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Monday, February 18, 2013

Guilt vs. shame

The academic interest in shame and other emotions of self-consciousness (guilt, embarrassment) is relatively recent. It’s part of a broader effort on the part of psychologists to think systematically about resilience—which emotions serve us well in the long run, which ones hobble and shrink us. Those who’ve spent a lot of time thinking about guilt, for example, have come to the surprising conclusion that it’s pretty useful and adaptive, because it tends to center on a specific event (I cannot believe I did that) and is therefore narrowly focused enough to be constructive (I will apologize, and I will not do that again). 
Shame, on the other hand, is a much more global, crippling sensation. Those who feel it aren’t energized by it but isolated. They feel unworthy of acceptance and fellowship; they labor under the impression that their awfulness is something to hide. “And this incredibly painful feeling that you’re not lovable or worthy of belonging?” asks Brown. “You’re navigating that feeling every day in high school.”
The above text is from this New York Magazine article--it's specifically about adolescence and the effects of American-style high school on development, but this quotation about guilt versus shame reminds me specifically of what I felt as a teenager in the LDS church. In the past I've referred to feelings of bad behavior or inadequacy as guilt, but it seems that shame is a more proper term, at least as it is used in the article. As I read it, guilt stems from feeling that you've done something wrong, whereas shame stems from feeling that you are wrong--yourself, your being. This is the key to why I felt so strongly that I was a bad Mormon, though my behavior was model, and why reinforcing my "good habits" (scripture study, prayer, magnifying callings, etc.) did nothing to dispel that feeling.

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