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Section 8
Shame as a Void vs. Guilt as a Burden

Question 8 | Test | Table of Contents

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According to Lanning in his article "Shame, Guilt, Ego Development, and the Five-Factor Model of Personality," two types of guilt were distinguished, Empathic Guilt (associated with Agreeableness) and Anxious Guilt (associated with Neuroticism).

As you know and as we've seen, shame is an elusive concept. We've already discussed ways in which shame affects masculine depression. We've also looked at different techniques for overcoming maintained shame. Along with this, I've found that it's important to step back and make sure I know exactly what shame is. If I can distinguish between shame and guilt, then I can better recognize what it is my client is feeling. In turn, I can better treat my client.

Let's turn now to specific differences between shame and guilt, developed by Baumli. By comparing the two, hopefully you can come to a better understanding of what shame is and what role it plays in the depressed man's life.

6 Major Distinctions between Guilt and Shame

♦ 1. Where shame is often referred to as a void, guilt is often referred to as a burden.
Someone who feels guilty, for example, might complain of feeling oppressed, smothered, and weighed down by his emotions. Physically, we often describe guilt as a burden on one's back or a lead weight in one's belly. Someone who feels ashamed, on the other hand, would describe his physical state as feeling empty inside, or lacking a sense of emotional certainty and self-centeredness. Often, shame is accompanied by a sensation of tactile fear, or fear that feels like it's actually crawling over his skin or wriggling in his belly. Shame also corresponds with physical nausea at times.

♦ 2. Guilt is much more specific than shame.
When one feels guilty, usually he can trace it to an event or an incident in which he did something to feel guilty or was made to feel guilty. One can be guilty of a particular crime, for instance. But as you know, shame is much more difficult to define. It is indeterminate and unspecifiable. A depressed man might feel a twinge of shame but not really know why. And it is so vague, so confusing, that often a man can only give it a determinate boundary by attaching the shame to something all-compassing. This might be his entire self.

♦ 3. Along these lines, guilt is usually associated with something a man has done.
A man might feel guilty for speaking sharply to his wife or for punishing his son. Shame, on the other hand, is felt in terms of what one is. A man might say he feels shame when he thinks about himself as a child or when he spends time with his parents.

♦ 4. Additionally, guilt and shame seem to have different origins.
Guilt, it seems, is largely learned from the father. This is because his masculinity is probably oriented toward the performance of, or failure to perform, specific tasks. A man might also learn guilt from other men whose cultural conditioning focuses them on competition and the fear of failure.

By contrast, shame tends to be learned from the mother early in life. This is because either her approval of her son causes him to feel pride in his entire being, or her disapproval of her son causes him to feel ashamed of his entire self. Other possible contributors to the sense of shame might occur if the mother instills in her son that morality is something feminine, that women's disapproval is something to fear, or that men will never quite measure up to women's expectations of good, moral behavior.

♦ 5. Women tend to feel more guilt than shame.
However, men tend to feel more shame than guilt. Much of this has to do with our social construction of gender roles.

♦ 6. Finally, guilt seems to be a bit more easily confronted.
It, like shame, is a very difficult emotion to grapple with. However, once a man has the courage to face it, he can either spontaneously discharge it with an angry assertion and attempt to reform himself, or he can slowly cast it off as he takes on a new state of awareness. By exercising different choices and actions, he can render the old guilt irrelevant and perhaps also remedy any harm to others that he's done in the past. Shame, however, can never be grappled with quite as easily as guilt because it has less form. Attempting to deal with shame can make a man feel helpless, frustrated, and angry. It seems to be a more pervasive feeling that grows more and more toxic when it is not addressed.

All of these distinctions have helped me determine the root of my depressed client's problems on more than one occasion. Would it be beneficial to play this section in your next session with your depressed male client who is experiencing shame?

What are the physical references of shame and guilt? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 9
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