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!)

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147 Comments

  1. GAry F. says:

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

  2. Vinod Chebbi says:

    Wow, really deep and great!

  3. Karen says:

    Really useful and so clear. Thank you.

  4. Anita Demants says:

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

  5. Cheryl Lucas says:

    terrific! Very Helpful!

  6. 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”!

  7. Charlie says:

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

  8. 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!

  9. 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?

    Janet

    • 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.

  10. Jane McILVAINE says:

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

  11. Marie says:

    Helpful chart. Thanks

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. Mike says:

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

  15. Rebecca says:

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

  16. Anita says:

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

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. Holly says:

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

  25. Thank you. Again very useful

  26. 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!

  27. 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.
    Thanks

  28. 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

  29. PIERRE HENRI says:

    THERE IS AN ASPECT I WOULD LIKE TO MENTION. A SENSE OF GUILT OR SHAME MAY COME FROM EARLIER THAN REFERRED TO IN THIS CHART. FEELINGS OF GUILT AND SHAME MAY BE PASSED DOWN TO ONE FROM THE TIME IN UTERO OR WHEN STILL IN DEEP FUSION MODE AS AN INFANT AND VERY YOUNG CHILD. THE EMBRYO, FETUS, INFANT, OR VERY YOUNG CHILD MAY INHERIT SUCH FEELINGS WITHOUT THEIR HAVING ANY ABILITY TO SENSE SUCH FEELINGS THEMSELF. AND THE PARENTS COULD ALSO HAVE GOT THEM THIS WAY. SO OVERCOMING FEELINGS OF GUILT OR SHAME MAY BE A MORE CHALLENGING TASK THAN SIMPLY PUT FORWARD IN THE ABOVE CHART.

    • 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:

        AS I SEE AND UNDERSTAND IT, WORK MAY BE BEST DONE DIRECTLY AT THE CELLULAR LEVEL, ESPECIALLY AND SPECIFICALLY THE MESODERM (WHICH GAVE RISE TO THE HEART AND CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM) AS IT WAS THROUGH IT THAT WE HAD OUR FIRST CONTACTS WITH THE WORLD OUTSIDE US WHEN IN THE WOMB, BEFORE THE ECTODERM (WHICH GAVE RISE TO THE NERVOUS SYSTEM) TOOK OVER AS WE DEVELOPED AND MATURED. A FORMER CARDIOLOGIST, NOW LIVING IN MONTREAL, CANANA, JEAN RATTE WORKS WITH AN APPROACH CALLED THE HOLONERGETIC METHOD THAT ADDRESSES THE MESODERM IMPACT ON US. I ALSO LIKE THE TWO LINKED METHODS DEVELOPED BY MOTHER-DAUGTHER MYRIAM AND VERONIQUE BROUSSE IN FRANCE. THEY COMBINED DIFFERENT TOOLS TO HELP ONE GAIN FREEDOM FROM INHERITED MATERIAL AND LEAD THEIR OWN LIVES SO INHERITED SHAME AND GUILT CAN BE THINGS OF THE PAST.

  30. 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”?!

  31. 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.

  32. 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”.

  33. Toos Graaff says:

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

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. Julie Pata says:

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

  37. dianne says:

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

  38. Marcelo S says:

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

  39. 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

  40. 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.

  41. 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!

  42. Suzanne Lamarre says:

    Very useful to get such a print copy!
    Suzanne

  43. 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:

      David,
      Thanks for your response. I’ve been a student of Tomkin’s Affect and Script Psychology since 1995 through the Tomkin’s Institute (www.tomkins.org). 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.

  44. Tobias S Schreiber says:

    Great information, very useful and informative

  45. 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.

  46. 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!

  47. 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.

    Thanks

  48. Franceska says:

    Most useful. Thank you.

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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!

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

  54. Robing Schilling says:

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

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

  56. Very helpful graphic! Thank you.

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. Richard F. Garrett says:

    Thank You, This is very Helpful !!
    Rick Garrett

  60. Debbie says:

    Thank you , so very helpful .

  61. 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.

  62. 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.”

    • 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.

  63. 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.

  64. Janet Congo says:

    Thank you a very helpful tool.

  65. grace says:

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

  66. Karen Shaver says:

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

  67. 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.

  68. 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.

  69. 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

  70. 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.

  71. Frances says:

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

  72. Thank you for this.

  73. Judy hanazawa says:

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

  74. John Jones says:

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

  75. 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.

  76. I fowler says:

    Very helpfu handout. Thank you.

  77. Aline Bangert says:

    Thank you very much for sharing!

  78. Marion houghton says:

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

  79. 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.

  80. annie nehmad says:

    Very useful chart

  81. annie nehmad says:

    Very useful

  82. Vasilica Vasilescu says:

    Thank you for the great work.
    Sincerely,
    Vasilica Vasiolescu, PhD

  83. Lesley Tran says:

    Thank you. This looks very useful.
    Lesley

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

    Heather McKechnie

  85. 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.

  86. 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.

  87. 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!

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

  89. Elvira Holz says:

    Thank you for this most valuable infografic.

  90. Thanks. Another great resource.

  91. Deb Foshager says:

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

  92. Dawn Stillinger says:

    Thank you!

  93. 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.

  94. Helen Wayne says:

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

  95. 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!

  96. Ruth Valentine says:

    Great resource – thank you

  97. 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.

  98. 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.

  99. 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.

  100. 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.

  101. 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.

  102. 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

  103. 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.

    • 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.”

  104. Katharina Beraldo says:

    Thank you! Very interesting!

  105. Rochelle says:

    Thank you! I appreciate that.

  106. 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 academia.edu, 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 academia.edu, 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. drjanhartz.com. 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.

  107. 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.
    http://Www.realrestitution.com

    • 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!

  108. 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?

  109. Wanda says:

    Thank you for this clear graphic.

  110. Deborah says:

    thank you

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