. . . what’s the difference between shame and guilt? And does it matter?
A story: When I first taught English to deaf high school students, one of the first things we did was work on feelings vocabulary, i.e. words and their respective signs. To connect the word and the sign for “Frustrated” was especially appreciated, as I recall! (An ironical Fun Fact to Know and Tell: the sign for “Frustrated” is a flipping gesture with your entire hand, palm side out, so that your splayed fingers flip up and cover your mouth.)
So as I sit here on a steamy, summer day contemplating the usual: systemic racism, our criminal justice system, and climate change (in the midst of this heat wave, especially the latter!), part of me knows that a precise understanding of word and meaning is useful, part of me doesn’t want to get bogged down.
So for what it’s worth: guilt is about “remorseful awareness” and shame is about “the painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt [hmm], embarrassment, unworthiness or disgrace.”
Here’s what I make of those culled definitions (thank you, Random House Dictionary): Guilt is something you come up over time and feel terrible about. Shame is in-the-moment, reactive, makes you cringe, get red-faced, stammer. Involuntary, maybe? Hard-wired, maybe?
Why am I writing about this? Because I’m beginning to think that shame plays a huge role in our lives. In MY life. And that if I want to really effect change in the Ghandian sense, I need to look at this thing.
So I will. All this month.