As we at the Summit go through our “Smoke from a Fire” series, exploring the ways our emotions reveal our inner struggles, we want to share follow-up resources from our Pastor of Counseling, Brad Hambrick. This week’s resources focus on the topic of shame. Here’s Brad:
What Is the Difference Between Guilt, Shame, and Regret?
Are these three words—guilt, shame, and regret—synonyms? They feel very similar. Each is unpleasant. There is a natural instinct to want to hide or cover up. Frequently, we are embarrassed to admit or want to talk about any of these emotions. There is a sense of being dirty, damaged, or bad in the midst of these experiences. We have a tendency to believe that these emotions define us (at least to some degree).
Each emotion is triggered by similar types of events. There was something wrong that happened and we were part of that event. Socially, the triggering event is believed to carry a stigma that would make us less acceptable. Memory of the triggering event is very “sticky” in our memory and hard to let go.
I would argue that these emotions, when rightly understood and our experiences rightly interpreted, are three distinct emotions, and the gospel speaks to each in unique ways. At the risk of over-simplifying:
Guilt is a sense of legitimate condemnation in response to personal sin and says, “I did something wrong.”
Shame is a sense of illegitimate condemnation in response to suffering and says, “I am marred or inherently unacceptable.”
Regret is a form of grief for a reasonable good circumstance that was never realized and says, “I wish things had gone differently.”
We rightly feel guilt when we lose our temper, misrepresent the truth, fail to fulfill a promise, neglect a responsibility, dishonor an authority figure, make a crude joke, take advantage of someone, or fail to represent Christ accurately in some other way. If we do not feel guilty for these things, our conscience is seared (at least to some degree).
We feel shame (among other emotions) when we have been abused (physically, verbally, or sexually), are limited by chronic pain, have been betrayed by a spouse or trusted friend, lose our job, are helpless after a catastrophe, or experience other hardships that are not the result of personal sin. If we own these emotions in the same way we own guilt, then we feel a false sense of condemnation.
We feel regret when a parent died when we were young, an illness prevents us from pursuing a dream, an opportunity does not come our way, or some other reasonable and legitimate desire is unfulfilled. If we interpret these experiences as God’s rejection or a reflection of our value, then we over-personalize these events as if they carried a message about us from God; we treat regret like an insult instead of a hardship.
Read the entire post here.