Where guilt is the feeling of having done something wrong, shame is more the feeling of being wrong. So it’s not just about something you’ve done, but about who you are as a person, and you feel you’re not good enough, or worth less than others. You can feel shame related to your appearance, your abilities or your personality traits.
In many ways, shame is about being a part of a community and about being accepted by your group or your peers. You feel shame when your place in the group is somehow threatened, whether the group is the society at large, your family, your group of friends, your couples relationship or your work place. Shame arises when you have been humiliated, or when something threatens your belonging to the group.
The reason we have the emotion shame is that it has had great survival value for us to be a part of a bigger group, a herd or pack, rather than being on our own. Shame has a bad reputation, but is in many ways the glue of a society: healthy shame makes you relate to society or the group as something bigger than yourself. It is usually not a good thing for your social life to be without shame.
Shame is often experienced as wanting to not be seen by the others. Others’ gaze may feel like its burning. You blush and you want to sink into the ground and disappear. Shame is often reported as discomfort or even pain in the stumoch.
The need that is related to shame is belonging to the group, affirmation, acceptance or recognition from someone who you value. What makes shame difficult to experience is that you often feel like hiding and pulling away, while the need is that others are there to provide acceptance. Many people therefore feel ashamed without others ever knowing about it. It’s hard to express shame, but revealing it can make wonders.
It is common to be ashamed of ones emotions. Shame is thus commonly a secondary emotion. For example, one can be ashamed of being scared or sadness. Many people have associate their feelings with being weak, making the road to secondary shame a short one.
Shame is one of the most common primary problematic emotions. The most common reasons for problematic shame is having been bullied, outcasted, or have had recurrent experiences of being criticized, not accepted or not being validated for who you are. Many people struggle with problematic shame that stems from childhood and adolescence.