We’ve all experienced the emotions of guilt and shame, but it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between the two. The distinction is important for understanding our emotions, our reactions to them, and how to heal from the painful event that caused guilt and/or shame.
- Shame is one of our very early emotions, and it is automatic. It starts to show up in children as young as 1-2 years of age. Shame arises when we feel our privacy is violated and/or we are feeling exposed. An example of when a child of such a young age may feel shame is when they are potty training. Some children will hide in a corner and poop in their diaper rather than have to poop in front of their caregiver on the toilet. They don’t want to feel “exposed.” My therapist said that scientists are not yet sure why shame develops so young other than a hardwired desire for privacy around certain things and not wanting to be exposed for our behaviors, feelings, and sensations that we perceive as shameful.
- Guilt develops at around 4-6 years of age and is an emotion that results when we know we have done something “wrong” or something that is not in alignment with our values or the type of person that we want to be.
- culpability (deserving blame)
- Doing or thinking something you believe is wrong.
- Doing or thinking something that violates your personal values.
- Not doing something you said you would do.
- Committing a transgression against another person or something you value.” (From Skills Training Manual for Disordered Emotion Regulation by Dr. Marsha Linehan.)
- “contrition (feeling remorseful)
- Being rejected by people you care about.
- Having others find out you have done something wrong.
- Doing (feeling or thinking) something that people you admire believe is wrong or immoral.
- Comparing some aspect of yourself or your behavior to a standard and feeling like you do not live up to that standard.
- Being betrayed by a person you love.
- Being laughed at, made fun of.
- Being criticized in public, in front of someone else; remembering public criticism.
- Being reminded of something wrong, immoral, or “shameful” that you did in the past.” (From Skills Training Manual for Disordered Emotion Regulation by Dr. Marsha Linehan.)
Thanks for reading.