I met a social worker in Phnom Penh, Cambodia recently (a Mecca for aid workers) and we had a 15 minutes conversation that lasted hours. We talked about the nature of guilt and shame, and she pointed out the difference I hadn’t considered.
- Guilt happens when you feel bad about your actions while shame happens when you feel bad about who you are as a person.
- Guilt causes a person to want to make amends and reform while shame makes a person frustrated and humiliated.
- Guilt can be used to effect positive behaviors or social change while shame can create obedience and give authority to abusive personalities.