by:  Mary Christian

Understanding Guilt and Shame in EQ

Emotional Intelligence (“EQ”) influences how we perceive and manage our emotions and how we navigate social situations. In the grand color wheel of emotion, guilt and shame play significant roles in shaping our behaviors, relationships, and overall well-being.  Although often used interchangeably, guilt and shame are distinct emotional experiences which carry their own unique psychological implications.  Let’s dive deeper.

Guilt: A Moral Compass:  Guilt can be described as the feeling of responsibility for a wrongdoing or feeling of remorse for a perceived failure in meeting one’s own moral standards.  While guilt is directed towards a specific behavior or action, serving as a moral compass and signal when an individual has transgressed against their own values or violated societal norms, shame focuses on the self.

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Healthy guilt can prompt individuals to reflect on their actions, take responsibility for their behavior, and make amends where necessary because healthy guilt encourages individuals to strive to repair relationships and uphold their integrity. On the dark side, however, excessive, or irrational guilt can be detrimental and lead to self-blame, low self-esteem, and a perpetual cycle of rumination which impedes personal growth.

Shame: The Pain of Self-Worth:  Shame, is an intense, painful emotion characterized by a deep sense of inadequacy, unworthiness, or exposure. Shame is the fear of rejection or judgment by others and the internalization of beliefs “I” am fundamentally flawed or defective and pierces one’s core identity.

Although some guilt can motivate individuals to change their behavior, shame often impedes or even stops growth and forward movement, because the feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing are paralyzing and overwhelming.  Shame is virulent and erodes self-esteem, encourages isolation, and hinders authentic connection with others. Shame-prone individuals may resort to avoidance, denial, or perfectionism to hide themselves from further humiliation, and perpetuate a cycle of emotional distress.

Cultivating EQ:  Self-awareness of guilt and shame can foster recognition and management in healthy ways.  Guilt and shame can trigger subconscious insidious behavior patterns and limiting beliefs.  Once behavior patterns and beliefs associated with these emotions are identified, conscious choices can be made to respond adaptively.

Self-compassion can mitigate the harmful effects of guilt and shame.  By treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance the imperfection is part of the human experience, individuals can cultivate resilience in the face of adversity.

(Next Topic:  RUMINATING – Breaking the Cycle)


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