What is Shame?


As someone who enjoys learning new things, I’m constantly on YouTube, watching videos and listening to podcasts. I had come across a sermon about Shame and Complex Trauma and was intrigued. 

Why? Because I don’t know the difference between guilt and shame. 

I bought this up to my therapist during a session, stating that I feel “guilty” about certain situations. He then started describing the difference between guilt and shame to me. And it immediately dawned on me that I was using the wrong word. It’s not guilt I feel but shame.

So what is shame? Brene Brown defines it as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” 

The best way I can describe the difference to myself is: shame is feeling bad about oneself; Guilt is feeling bad about a situation.

If we look at a situation, here’s how guilt vs shame plays out–Say you spill a glass of milk. You feel guilty if you say to yourself, “Great, I made a mess. Now I have to clean it.”; however you feel shameful if you say “I’m so stupid. I made a mess.” In the guilt scenario you note the situation (mess); in the shame scenario you note yourself. 

Shame can be triggered by past or present experiences, even when we remember or imagine a situation. (However, memory can fool us, as we can have distorted memories of the past.)


  1. You try hard in school and can only get a B or below. Your parents ask why you couldn’t get an A.
  2. Your caregivers constantly compare you to other kids and ask why you aren’t as good as the other children. 
  3. You accidentally spill a cup of milk and get yelled at and called stupid. (Hence the scenario above.)
  4. You go to school and other kids tease you for the way you dress.
  5. You tell your caregivers about a need/want, but they tell you there’s no need for it.
  6. You do the dishes and are told to rewash them because they’re “not good enough.”
  7. You have a speech impediment and friends, families, and peers tease you.
  8. You mention to a friend that you like a certain kind of music, and they tell you that genre is stupid.
  9. You get bullied at school, tell your parents you want to switch schools, but they keep you at the school and raise no concerns to administration.
  10. You give a school presentation and the teacher asks why you didn’t come more prepared.


These are only a few examples of how shame may have manifested in us. Yet, it’s important to note that no matter what may have built shame in us, it does not define us. Our past is out of our control (literally), but we can control our present and future.

See the next article to learn how to manage your shame triggers. You can overcome the sense of shame in order to have a more worthwhile life.

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