“Shame is: I am a bad person.
Guilt is: I did a bad thing.”
This comes from the interview with Brene Brown that I showed earlier, about two weeks ago. Just scroll down a bit. Alright, there it is.
There were a number of good quotes that came out of that interview. I took notes. This particular quote came from the interviewer summing up Brown’s previous work on shame, a book that I have never read and, to be honest, probably never will.
Even so, the topic of shame fascinates me. Here’s Webster’s definition:
“A feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong.”
That makes sense. If you are a serial stabber, then you should feel shame, because serial stabbing is wrong. But…what about all those other times? When you’re not doing anything clearly in the wrong, but the shame is there. When that happens, shame becomes your own personal mental albatross. It can inhibit you, it can make you feel awful, but it serves no purpose. It is this predicament that interests me. Because why? Why does this happen?
Let’s go back to the stabbing example. I don’t stab, but I do feel shame. Like a rational person, I decided to make a list, a personal “shame hall of fame,” a “shame highlights” reel, to see if there was a pattern. Maybe I did something in a previous life? This could potentially have been really interesting, but it wasn’t. There was no pattern. Shame just…happened. For little things. Things so immaterial they were hard for me to recall afterwards. This was a frustrating realization. When I say frustrating, I mean $#%* frustrating.
There are probably a mountain of studies that have been done on the topic of shame, none of which I have read. I just have my one theory, which stems from that quote, above. That quote suggests that shame is the result of a mental habit. When there is an instance where guilt is the appropriate response, you interpret guilt as shame. Does that make a difference? It does to me. Hearing that quote felt a bit like the release of a bird out of an internal cage, because in many ways, guilt is a lot easier of a burden to bear. Guilt doesn’t make you a worse person.
I don’t know why habits form. But once they form, then it’s just a matter of breaking that habit.* I’m not When you feel shame, rebrand that as guilt. See where that takes you.
* I’m not saying this is easy, by the way. I would just rather feel guilt than shame. Shame is God awful.