You should be ashamed of yourself, you're a bad person!

With guilt, the focus is on one’s behavior (“I did a bad thing”), whereas, with shame, the focus is on one’s self (“I’m a bad person”). According to this view, guilt arises when one makes internal, unstable, specific attributions about one’s actions, which lead to negative feelings about specific behaviors that one has committed (Tracy & Robins, 2004). Shame, on the other hand, arises when one makes internal, stable, global attributions about one’s self, which lead to negative feelings about the global self (Tracy & Robins, 2004).


Guilt: "I did a bad thing"

A second school of thought proposes that guilt and shame can be differentiated via a public–private distinction. According to this distinction, which has its roots in anthropology (Benedict, 1946), transgressions or failures that have not been publically exposed (i.e., private misdeeds) are likely to elicit feelings of guilt, whereas transgressions or failures that have been publically exposed are likely to elicit feelings of shame (Ausubel, 1955; Combs, Camp- bell, Jackson, & Smith, 2010; Smith et al., 2002). From this perspective, guilt is associated with a private sense of having done something wrong or having behaved in a way that violates one’s conscience. Shame, on the other hand, is the negative feeling that arises when one’s failures and shortcomings are put on public display. To illustrate the public–private perspective, Smith et al. (2002) pointed to classic literary examples from The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne, 1850/1962). In this novel, Hester Prynne and Rever- end Dimmesdale commit adultery, and Prynne becomes pregnant. Prynne is forced to wear a scarlet letter A on her gown and is publically castigated for the transgression. The ensuing emotion is an intense feeling of shame. Dimmesdale’s role in the transgres- sion, however, is not exposed—he keeps his paternity concealed. Consequently, throughout the novel, Dimmesdale suffers from an intense private feeling of guilt that damages his physical and mental health.

SHAMe and guilt based self criticism

You did a bad thing; you're a bad person!


SHAME: "I'm a bad person"
  • Is this the first time you felt you're a bad person?
  • If not the first time, where did the notion originated from? By whose standard?
  • Are you a bad person all the time?
  • What is your global self-perception?
  • How do significant others perceive you?
  • What are the good things you did that made you say I'm a good person?
  • Do we have to like/ dislike or accept/ reject our self worth based on whether we do the right thing?
GUILT: "I did something wrong"
You should've done it differently!
  • Constant thought that you "Should've done or acted differently."
  • Do you strive for perfection? Do you have a very high/ "unrealistic" standard for yourself in terms of getting things right?
  • As a child, what was expected of you?
  • Is there a time where the consequences of getting things wrong were severe?


Constructive criticism is not about blame, guilt or shame. It is not about belittling, or about something that forces you to feel guilty, ashamed, and not be able to move in any direction.
It is about doing better and growing. It is about learning from our past. It is about acknowledging the "wrong deed," forgiving self and moving forward.

What to do with shame & GUILT

  • Work with your counselor one on one - for UNREVERSABLE actions and things that cannot be amended
  • Consider the following ...

Things to consider while managing shame, guilt, AND SELF CRITICISM

  • Examine your automatic thoughts
  • Go beyond your thoughts
  • Take an assessment of your proneness to guilt and shame. If you cannot get rid of thoughts that are bothering you long after something happened, chances are you probably have high proneness to guilt and shame. Hence, the issue might not be just this one incident; you probably will have more of the same thing. Examine your state of mind and scrutinize your deeply held beliefs.
  • Eg. If you have a belief that says "If I did something wrong, I'm a bad person - I should be ashamed of myself;" you may want to challenge that notion. Are you really a bad person? Given what you knew at the time and what you thought was ok, is what you did unacceptable to you?
  • When you did something unacceptable, what was your primary care giver/ significant other's reaction. Were they using blaming, punishment, or used an approach that made you feel guilty and a bad person?

Post trauma guilt



Examine your thoughts and belief system, and scrutinize them
Ask yourself; "Does what I did make me a bad person Given what I knew at the time and given the circumstances?" Even if so, does that make me a bad person in general?
"What are the good things I have done?"
"Does forgiveness work for me; if so how can I get one either from self or others?"
  • Once you identify your thoughts and the beliefs behind them, Practice positive affirmations that remind you the good things you did and that you're a good person; word it in a way that sounds authentic and true for yourself.
  • Since guilt can affect your physical, emotional and spiritual health, a gentle way to remedy the effects is by practicing positive affirmations. Keeping your affirmations in present tense helps you stay in the present moment, and using “I am” makes the statement powerful and personal.
  • Surround yourself with people who can understand you and support you while you're working through your feelings of guilt and shame
  • Journaling is helpful for some people. For one thing, it is a way to release your negative feelings to some extent. In addition, it provides you a third person perspective; as if you're hearing your friend's story. Journaling is a wonderful method of visualizing what's on your mind and also going back to it later to remind yourself how far you’ve come along. Seeing your progress feeds your growing positive feeling,.
  • Forgive yourself. It is essential to forgive yourself and others in order to release your guilt and decide to not allow it to suffocate you and your future opportunities. Forgiveness is not the same as acceptance of the hurt. It's about taking care of yourself so that you can move forward with your life without being controlled by the guilt or the person who has hurt you. Forgiveness is key to allowing yourself to move forward with your life in a positive direction. When you don’t forgive yourself, you are not able to forgive others. So, start forgiving yourself and know that just being human means that you have made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. Mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow. Releasing your guilt and finding ways to leave the past behind, learning from your experiences and moving forward in a healing direction can enhance your physical, emotional and spiritual health.
  • Speak to yourself as you would speak to a friend. If a friend was struggling with an uncomfortable emotion, you most likely would never criticize that friend with language like, “Why can’t you just learn to be happy all of the time?!” So don’t speak to yourself that way either.
  • Acknowledge challenges and let them go: always remember, “We are not perfect, nor do we need to be.” When entirely normal emotions come up—frustration, stress, anger, fear— remind yourself that no one expects you to be perfect. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you need to feel and to then let it go.
  • Do something that puts you in a positive mood; when in that state, it is easier to forgive yourself.
Created By

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.