recovery.

    • Frank says:

      Excellent comment and summary. I couldn’t agree more with helping people see themselves
      In a positive light with strengths and weaknesses alike. I think getting people to accept and love
      Themselves is key to showing it to others.

      I think Sometimes families of origin will guilt and shame children to do what they want or need.
      This form of behavior control often is passed on to the children who then will carry on
      These same behaviors unknowingly.

      I also believe Healthy relationships start with a healthy view of self and the ability to empathize and accept
      Others for their strengths as well as their weaknesses.
      Also we all have different experiences and these experiences
      Help form our views and values.
      The challenge for many is to be more open and
      Accepting of other views and values.

  59. Mike says:

    I can’t disagree more. This is a great topic. Thanks.

  60. Rebecca says:

    You are a legend Ruth. Love your posts.
    Thank you sooooo much for your time and inspiration.

  61. Anita says:

    Great handout, Ruth. Thank you so much! i will use this with my therapy group tomorrow that experiences both.

  62. Belen says:

    I agree with the previous comment by Owen Allen, about that shame is a positive emotion, as innocent as any other. As well as healthy and unhealthy guilt, there is also healthy and unhealthy shame. There is a great explanation of shame in the book ‘Shame and pride’ by Donald Nathanson, as well as in the explanations that Bret Lyon and Sheila Robin offer in their great work trying to explain this difficult primary emotion that is shame, as an emotion that has a value but also is very difficult to work with because very often has gone into unhealthy or toxic shame.

  63. Roberta Sachs says:

    Fabulous practical tool. Thank you so much for this. It is so clear, understandable and a wonderful tool for therapist and client alike!

  64. Hope Camacho says:

    Thank you for the tool. There is some disagreement in the comments about the definition of guilt vs. shame. I agree with these definitions. I was taught that guilt is the belief that “I did something bad/wrong, etc.” and shame is the belief that “I AM wrong/bad, etc.” I like the distinction between helpful or healthy guild and unhelpful guilt. I am one that has to remind myself whether my guilt is helpful or not, and this will come in handy when I work with clients who have the same issue. I also like the example, because it is one that would be easy for anyone to argue against, that you don’t have to feel guilty about forgetting someone’s name–though it can be embarrassing.

  65. Owen Allen says:

    I don’t agree with the depiction of shame in the infographic. I’m afraid the authors of it are, themselves, confused about shame and guilt. Shame is part of the social development process. It is one of those things that will always be, if there is a moral standard in the social circle eg the family. A lack of that standard will lead to a lack of shame and a lack of shame will lead to inconsiderate, selfish and often socially destructive behaviours. Certainly shame along with anxiety works best when at a low level churn, assisting the reflective and learning process. In this, shame is both an assist to the social cohesion as well as generative processes ie about the future. Guilt on the other hand, is a past based process, a reflection on the differential between values and action. Guilt can only occur after the act. In that values are attached to shame, shame occurs with true guilt (acknowledgement of the wrong, the differential), and enables the provocation of remorse and a commitment to recompense, reconciliation and reconstruction.

  66. Helen says:

    Having been raised a Catholic and a woman, I was raised with unhealthy guilt about being selfish (mostly) whenever I tried to get my needs met. I ended up feeling guilty about well practically everything, an experience I’ve share, anecdotally, with many with a similar background. I’ve since learned to recognised a deep sense of internalised resentment behind this type of unhealthy guilt. Does this form of guilt fit within your framework?

    • Susan says:

      In my work with parents from a faith background I find it helpful to separate true guilt and false guilt. That may help you too. Most people I find have more problems with shame, that is a more abstract concept and therefore more difficult to name and process, but it is worth it!

  67. Dr. Urfaust says:

    Great. This deduction of the mental function its very clear.

    Thank you very much for the tool.

    Greetings and keep in the work.

  68. Pat says:

    These are great – my mentors, long long time ago, Drs Wong & McKeen, introduced me to how to work with guilt and shame. their books also spell out something similar to what you are written here.

  69. Holly says:

    Another excellent resource… thank you NICABM. I can show my clients this and it helps them get clear too.

  70. Thank you. Again very useful

  71. John Sader MD says:

    So interesting.

    I have always found that people with Antisocial traits are more prone to Shame than Guilt.

    Your explanation makes this make sense.

    The antisocial is always blaming the outside world. Outside is all and inside is nothing.

    They feel Shame and throw themselves on the merci of others with the discourse of: “I feel so bad”!

    They never say their sorry because their not! How on earth can they be sorry for what outside forces did to them!

    Regular people have a true sense of Being and when they behave wrongly, they say they’re sorry. They then proceed to take responsibility for their actions and make attempts to change.

    So interesting.

    Btw, I also agree with the comment about that Shame is probably learned to a great extent.

    Interesting to note that Noah’s son Sham was the one who found Noah in a drunken stupor, hidden in his tent, naked and in the middle of the day!

    He went to get his brothers and had a contemptuous and attitude towards his father. He was ashamed.

    When Noah awoke, he cursed the boy saying that his children would always be slaves to the children of his brothers!

    This to be ashamed is to be “as Sham”!!

    Social phobics and antisociale are indeed slaves to what the others think and do as they have not yet developed a sense of Being within themselves.

    Good for thought!

    • Mary says:

      Since most “regular” people have their own issues, that would make antisocial people regular too since having issues is the norm. Identifying our issues and working on them is personal growth. For those that aren’t there yet, judgemental labels don’t help to alleviate their shame but only feeds it.

  72. Hans Samson says:

    this is really handy as a information tool towards our clients. Although it is not the whole story as seen in the comments, its a good start to begin with.

  73. Marina says:

    I would say shame arises from caregivers reaction to us and it becomes a core belief. I do not believe it is Inate in the sense of being born with it. It is something done to us

  74. PIERRE HENRI says:


    • Beca says:

      Yes. The above chart is too simplistic but a good start. Newer energy psychologies such as Energy Code/Body Code and mulitple related systems, plus pioneers in energy work such as Dr. Eve Lorgren and dozens of others, have much to add to this vital healing concern. Trauma from environmental toxins, SRA, imprinting of ancestral DNA trauma, sociological “New Age guilt” and energy-intention sent from a distance as “attack” or “control system programming” (too far out for many to consider, but more and more evidence that all these exist are coming to light) can be causal or part of the mix of both shame and guilt. How many clients are being denied the help they need because they are lost in partial-truth CBT conventional therapy — and therapists’ mindsets are too afraid for their reputations to delve into these verboten, groundbreaking subjects that could provide permanent and deepest-level healing?

      • PIERRE HENRI says:


  75. Marcelo S says:

    Resolution and repair in shame is a big deal – esp. when communication is lacking. But in guilt it appears that negotiation about what’s good and what’s bad may bring out some clarification. I wonder if there is any “healthy guilt”?!

  76. Joni says:

    Thank you for this very useful chart. I have some concerns about the section on how to work with healthy guilt, specifically the steps of: a) seek forgiveness from the person affected and b) reclaim wholeness and heal the relationship with the affected person. While I agree that these steps can be tremendously beneficial and healing for both parties, I also think it should be clarified that this can not always be attained. The problem is in having the resolution of one’s guilt be dependent on another’s forgiveness.

    • Cathy Towers says:

      My strategy in working with this sort of guilt entails forgiving oneself for doing something that doesn’t feel right/fair/good. That way, you can offer your regrets to the harmed person, but not be dependent on their response.

  77. Gianna says:

    Thank you for these definitions. The difficulty at this point is to bring clients with unreasonable standards to see that their standards are unreasonable. What is a reasonable standard as opposed to unreasonably high standard?
    What is ‘objectively right/wrong’.

    I often work with ACT and support clients through a search of their very own inner values as opposed to maladaptive values imposed by current stereotypes, or taken on board to please significant ones. I assist them re-visiting their “rights and wrongs” inner reference table.

    What usually helps me doing this is to use role play, e.g. what if someone they love very very much was in their situation, how would they view them. If that was true for their loved ones, why would it not be true for them. this brings the incongruence out and starts softening maladaptive believes of “rights” “wrongs”.

  78. Toos Graaff says:

    This overview is very handy for my clients. I appreciate it very much that we can copy this. Thanks a lot

  79. Sharon Hinbest says:

    Very good resource. I am wondering if there is an infographic about how anger that is legitimate due to being intentionally harmed often leads to guilt and shame.

  80. Abbie says:

    Powerful on many levels. I now believe a bit differently regarding shame resolution, in that the difficulties are self imposed. Once clearly recognized they can be quite effectively and easily resolved. Readiness and willingness to move into a new way, and therefore somewhat uncomfortable initially, of being play into the speed and ease of the transition.

  81. Julie Pata says:

    This is very helpful and appreciated! Thank you for the wonderful work you are doing!

  82. dianne says:

    thank you. I find this very helpful. It is simply explained and easy to understand and apply to self and help others.

  83. Marcelo S says:

    Indeed the two can intertwine. This makes a lot of difference in practice to make the distinction. Thank u

  84. GREAT STUFF, Ruth… thanks! However, I disagree with part of it.

    a. The difference in whether Guilt is healthy or not, is what we DO with our guilt… not where it came from. We can feel guilty about an “objectively wrong” action or “unrealistically high standards”, and either one can be quite healthy… IF… we use them to make us better, stop the behaviour and forgive ourselves (resilience, persistence, grit). But, if we beat ourselves up, call ourselves names, put ourselves down or otherwise punish ourselves, unproductively, then THAT is unhealthy guilt. I differentiate these as healthy “Productive Guilt” vs. unhealthy “Punishing Guilt”.

    b. “Unhealthy Guilt” can come from our own unrealistically high (or low) standards or others’ unrealistically high (or low) standards.

    c. I do agree that the basic dif. between Guilt and Shame is “I did a bad thing” (behaviour) vs. “I am a bad person” (whole person).

    Whatcha think?
    – Matt

    • Sharon Hinbest says:

      Yes that is a complex addition that seems necessary

  85. Malcolm Stanislaus says:

    Hi, Ruth. Back in the 90s I worked for John Bradshaw. Even his concepts were in need of updating. But, he coined the terms “healthy” vs. “toxic” shame. This is a VERY good distinction. Very few clinicians understand how to work with shame.

    Unfortunately, your chart reflects that difficulty. Shame is an affect. Guilt is a cognitive realization, not an affect.

    I hope this helps somewhat.

    Malcolm Stanislaus, LMFT

    • I completely agree that shame, per se, is not necessarily a bad thing. The negative emotions evolved for good reasons. It is the defenses that people use to avoid shame that are particularly crippling. Although frequent humiliation is extremely damaging.

  86. Amelia Morency says:

    This is awesome – simple and clear for those who are working in the field and for those who they would want to share it with – it’s a filter by which one can locate and sort out what they are facing and then take appropriate, positive, life-changing and healing steps . Thanks for putting it together, Ruth!

  87. Suzanne Lamarre says:

    Very useful to get such a print copy!

  88. The chart is interesting and could be clinically useful. Thank you for posting it. I would recommend the work of Silvan S. Tomkins with regard to shame and guilt. He considers shame to be one of 9 innately wired “affects” from which more complex human emotions develop. These affects are experienced/expressed along a continuum. To describe low level shame we use the word “embarrassed.” High end shame is often described as “humiliation.” Tomkins calls shame the most “affluent” of the negative affects because there has to be some positive feeling disrupted in order for it to occur. For example, if someone believes they are good at something but perform poorly they are almost certain to experience a good deal of shame (e.g., a ballerina dancing poorly). However, if there exists no feeling of competence (the same ballerina being asked to and performing poorly at painting something might elicit little or no shame). A great example of an interpersonal source of shame is unrequited love. Extremely positive feeling is not returned. This typically results in high-end shame responses.

    Shame is a social affect. It is present in pack animals (mammals) and probably evolved as a way of “automatically” punishing members of the pack that exhibit transgressive behavior, without the need for any fighting or spilling of blood. Dogs clearly exhibit shame. Cats, who evolved living in very small groups or alone, do not.

    According to Tomkins, guilt is more complex, and this is consistent with the chart, as it is a combination of shame about some kind of transgression against norms but also carries a fear (another primary affect) of negative consequence.

    • Joseph A. Izzo, M.A., L.I.C.S.W. says:

      Thanks for your response. I’ve been a student of Tomkin’s Affect and Script Psychology since 1995 through the Tomkin’s Institute ( I fully endorse your description and explanation of the affect “Shame-humiliation”. Tomkin’s puts all his innate affects except the two Drive Auxilliaries of Disgust and Dissmell on a range of “neural firing”, i.e. Interest to Excitement; Anger to Rage”; Distress to Anguish, etc. You’re correct in stating that Guilt is a cognitive response to any failure and may co-exist with the affect of shame, but is NOT the same phenomenon. Finally, according to the late protege of Tomkin’s, Dr. Donald Nathanson (cf., “Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex and the Birth of the Self”), the affect of Shame-Humiliation is behaviorally scripted into four poles of what Nathanson calls the Compass of Shame : Withdrawal, from any stimuli that trigger shame; Avoidance, of the feeling of shame by “medicating” it with chemicals or behavioral compulsions that trigger intense excitement or satiety; Attack Self or the Masochistic script or Attack Other, the Sadistic/ Macho script. I encourage all readers to familiarize themselves with the neuro-biological psychology of Silvan Solomon Tomkins.

  89. Tobias S Schreiber says:

    Great information, very useful and informative

  90. Gina says:

    Thank you so much for all your wonderful insights and information! You’ve made it simple to understand what holds us back on different levels.

  91. Mary Logan says:

    Wonderful, Ruth, thank you for this. So many times I look to the work you do to provide me quick tips, and to shorten the learning curve on complex issues. This tool does that for me. I will most definitely use this right away!

  92. Brenda Hayes says:

    Useful information. Graphic VERY DIFFICULT to work with. Shrink to fit produces such small print as to be unreadable if you are over 35. Color pops on the computer screen, but uses a lot of ink in printing. User friendly print version would be helpful for sharing.


  93. Franceska says:

    Most useful. Thank you.

  94. Irvin H. Collins MFI, CATC says:

    Let us be careful not to reify our limited conceptual categories with reality and the wide variability of cultural experience. “The map is not the territory.” Shame also serves a fundamentally pro-socializing purpose. Freud hypothesized the super-ego (Uber-Ich) as the psychodynamic principle which enables an individual to assimilate societal influence. In other words, it answers the question, “How does the outside social world become internalized?” Shame operates as a moderating influence on animalistic, aggressive or otherwise manipulative self-serving tendencies. Those of us who work with a forensic population (those diagnosable with anti-social or psychopathic personality traits) deal with this phenomena on a daily basis. Without feeling an overbearing sense of societal pressure, such persons will continue to act “shamelessly”: they are inclined to violate the rights of others and disregard the rules of society with little or no conscience. ‘Remorse’ as well as ‘empathy’ – are not words in their dictionary. Only by stringent impositions from society that their patterns of behavior are
    not only unacceptable but will be sanctioned (i.e., ‘punished’) will they consequently begin to refrain from such proscribed behavior. Shame can therefore be a good thing. Indeed, on a primal level, shame is the force that binds society together and compels random individuals to conform to its laws.

  95. Lauren, NICABM Staff says:

    Hi everyone!

    Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to comment so far; we really appreciate the insights you’re bringing to this discussion!

    I just wanted to let you know we did update our infographic based on some of your feedback, and you’ll now see the updated version is posted above.

  96. Leah Bell says:

    I really like this, but the printer-friendly version doesn’t print the whole document. so, it is cutting off the “How to work with” section and the copyright info.

    • Jinah says:

      If you want to print entire image on a single page, you can change print setting to “shrink to fit”. But the texts would look smaller.

  97. Ron Forbus, LCSW says:

    Your guys rock! You consistently provide timely and relevant information and tools for us be even more successful in facilitating healing in our client’s! Thanks, once again!

  98. I will surely share this work and incorporate it into the work I’m doing.

  99. Robing Schilling says:

    Thank you that is very helpful information and at the right time .

  100. Nice work. I will be sharing this indeed!

  101. Very helpful graphic! Thank you.

  102. Thank you for allowing me to preview this. I differ somewhat in my approach to these issues. I don’t think that there is healthy guilt. I think remorse – genuine remorse – is healthy and can be learned and cultivated. I think guilt is a self-manipulation that has no positive side. I think that there are a lot of reason why people choose to manipulate themselves with guilt and the focus here on breaking of irrationally high standards limits the scope of how people use guilt. For example, some people motivate themselves out of guilt. “If i don’t . . . I’ll feel so guilty.” Etc. The shame material is good. Many thanks.

  103. Emma Chase says:

    I’m not into down voting, but I do wish we could UPVOTE some of these thoughtful replies posted above.

    It is easy to label SHAME as ‘Inappropriate’ but considering some of the family and societal comments and attitudes that survivors endure, it seems clear that it is not just survivors ‘inappropriately’ designating themselves as being somehow ‘responsible’.

    As an aside, in Public Health, there is a term we learned: “Response/Able” for the word ‘responsible’. The idea being that One must be empowered in a society, in order to own language and labelling.

  104. Richard F. Garrett says:

    Thank You, This is very Helpful !!
    Rick Garrett

  105. Debbie says:

    Thank you , so very helpful .

  106. This is a very useful tool to lead into a discussion of shame. It gives a patient lots to think about that they can discuss with their therapist.

  107. Reinhold Hemrich, MSW, RSW says:

    Thank you for the information. I am however, unlikely to use this handout. There are some reasons for this. I am uncomfortable with definitions that many clients I work with would feel are judgemental; meaning “appropriate” and “irrational” guilt. I also use only two categories, guilt and shame, where I just name them as separate entities, since most clients call all this stuff “guilt.” I state that guilt arises when you treat someone in ways you personally would not want to be treated. I then state that guilt is “useful” vs. “appropriate”, in that it alerts you to having behaved in ways you too would object to, and then helps you to take responsibility, apologize, make reparations and then make plans for how you would act in accordance with how you’d like to be treated. Shame on the other hand is not about harming someone, it is an internal sense of being flawed. And it is this aspect that is usually what clients mean by “guilt.” I see “irrational guilt” as part of shame . A simple exercise will show how that works; I ask clients what it would mean about them if they were not perfect: it usually means they are flawed in some way that grips them in their core, such as unlovable, unlikeable, etc. so its shame in my opinion. Having said all this, I whole heartedly agree that helping clients sort out or “unpack” shame from other states is vitally important. I would also like to note that shame can “highjack” guilt, but that’s another discussion.

    I would like to acknowledge that I initially found the information on shame and guilt in the children of alcoholics literature back in the late 80’s, where I can no longer recall the author. My concern about language use and in particular therapeutic judgements comes from the very painful reading of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s 1988 book “Emotional Tyranny and the Myth of Psychological Healing.”

    • Thank you all for your ideas and references to other persons who work with the guilt – shame issues. As I attempt to explore the beliefs of clients and help them sort out various parts of their personality and tendencies to cover up and avoid anything which causes discomfort or informs a habitual pattern that is not working well for them, I try not to judge or label whether something is unhealthy, unrealistic or bad. Yet, I know I have my own opinions based on my beliefs, biases and assumptions. I find the chart well thought out and a great reference based on what you hold to be true in your work. Thank you Ruth !

      I would not see myself using the chart because I want my clients to experience something different in the MAP process and not have to tell them how the treatment should go. I think there are some folks who appear clueless or stay safe with the use of defense mechanisms. There are guided processes to help them look at who they are being, explore the contrasts and who they really want to be. Support groups may not be for everyone, but trusting connection with the therapist to deep dive into accepting the “true core of the self” is important. What is the energy of Guilt versus shame? If embodied deep within consciousness and the mind body realm how do you just disperse the the energy?

      How do you factor in the subconscious mind and unconscious beliefs? How do know when a client is ready to change a pattern or let go of a belief fueling shame or guilt or both , whether it is a cognitive conscious awareness or unconscious ?

    • Catherine says:

      Yes. I like this a lot. Very helpful addition.

    • BL says:

      Another possible author from the late 80’s and 90’s:

      Janet Woititz was the author of the Adult Children of Alcoholics Series.

    • Carol says:

      As a person who has been “shamed wired”, I feel intense shame when judgemental words are used to define my shame. My reaction is intense because what’s supposed to help makes me feel worse therefore bolstering up my sense of being deeply flawed.

    • Stephanie says:

      In the 80’s it was John Bradshaw’s “Healing the Shame That Binds You” that I found helpful. Today it is Brene Brown’s work on shame.

    • Susan says:

      Good topic. Yes, agree with your thoughts on definitions. I am always talking about guilt and shame with survivors of child abuse. Shame, we say, is the perpetrator’s guilt that you have taken on yourself. Once clients are able to put the guilt where it belongs, the feelings of shame begin to fade.

  108. Devi says:

    I love this chart–very handy. To remind myself I often associate shame with “Being” and guilt with “Doing” ie.
    I am ashamed of who I am vs. I am guilty about what I have done.

  109. Janet Congo says:

    Thank you a very helpful tool.

  110. grace says:

    Thank you so much. a very helpful visual for my clients and myself

  111. Karen Shaver says:

    Thank you for the clarity on this issue. It will be a great help with some clients.

  112. Rita says:

    I find that it is helpful to identify “appropriate guilt” as Remorse. It seems to put a clear difference between that and guilt. Then we look at guilt as assuming the responsibility for someone else’s feelings or interpretation of my behavior. Remorse is assuming the responsibility for my own chosen behavior.

  113. Deborah Lowery, M.A. says:

    Visual reinforces the verbal discussion. Thank you for creating this handout. Have printed a handout and the copyright information is included. Thank you for all you share.

  114. Rita says:

    I find that it is helpful to identify “appropriate guilt” as Remorse. It seems to put a clear difference between that and guilt

  115. Lorenia says:

    Thank you so much, this is a feast for our work and for our lives. I feel so well supported by you, NICABM team and your generosity.

  116. Frances says:

    Very helpful.
    A hard copy in a client’s hands for repeat reference often reinforces the work done in the session.

  117. Thank you for this.

  118. Judy hanazawa says:

    Appreciate this clearly worded and presented explanation of guilt, irrational guilt and shame.

  119. John Jones says:

    Thanks for this. Awesome work. Well be sure to credit it you as appropriate.

  120. Great handout except all 3 of your examples use male names – any particular reason for that? I work with women only and we have to unpack a lot of shame and guilt.

  121. I fowler says:

    Very helpfu handout. Thank you.

  122. Aline Bangert says:

    Thank you very much for sharing!

  123. Marion houghton says:

    Thank you. Very helpful in encouraging self-compassion in dealing with shame.

  124. I enjoyed the comparative aspects and the visual way the chart is laid out. I wonder if “irrational” guilt could be perceived as pejorative by some clients. It feel a little like that to me. I don’t know of more supportive way to define that particular concept of guilt, maybe “unearned” guilt? I am not sure that fits. Regardless this is a helpful tool.
    Thank you

    • Beca says:

      “unearned guilt” much more accurate term. thanks. therapists please take note.

  125. annie nehmad says:

    Very useful chart

  126. annie nehmad says:

    Very useful

  127. Vasilica Vasilescu says:

    Thank you for the great work.
    Vasilica Vasiolescu, PhD

  128. Lesley Tran says:

    Thank you. This looks very useful.

  129. Thanks for creating this chart and your generosity in sharing it with everyone.

    Heather McKechnie

  130. Mary Bean says:

    Thank you for this graphic. I can see myself using it to help coach people in wellness and health. There are situations in this scenario which are more effectively handled by separating guilt of not eating healthful foods or not exercising from shame about weight.

  131. Nsom Michael Angoh says:

    It is understandably that guilt and shame have different meanings or interpretation but they all come from a dishonest heart. Honesty is the best policy for one’s life.

    • Beca says:

      Nsomi, it is hard to believe that this comment was posted here. As Julie refers to something like this, this type of not-compassionate comment has frequently been used by dishonest or unaware therapists or people/groups to disempower, confuse and shame the very people they purport to be trying to help. I have experienced this myself as a survivor of therapy abuse whose gaslighting techniques by the sociopathic “therapist” almost caused my death. Unearned guilt and shame are being pointed out in this article to assist people in recovering from this plague of misunderstanding and ignorance that has permeated all world societies from the beginning. It is time for everyone, not just therapists, to be educated on the manipulation value of guilt and shame and the way the ruling powers in society consciously use it in advertising, education, etc.; it is so pervasive it is hidden in plain sight.

      • dianne says:

        Nsom speaks nonsense. I totally agree with you Beca.

    • Julie says:

      Naomi Micael Angoh, I sincerely hope you are not working with psychologically wounded people.

      They have often had other powerful people tell them just what you are saying, leading them to believe at a very deep level that they are worthless.

      They are NOT worthless!

      They are often feeling shame because of the evil imposed on them by other people; and those sorts of people are happy to leave their shame with the person they have belittled, violated and humiliated.

      That is the most dishonest heart I can think of existing in this world.

      Another type of dishonest heart belongs to the person who is too quick to judge people who are easier to judge because they feel shame, and thus they may look guilty. Those with the most dishonest hearts needs these quick-judgers to function.

      Finally, the truth: While honesty is the best policy and is an ideal for which we should all strive, it is like “utopia”. Utopia comes from the Greek and is a play on words. Depending on how the first syllable is spelled, it means ‘good/perfect place’ or ‘no (such) place’. Anyone who claims perfection (including perfectly honest, regardless of best intentions and values), has a dishonest heart – like the rest of humanity.

      We all should guard our hearts and search our hearts as we strive to be the most sincere AND COMPASSIONATE beings we can be, and gently lend a hand to others on the path knowing we are all flawed beings.

      • Julie says:

        Apologies for the spelling of your name, Nsomi Michael Angoh.

        Spell check, in its wisdom, changed my typing of Nsomi (I’m still fighting spellcheck to write this).
        I cannot blame spellcheck for Micael. That was my typo.
        I am sorry, I did not proofread my previous reply.

        All the very best on your path.

  132. Aspasia Holley says:

    Very clear and concise. Easy to understand. Thank you. For shame I’ve dona affirmations. One in the mirror telling myself I am enough and I love you. Sounds silly but, it really helps with my self talk. Even just being more aware of what I’m telling myself. I truly believe it’s helped me turn a corner on these. Very appreciative of all your hard work helping us trauma mamas and everyone affected by trauma!

  133. Excellent. Clear, concise and positive – a great tool for clients to work with. Manta thanks. Catherine

  134. Elvira Holz says:

    Thank you for this most valuable infografic.

  135. Thanks. Another great resource.

  136. Deb Foshager says:

    Excellent and very helpful synopsis of these two emotions. Thank you so much!

  137. Dawn Stillinger says:

    Thank you!

  138. Thank you so much. I appreciate the column about irrational guilt. I also suspect that the high standards that generate it may also reinforce shame based self-criticism and judgement if one has a shame prone personality.
    Great handout I will use with clients.

  139. Helen Wayne says:

    This is fantastic! Thank you for sharing this resource!!

  140. claire says:

    Great tool! I only wish it could be created with a lighter background that would make it easier to read and also demand less color ink to reproduce. Thanks for the content, though!

  141. Ruth Valentine says:

    Great resource – thank you

  142. Tamara, Student, Canada says:

    Great infographic. Very helpful to have the distinctions laid out for comparison like this and with examples and specifics for added clarity.

    I do wonder about “irrational” guilt — that column begs a lot of questions, it seems. Just using the word “irrational” seems to carry negative connotations, but I’m not sure what other language could be used here. Also, to be ‘irrationally’ guilty about forgetting a co-worker’s name from a place of having unreasonably high standards for one’s own behaviours seems a lot like fear-based shame to me, especially if stemming from a childhood of needing to please adults. The “irrational” guilt may have developed as a coping strategy to keep oneself safe as a child from demanding, critical, perfectionist, or punitive adults…meaning it was a needed, and in many ways the only rational, strategy at the time to avoid criticism and/or punishment. This might be worth unpacking further to get away from the negative connotation around “irrational” guilt.

    Of course, some people are HSPs (as per Dr. Elaine Aron’s work on Highly Sensitive Persons, in which the nervous system is **physiologically** more sensitive to stimuli, input, and so on). In the case of sensitivity like this, it’s not necessarily “irrational” — it’s simply a function of a more sensitive nervous system that is more responsive to input, including concern over others’ feelings.

    I notice that the shame column is worded in such a way as not to trigger shame!

    • Karen says:

      I agree with these comments. I think the irrational guilt column could use an infographic of its own — how to separate irrational from rational guilt? How to shed irrational standards? They arose for a reason and they serve a purpose. Thank you.

      • Tamara, Student, Canada says:

        Thank you, Karen.

        • Kim says:

          I have found that positive self talk and CBT helps to sort out these “irrationalities”. When kindly addressed, they are a treat and a comfort. Because we are often our own worst critic , I was told. So true.

  143. Shannon says:

    Wow, that helps me alot, let alone the people I work with. Definitely put things in perspective. Thank you for this very useful tool.

  144. Deborah Merchant says:

    Excellent tool to help a client become consciously aware of their feelings/experience, to put words to it. Then it can be used like a spectrum of worst to mildest experience, with client describing milder forms of shame/guilt, and then finding themselves on the spectrum during various sessions. Could be great for certain group therapy sessions as well. Thank you.

  145. This is a helpful distinction. It’s easy to confuse guilt with shame. So I may feel guilty as if I had done something wrong when actually I have done nothing or nothing I consider bad. It’s just that I was made to feel bad or evil by someone, generally when very young. So really it’s shame. It is helpful to realise this, easier to reject that attribution and feeling when you realise it’s shame rather than guilt.

  146. Ken says:

    As one goes through stages of values development, what was healthy and required for growth at one stage becomes a limiting belief at the next. Child vs. Adult is a simplification, which depends on the stage of development considered “adult” in one’s culture.

  147. Suzy says:

    Shame is something adopted early on. We must retrain our brain to rid ourselves of shame.
    Even still it comes back to haunt from tine to time

  148. Sarah says:

    Would love to see the research base for this. Clearly Dr. Brené Brown has written and speaks extensively about this and another researcher, Dr. Jan Lindsay-Hartz weighed in above too. Too bad those women who have devoted years of study aren’t referenced in this graphic. Unethical really. Dr. Brown’s extensive research does not match your info graphic.

    • Suzanne Retzinger says:

      I agree Doris, Brené Brown’s work is of major importance and readily accessible. Because someone is not a “part of a program” they are often neglected, even though their work can contribute to the larger understanding. This frequently happens in academic disciplines. My own work is not referenced here either, and contributes greatly to the understanding of escalating conflict in relationships. Neither is Helen Lynd or Helen Block Lewis’s work – they are major pioneers in this field – one is a psychoanalyst and one a sociologist. An interdisciplinary approach can only help further knowledge in the understanding of shame in the world. It is sad that disciplines don’t cross; perhaps another form of prejudice; perhaps an element of avoiding shame in crossing disciplines. No offence intended. It is crucial that we include it all if we are to advance knowledge in this important field.

    • Brian says:

      You may want to rethink your use of the word ‘unethical’ as it is not appropriate in my opinion. To use such aggressive language when someone is clearly trying to help others in so many ways is not appreciated – by myself at least. Best wishes other than that,,,and thanks for mentioning other people who have studied this serious impediment to mental happiness for many people.

    • This infographic was created based on responses given by the 25 experts in the Next Level Practitioner program to questions on how to work with shame. While we admire the work of Dr. Brown and Dr. Lindsay-Hartz, neither of these fine people are part of that program.

    • doris says:

      We all remember and forget and need each other to remember. Sarah, your comment is a perfect example of what creates healthy guilt (which is an invitation to grow) vs unhealthy shame in me. That you acknowledge Dr. Brown and Lindsay-Hartz’s work is an invitation to remember; digesting the label “unethical” creates shame and makes me forget that we’re all “remembering together.”

  149. Katharina Beraldo says:

    Thank you! Very interesting!

  150. Rochelle says:

    Thank you! I appreciate that.

  151. A very nice resource. I did some of the early seminal work, differentiating shame and guilt through phenomenological research. I have several papers available on, from the 1980s and 1990s, which are the basis for much of the research and clinical work that has followed. I also will soon be uploading many of my early works focused on working therapeutically with shame vs. guilt. Just google Lindsay-Hartz and shame and guilt, and maybe, and my papers will show up. They are free to download I believe, and are still very relevant today. Often, over the years, clinicians write things about shame and guilt that contain small but important inaccuracies. Understanding these emotions and their differences is vitally important to clinical work. Many of my research papers are also available on my website. I am now retired from my c42 years of clinical practice, but still follow all the work on shame and guilt. And the function of shame and guilt are neutral, sort of. Each can be appropriate, or non-adaptive, depending on the person and the situation.

  152. I think it is a serious mistake to seek forgiveness from those you have harmed.
    In doing so, you are again creating stress on them as you are asking for something from them when through your previous actions you have already taken some of their wholeness away.
    Apologizing is only a small beginning. Finding a way to create real restitution for the offender and a sense in those you have harmed that you have seriously efforted to make things right. Dianne Gossen’s work is so important in this regard and it’s application in schools is enormously healing and integrative.

    • Con Boehme says:

      I agree that forgiveness is more than just words, it must be heart felt and sincere. Where possible actions to correct the harm and damage done needs to take place. When we try and right the wrongs we have done to someone else, this can assist in bringing them back to a sense of wholeness and integration. Thanks for your post!

  153. Grant Jones says:

    This is a great resource and thanks for putting it together. However, I believe you are missing one key important distinction: There is rational (healthy) shame AND irrational shame (toxic/destructive). Healthy shame helps maintain boundaries and prevents harming others/self again. You have a self-negation of your behavior after you have wronged/wounded someone and feel badly about doing it so as to prevent doing it again. Focus again is on behavior and not person hood.

    • Grant, I completely agree. I got that term, Healthy Shame, from John Bradshaw. And it has nothing to do with guilt. You can use a phrase, such as we do in English, “shameless hussy,” to describe someone who may expose her private parts in public, let’s say. There is really nothing to feel guilty about, but “healthy shame” may keep her from letting her skirt blow up when she knows she’s not wearing any underwear, for instance. It may not bother her, per se, but it may bother those around her, and she needs to be aware of that.

      Once you understand the term, it becomes very valuable in identifying people who have no healthy shame, and the trouble they can cause in your life – outside of therapy. Another way to understand the term may be imagining asking someone, “Have you no shame?” I know that many people have trouble with this concept, but I believe it is very valuable to help you identify a trait in someone you may not otherwise be able to put your finger on.

      • doris says:

        This is helping Debbie. I can see that “letting her skirt blow up” would make a woman unaware of how she impacts her environment. But I still don’t understand why it would be necessarily “healthy shame” that’d make her more aware.

        • doris says:

          The more I think about “healthy shame,” the more questions I have. Why would it be “healthy shame” and not the freedom to receive from (and respond to) my environment each moment anew that makes me know what would be considered shameful in the here and now. When my Ego feels connected, I get informed about what people around would consider shameful as life unfolds. I don’t need to rely on a recording from once upon a time (when I got shamed) telling me what was considered shameful then must be shameful now.

          • Carolyn says:

            p.s. I meant to also add and forgot: In Portuguese, a way to say someone is shameless is “cara de pau” – literal translation being “face of wood,” or we might say “wooden-faced” … I’m not sure of the etymology of the idiom in Portuguese, but plausibly it would be the idea that shame reddens one’s face, or can, and a wood face is unfazed, uncolored, unmoved by something that ‘should’ be fazing them about their own words or deeds or character. And it’s not guilt at issue in calling someone “cara de pau,” even if the phenomenon is manifest in a particular action – it goes beyond that to a reflection of a person’s entire character, hence shame being what is evoked, not guilt (although they can co-occur – some actions bringing on guilt and shame – regret over the harm of the deed but also the sting of reflection on one’s whole self). I always found “cara de pau” to illustrate linguistically an important component of shame by describing the ‘look’ of its absence: Human living breathing faces should not appear wooden especially in the face of having been ungracious or lacking compassion or concern for others, for healthy boundaries, etc.

          • Carolyn says:

            Hi Doris,
            Forgive me for bringing politics in as an example, but consider our current President: Would you agree that it’s appropriate to see him as a shameless liar? Depending on your own politics, this may or may not work as a case in point, but that’s how I see him – a classic illustration of where shame would be a healthy shame – he should be ashamed not only to be such an inveterate liar but also to be repeatedly caught out in his lies. But no, he is shameless – in such a case, there is pathology and something arguably sociopathic about chronic lying. Hence, ‘shameless’ applies – a healthy dose of shame would keep a person from wanting to be seen as a liar with zero credibility.

            I can see why you might struggle a bit with the skirt-blowing-up-analogy but I wonder if this example regarding lying might be less of an “eye of the beholder” conundrum as to whose shame it is being evoked – or failing to be evoked when it should.

            I also highly recommend to you the Bradshaw book on shame already named above – and especially the first chapter in it – I’ve given that chapter to many a client and found it to be an illuminating reading for so many.

          • Yes, Debbie. Doris, it feels when I hear you talking that you may need to also know the definition of “Shame-based” (also via John Brandshaw). I refer his books to a lot of people. Of course there is the one called “Healing the Shame that Binds You,” although any of his books are good.

            I obviously don’t know enough about you, but as someone who had to deal with being shame-based myself (and i can slip back into it easily), it’s possible that you have a blindspot with this issue because of shame. NICABM and specifically the Next Step Program has some great info on shame.

            If I’m totally off-base, I apologize, but I think shame is something that anyone was lucky to avoid in this day and age. And it’s very insidious.

          • Debbie Jeffrey says:

            Shame is an emotion that connects us to our social group. That’s what can make it a healthy emotion.Think about it … the people who feel no shame are those who seem also to have no conscience – people with sociopathic features. All emotions can exist in a healthy and an unhealthy form. When we can’t acknowledge and examine our shame (understand whether it’s warranted) it’s more likely to become sticky and take us into a dark place. Thats the difference between healthy & unhealthy shame.

    • doris says:

      Hi Grant, To me it seems what you call “(healthy) shame” is described as “healthy guilt.”
      Guilt is about what we can change in us. Shame is about what we can’t change in us.
      We can’t change that we have a blind spot and need to feel exposed to give new (kind) eyes
      a chance to mirror the exposure without creating blame and shame.

    • What is essential is the process of seeking and finding real restitution. Anything less leaves a hole in both parties

      • Jacqueline Hielkema says:

        This is worth debating. I too think this is a very good resource which could be excellent if it also differentiated between appropriate shame and unconscious shame, as discussed above.

      • Jacqueline says:

        This is worth debating. I too think this is a very good resource which could be excellent if it also differentiated between appropriate shame and unconscious shame, as discussed above.

      • doris says:

        I wonder what needs to get restored or returned to leave no hole and find “real restitution” after one finds that one played another’s fool or needed another played to play one’s fool?

  154. Wanda says:

    Thank you for this clear graphic.

  155. Deborah says:

    thank you

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