• Sara & Colin Taylor

Guilt versus Shame

"Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad." ~ Brené Brown

What do you see as the difference between guilt and shame? Which feels worse? Brené Brown has done a lot of work on awareness and differentiating between the two concepts in language that makes so much sense. And here's the thing - it's very important to understand as physicians when it comes to our well-being.

In her TED Talk Listening to Shame, which we highly recommend you watch, Brené describes the difference between these seemingly similar concepts. Guilt is focused on behaviour, shame is focused on self. She goes on to give the short clear example: "I'm sorry I made a mistake" versus "I am a mistake". The former statement illustrates guilt while the latter statement illustrates shame, of which shame is highly correlated with addiction, bullying, depression and suicide just to name a few. Brené points out that guilt is inversely correlated with these maladaptive outcomes.

When have you seen guilt and shame show up in your own life? Have you ever said "I'm a bad doctor" as opposed to "I'm a doctor who made a mistake?" Or worse, has someone else said "You're a bad doctor" as opposed to "You're a doctor who made a mistake?" If so, you are not alone but we are here to reinforce the fact that we are all human, and as such, we will make mistakes. Failure is part of the contract we make when it comes to leading a life that impacts others. The beauty is on the other side of failure where learning, community and humility live.

Fortunately, we can change the shame stories we tell ourselves through empathy and compassion for one another's struggles and knowing we aren't going it alone.


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