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The roadtrip-inspired observations continue. Here’s why I like Brené Brown’s distinction between experiences of guilt and shame.

I’ve used this distinction for a while, though people sometimes push back. Well, now that another PhD researcher says it’s valid, I get to say so too!

Shame is the feeling that one is bad. Guilt is the feeling that one has behaved badly. It’s a being vs. doing distinction, and one I think is quite important. According to Brown, the research indicates that people can use guilt as a powerful motivator to do better next time, to reform, to improve. But with shame, the motivation to do better vanishes: how can one do better if one is a bad person?

Brown cites research demonstrating links between addiction and shame, which I’ve noticed in the literature on sex addiction and religion too. Shame seems to be a predictor of all kinds of negative health outcomes and behaviors. Shame is an effective weapon, though it doesn’t always have the intended outcome (which is why I’m against wielding it, even when some, like Trump, would seem to deserve it).

It thus make sense to connect shame to productivity, since shame stems from a feeling of being inadequate. We seek to remedy this through action and prevent others from noticing because we’re just being too productive/awesome/etc. to actually be as awful as we think we are, right?

Anyway, I think the shame vs. guilt distinction is a useful one, and I hope to see others making use of it in the future too.

FOXY FOLKORIST Studied folklore under Alan Dundes at the University of California, Berkeley, and went on to earn her PhD in folklore from Indiana University. She researches gender and sexuality in fairy...

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