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January 15, 2020 |

Shame and guilt

An important determinant of whether shame or guilt follows failure to live up to a standard is whether a person believes he could have avoided the violating act. If not, shame is likely. If the person feels he could have done otherwise, guilt is likely to occur. Shame or guilt occurs when an individual judges his or her actions as a failure in regard to his or her standards, rules, and goals and then makes a global attribution. The person wishes to hide, disappear, or die. It is a highly negative and painful state that also disrupts ongoing behavior and causes confusion in thought and an inability to speak. The body of the shamed person seems to shrink, as if to disappear from the eye of the self or others. Because of the intensity of this emotional state, and the global attack on the self system, all that individuals can do when presented with such a state is to attempt to rid themselves of it. Its global nature, however, makes it very difficult to dissipate. The power of shame drives people to employ strategies to rid themselves of this feeling. These strategies may generate behavior that is generally considered abnormal. Some people readjust their notions of success and failure, at least as they apply to their own actions. The narcissistic personality, for example, perceives its actions to be successful while others perceive them as failure. The narcissist is characterized by an exaggerated sense of his or her own accomplishments and is likely to appear hubristic. But underlying the bombast is an attempt to avoid the exaggerated shame the narcissist may really feel. In contrast to the narcissist, a depressed person may be acutely aware of shame and feel helpless, hopeless, and worthless. Shame and guilt are not produced by any specific situation, but rather by an individual’s interpretation of an event. Even more important is the observation that shame is not necessarily related to whether the event is public or private. Although many people hold that shame is a public failure, this need not be so. Failure attributed to the self can be public or private, and can center around moral as well as social action. Guilt is produced when an individual evaluates his or her behavior as a failure, but focuses on the specific features of the self that led to the failure. A guilty person is likely to feel responsible and try to repair the failure. Guilty individuals are pained by their evaluation of failure. Guilt is often associated with a corrective action that the individual can take (but does not necessarily take) to repair the failure and prevent it from happening again. In guilt, the self is differentiated from the object.

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January 15, 2020 |

Shame and guilt

              

An important determinant of whether shame or guilt follows failure to live up to a standard is whether a person believes he could have avoided the violating act. If not, shame is likely. If the person feels he could have done otherwise, guilt is likely to occur. Shame or guilt occurs when an individual judges his or her actions as a failure in regard to his or her standards, rules, and goals and then makes a global attribution. The person wishes to hide, disappear, or die. It is a highly negative and painful state that also disrupts ongoing behavior and causes confusion in thought and an inability to speak. The body of the shamed person seems to shrink, as if to disappear from the eye of the self or others. Because of the intensity of this emotional state, and the global attack on the self system, all that individuals can do when presented with such a state is to attempt to rid themselves of it. Its global nature, however, makes it very difficult to dissipate. The power of shame drives people to employ strategies to rid themselves of this feeling. These strategies may generate behavior that is generally considered abnormal. Some people readjust their notions of success and failure, at least as they apply to their own actions. The narcissistic personality, for example, perceives its actions to be successful while others perceive them as failure. The narcissist is characterized by an exaggerated sense of his or her own accomplishments and is likely to appear hubristic. But underlying the bombast is an attempt to avoid the exaggerated shame the narcissist may really feel. In contrast to the narcissist, a depressed person may be acutely aware of shame and feel helpless, hopeless, and worthless. Shame and guilt are not produced by any specific situation, but rather by an individual’s interpretation of an event. Even more important is the observation that shame is not necessarily related to whether the event is public or private. Although many people hold that shame is a public failure, this need not be so. Failure attributed to the self can be public or private, and can center around moral as well as social action. Guilt is produced when an individual evaluates his or her behavior as a failure, but focuses on the specific features of the self that led to the failure. A guilty person is likely to feel responsible and try to repair the failure. Guilty individuals are pained by their evaluation of failure. Guilt is often associated with a corrective action that the individual can take (but does not necessarily take) to repair the failure and prevent it from happening again. In guilt, the self is differentiated from the object.

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