Shame, Guilt, Contempt

As I am preparing my free online mini-course on Toxic Shame I am learning more and more about shame and how disproportionately and inadequately we devalue ourselves and how serious are the consequences of it. Shame is a very painful emotion, it brings loss of self-esteem and requires reclaiming and healing our identity. It harbors an enormous amount of anger and hate towards self. One way to understand if shame is part of your life is to get to know sisters or brothers of shame. Let’s look at the following: shyness, embarrassment, guilt and contempt.

Shyness and embarrassment are somewhat lighter versions of shame. When we feel shy or timid we feel awkwardness, we tend to feel that everyone is focused on us and we desire not to be visible, hide, not to be called on, we want to disappear. When we are embarrassed we are seen in a light that makes us uncomfortable. For example, our skirt or pants fell down on a street in front of a crowd.

And then there is guilt. If shame focuses on who we are in our core, then guilt focuses on what we have done, on our actions, on our deeds.

Both shame and guilt might be useful in order for us to fit into societal norms and lead ethical lives. However, when these feelings are in excess they are toxic, destructive and harmful.

Dr. Paul Ekman states that shame, guilt and contempt are all about meeting expectations. They all are social or moral emotions.

Shame says: I did not meet my own standards and expectations.

Guilt says: I did not meet your standards and expectations.

Contempt says: You did not meet my standards and expectations.

Often shame tends to use contempt, narcissism and blaming as a defense mechanism against the feeling.

Whose expectations are you trying to meet?

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