“I feel so guilty. I always stay with my mother when I visit her. The last time, I decided to stay at a hotel. She fell down during the night and ended up in the hospital.”
“My father drives me crazy, but when I talk back to him, I feel guilty.”
But is “guilt” really what these two people in distress feel?
In almost every workshop that I teach on shame, someone asks me to explain the difference between shame and guilt. There is a common wisdom here, which I basically agree with: Guilt is “I did something bad or wrong,” shame is “I am something bad or wrong.” Guilt is about actions, shame is about your very being. While useful in many ways, there is a basic problem with this distinction. Many people use the word “guilt” when they are really talking about shame.