Guilt vs. Shame


The personification (dogification?) of guilt. A muddy and regretful Fiona…


When my children were little they never admitted they had done anything wrong. Never. They would look at me with big eyes, a broken vase at their feet, slivers of glass in their pant’s cuffs and say, “I don’t know how that happened.”


I would respond with what parents always say and don’t mean (because I really liked the vase), “You will not get into trouble. I promise. Just tell me the truth.”


You could see the wheels turning in my children’s heads – is this a trick? Invariably they would stick to their original story. Maybe I was a bad parent, or maybe I was just tired, but I don’t remember punishing them for these “white, CYA lies”. I’d do what was probably worse. I’d say something like, “Okay. I believe you.”


How horrible is that? To have the one person in the world who is a sure thing, BOGO of love and shelter believe your big, fat lie.


When my children walked away from one of those little fireside chats, they felt guilty. I could see the guilt written on their shoulder blades as they skulked to their rooms. It wouldn’t be long however, before I’d hear them laughing and playing again, the broken vase forgotten. Guilt is fleeting.


Guilt is defined as: the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crimeGuilt is different than shame. Guilt is a good thing, it means we are repentant (even if we didn’t admit it to Mom). Guilt is the broken art object, or a speeding ticket, or finishing the bottle of Chardonnay in the refrigerator (just once) and filling it with water so no one knows.


Shame is defined as: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. Shame is the alcoholic’s calling card. We carry it safely in our wallets and in the zippered inner pockets of our hand bags… Shame is lasting.


Guilt makes us hate the fact the vase is shattered by our own hand. Shame makes us hate ourselves

Today I’m not drinking because, okay, OKAY, I DID IT…

How come you’re not drinking?