What's the difference between guilt and shame?

Episode 38 in Part 3 of our Introduction series: Getting to know others.

Habits:  Positive Attitude | Quiet

Skills:  Empathy | Self-confidence | Courage

Description:  In this episode, we explore the difference between guilt and shame, investigating researcher Brené Brown's definitions of each. We explain how shame may be reducing your self-confidence and explain how courage and empathy can help you to take on the things that are important to you.

How this lesson might be discussed with your child

This episode compares the difference between guilt and shame, and investigates the impacts that these two ideas might have on a student's ability to take on the things that matter to them.

We consider Brené Brown's explanation of the difference between the two:

"Guilt: I made a mistake. Shame: I am a mistake"

Brown also covers the two common thoughts that define shame:

  1. 'Never good enough'

  2. 'Who do you think you are?'

During the episode, we provide an example of the difference in guilty and shameful thinking by giving the example of doing something bad, such as stealing. The question we raise is - does stealing something make you a bad person? The answer of course is no. Stealing means you've done a bad thing – not that you are inherently bad as a person. Guilty thoughts would allow you to accept your wrong doing, but to move on. Shame on the other hand, would have you convince yourself that you're a bad person, reducing your self-confidence.

In discussing this episode, some questions might include:

  • Have you ever had the experience of shameful thoughts?

  • What are some examples of shame-type thoughts? (examples may include; 'I'm not good enough to...' 'Who do you think you are to do/try/take on...' 'I am a bad/stupid/useless etc (anything negative) person' 'I don't deserve to be happy/be fulfilled/be loved/have friends etc (anything positive).

  • Do you think it's difficult to stop these thoughts from coming into your head? Why/Why not?

  • What do you think you can do to stop shame-based thoughts?

  • Why do you think shameful thoughts can stop you from taking on the most important things in your life?

Some specific discussion points

As always, discussion of any literary works, historical figures, celebrities or current events featuring prominent individuals offers an opportunity to discuss how attitude impacts different people/characters? 

Questions may include:

  • Can you think of someone (a celebrity, TV, movie or book character) who does or has done something bad but goes on to achieve success in an area that's important to them?

  • Do you think this person or character had a guilt or shame approach to the bad thing they did? Why?

  • Can you think of someone who had huge potential to be successful, but didn't because they did one bad thing? Why them?

  • What do you think prevented them from moving past the bad thing they did so they could reach their potential?

  • Is it ever inappropriate to have a guilt attitude? Why/Why not?

  • Can having a shame-based attitude ever be a good thing? Why/Why not?

  • Why do you need courage to take on shame?

  • Why do you need empathy to help others take on their shame?

  • Why do you think the most powerful words to help someone in struggle are 'me too'?

Discussing the quote from this episode:

"Each of us has an inner dream that we can unfold if we will just have the courage to admit what it is. And the faith to trust our own admission. The admitting is often very difficult." — Julia Cameron

Possible areas of discussion may include:

  • Do you believe each of us has an inner dream? Why/Why not?

  • Do you believe that we can unfold that dream if we will just have the courage to admit what it is? Why/Why not?

  • Why do you think that admitting your inner dream is often very difficult?

  • Why do you think Cameron suggests that we need to admit what our dream is?

  • Who do you have to admit your dream to? Why them?

  • Can you have more than one dream? Why/Why not?

Further information on this topic

If you'd like to dive a bit deeper on this topic, you might be interested in watching:


Brené Brown – Listening To Shame