Shame v. guilt
PSAs and psychology papers alike tend to treat shame and guilt as one emotional state. And there aresimilarities. Both are negative and self-focused. Both arise from doing something bad and then realizing you are responsible.
But they are also different in important ways. “Guilt and shame are very intense negative emotions,” Agrawal says. “They can drive us into depression and anger and all sorts of complex behaviors. And we’re seeing more of them in our society. But we don’t understand them very well.”
Her work is defining and distinguishing the related emotions, while offering positive ways of coping with them. According to Agrawal, guilt is a negative emotion in response to a particular instance of regrettable behavior. Shame is negative emotion associated with one’s overall identity.
“Guilt is easily fixed by taking positive actions,” Agrawal explains. “But shame is not so easily erased. It tells you, ‘I am bad and I will always do bad things.’ In this case, avoidance is sometimes the only solution.”