What’s the difference between shame and guilt? Are they both negative emotions or is one actually positive? Heather Holleman explains the important differences between shame and guilt.

Guilt is a good Biblical emotion. Heather says guilt is godly sorrow.

“It represents our legal position before God.”

The wages of sin is death, of that we are guilty. We need to be rescued from the punishment of sin.

“We have Jesus who is coming in our place to make us innocent before God. So there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Guilt is a good emotion that says, Jesus I need you, forgive me, I don’t want to be condemned.

Shame is different than guilt because shame is focused on what other people think of us.

“Shame is how do other people feel about my guilt? How do other people think about my shortcomings? It’s always focused on how am I appearing before other people. It’s always an imagined audience.”

“Even if your audience is yourself because shame can also happen in isolation. We can always be rehashing our shortcomings and dwell on how we’re falling short of the people we want to be.”

Shame keeps us in perpetual analysis of how you look to the community.

Do shame and guilt have a remedy?

“The problem is shame as no remedy. For people truly having a shame experience, nothing is enough. They just continue to feel worthless. They continue to feel like they aren’t enough. They don’t forgive themselves.”

However, Heather says guilt has a remedy.

“It’s forgiveness. You ask Jesus to forgive you and save you from your sin.”

We can argue back against shame by understanding what fear lies at the core of shame.

“Think about this, shame is actually your fear of losing intimacy, it’s your fear of rejection, it’s your fear that you will never belong.”

We fight back against shame when we realize that we are already loved and accepted by God and our standing in His eyes is what matters most.

Heather Holleman, PhD, is a speaker, writer, and college instructor. She is a faculty member of Penn State’s English Department and teaches both freshman composition and advanced writing. Heather studied shame and narcissism for her doctoral work in English literature.

Key Scripture: 2 Corinthians 7:10

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Shame and guilt