Have you ever done anything you’re not proud of, like feigning a headache to get out of a dinner or snapping at your partner in a heated moment? Of course you have because you’re human. You mess up, like we all do, and when it happens, you probably feel guilty.

Guilt is a normal emotion that people experience when they believe they have caused harm or done something wrong. We all make mistakes and those mistakes often affect other people, therefore we feel guilt.

If your feelings of guilt cause daily anxiety or are out of proportion to the actual mistakes you’ve made, you might be suffering from an even more toxic emotion: Shame.

Shame is commonly confused with guilt. People who experience shame often feel bad for every little error they make, and are in a constant state of fear of making more. For this reason they may feel fear around authority figures, judge themselves harshly, and have a low sense of self esteem.

GUILT says I’ve DONE something wrong. SHAME says I AM something wrong. Shame is TOXIC & Got to Go @Terri_Cole (Click to Tweet!)

Living with shame can strip away the joy and freedom that you deserve to experience. Shame most often stems from a wounded part of you that was convinced in childhood that you weren’t enough. Though this is not the truth, it may feel that way, as beliefs that you carry for decades, become your reality. You then begin to live out that reality by taking on jobs, and getting into relationships, that don’t meet your needs. You may have a combination of addictions such as food, alcohol, and self sabotage. Or perhaps you use drugs or alcohol to numb pain and feelings of unworthiness.

Shame can play a very powerful and negative role in your life, but it doesn’t have to. You can heal your feelings of shame and start living a happier and more empowered life. One of the most powerful techniques to healing shame is to practice self compassion. Psychotherapist and self-compassion expert, Beverly Engel, suggests we, “begin to treat ourselves and talk to ourselves with the same kindness, caring and compassion we would show a good friend or a beloved child. In addition, it helps us to feel less isolated and alienated from others. The more shame we feel, the more deficient we feel and in turn, the more separate we feel from others. But self-compassion helps us to recognize our common humanity—the fact that we have all done things that we feel ashamed about and that we all experience the same pain in difficult times.”

Check out this self-compassion exercise from her forthcoming book on the topic:

1. Think of one of your most shaming experiences from childhood. Now think of what you wish someone had said to you right after that experience. What would have been the most helpful and healing for you to hear at that time? Write this statement down on a piece of paper.

2. Imagine that someone you care very much about, someone you admire, is saying those words to you now. Hear those words in your ears. Take those words into your heart. Notice how those words make you feel.

3. Now say those words out loud to yourself. Take a deep breath and really take in those words. How does hearing yourself say those words out loud make you feel?

I hope this post clarified the difference between guilt and shame and motivated you to take a good long look at your relationship to both emotional states. You deserve to be free to create a life you truly love and to feel worthy of having it.

Please share thoughts or questions in the comments below.

I hope you have an amazing week filled with self-compassion and as always, take care of you.

Love Love Love


Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Sign up for Terri’s weekly Tune Up Tips and follow her on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Rob Chandanais