External Shame vs Internal Shame vs Guilt
Guilt and shame often emerge together but they are far from being the same emotion. Shame is a self-conscious emotion that involves a negative self-evaluation and unpleasant beliefs of one’s worth. Shame is linked to psychological disorders including anxiety, mood disorders, eating disorders, narcissism, and paranoia.
The Difference Between Guilt and Shame
Because shame involves feelings about self, it is often a more aversive and persistent emotion than guilt. Seeing yourself as inferior or defected can have huge negative consequences.
Shame results from our self-perception of failure. We tend to feel shame when we don’t meet our internal standards or ideals.
On the other hand, guilt is the disturbing feeling of self-criticism resulting from our belief that we have done something immoral or wrong. Because it is based on the recognition that we have done harm to another, we tend to feel guilty regardless of whether other people know about our wrongdoings. In other words, while guilt is related to our negative self-evaluation, the main focus of this feeling is our wrong or immoral behavior.
The Difference between Internal Shame and External Shame
Research has shown that shame may arise in forms of internal and external shame that differently affect our mental health. External shame stems from outside of self, and it is linked to public exposure. This form of shame is related to what we believe that others think about us. In other words, external shame involves an upsetting awareness that others view us negatively because of our improper behavior, flaws, or incompetence. The awareness that we lost approval and respect of others leads to anxiety and fear that we will be left out from our social landscape. We usually feel external shame because of public exposure and judgment. Therefore, external shame can be described with terms such as “humiliated”, “embarrassed” or “disgraced”.
However, internal shame originates inside the self and its main aspect is a self-conscious feeling that we are at the core flawed. Internal shame stems from our belief that there is something basically wrong with us and it is less dependent on public exposure. This subtype of shame reflects our self-critical thoughts of inadequacy and worthlessness. In other words, the main focus of internal shame is on our self-perception of defective, flawed self. If we are strongly concerned by our wrongdoing, we will feel intense internal shame even in a private situation, when there is no one around to judge our actions.
Studies show that both internal and external shame are associated with depressive symptoms because we strongly value our own and others’ views of self. While internal shame relates to feelings of self-devaluation, external shame is related to our thoughts about how others perceive us. However, in both internal and external shame, there is a perceived failure to present ourselves as attractive and flawless. This perception can impair our mental health and cause different psychological disorders.