Can guilt be substituted for shame?I got asked this question in a comment to my blog yesterday, "Shedding Shame." Well, they are definitely cousins!
Guilt is meant to be a pin prick. It is built into evolution to help us in surviving, and hopefully thriving. Guilt should be a tap on the shoulder to tell us, "Hey, pay attention! Don't do that again." That's it. It's value is in putting us on notice that our actions were not a good idea and not to repeat them. Boom! Communication-received-LET IT GO!!!
The letting it go part is where we get stuck. The problem with guilt, and where it cozies up to shame, is when we fail to let it go. When we hold onto guilt it can ride side car with shame, and after a long time riding together they become so intertwined it's more like identical twins than cousins. At first, guilt just nudges shame to show up front and center; but later on, the feelings of guilt are inseparable from the feelings of shame. This hurts us individually and our relationships.
When we've done something to/with someone that we feel guilty about, and we hold on to it, every time we interact with that person those feelings are ignited. Soon, we become resentful at the mere presence of them, and we start to avoid them to avoid the unpleasant and unreconciled emotions.
Brene Brown distinguishes guilt from shame in this way: Guilt is a feeling we have when we think we've done something bad and shame is a feeling we have when we think we ARE bad. She feels guilt is a helpful emotion. I'd agree as long as it's just here for a short visit and doesn't unpack its bags!