Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I am still in Atlanta, but scheduled this to post hoping that I might get a discussion going by the time I return. What do you think?

In the women's therapy group I am a member of, we are exploring the role of shame in our lives. For this we are using Brene Brown's shame curriculum, which is excellent. Did you know that research shows that everyone experiences shame--everyone! Some more than others, some less. 

This week one of the things we discussed is the difference between guilt, shame, humiliation, and embarrassment. I found it interesting to think about the distinctions between the four feelings.

As I see it, guilt is what we feel when we think "I have done something bad or wrong". 

Shame is what we feel when we think, "I am bad or wrong" and we feel disconnected, cut off from others, not belonging.  

Humiliation is what we feel when we do not believe we deserve the shaming behavior of someone else--we don't own it and we feel badly because we think we are being unjustly treated. We may have done something wrong or made a mistake but don't accept the shaming for it. 

Embarrassment is when we make a mistake or do something wrong, feel bad, and yet know that other people do and feel the same things--we are not alone. 

Isn't that interesting? What do you think? 


~Karen C.L. Anderson~ said...

I agree with your definitions and wanted to add that I LOVE Brene Brown's work!!

On a side note, I recently heard something funny: we only need enough guilt to prevent us from killing others ;-)

Kelly said...

That is interesting. I think a therapist once explained to me the difference between guilt and shame as we were exploring the fact that I had a lot of shame embedded in me. It can take a long time and a lot of hard work to leave shame behind, or at least that is so in my experience. That's so neat that you're using Brown's curriculum. I hadn't heard of it.

patti said...

They all resonate with me, except I always thought that we felt embarrassment when we know others can see our shame(?)

Olivia said...

Hi, Karen CL,

Isn't she great? I'm glad that her work is getting more and more out there.

I think that's probably true about guilt though. Or perhaps if it's just fleeting enough for us to make a correction and that's it. Just to feel it for 90 seconds or so, decide how to modify our behavior, and then move on.

It's an interesting question, "How much guilt do we really need?"

Thanks for commenting, Karen, xoO

Olivia said...


I am impressed that you've worked on leaving shame behind...I wonder how many people have? Our homework in class was to make a "shame collage" (which I am currently doing) and I cannot believe how much shame I have and where it is from. I would have thought that most would be from childhood and religious upbringing and such, but the most toxic and strongest shame seems to be originating for me as an adult. This is really surprising.

You would love Brene Brown's work, Kelly. She is a professor from Houston and a very authentic woman as well. She has written two books...both great...I have them so I'll show them to you SOON!!!


Olivia said...


That makes sense--I may have missed that part--but it does seem that embarrassment could not occur without the social component. I'm sure you're correct. How could we feel shame alone all by ourselves, right?

I looked it up in a dictionary and it wasn't much help...

I would think that humiliation would have to have a social component as well, don't you think?

Thank you for helping to get a discussion going :) xoO

laundrygirl said...

I have been struggling with guilt and shame this week. I have been 'shamed' and told that I am wrong because I have disappointed others. It's been difficult to shake off, to not let these feelings reside within because while I made some difficult decisions, I did what was best for me. It directly contradicts being a people pleaser...

Olivia said...

It takes a healthy person to do what is best for herself, while at the same time considering all of the ramifications. I think that sometimes shame is used to manipulate people because we react so strongly to it. You are such a thoughtful person Kristine...in life we can't please all of the people all of the time, that's for sure. Sometimes it seems as though we can't please anyone. I think it's best to make the best decision, and let those who are offended do what they have to do and shake them off--maybe they'll disappear and share their truth elsewhere, if you're lucky. Thanks for sharing this, Kristine, xoO