Love and Sex in the Digital Age

Technology and the intimate relationship

Guilt = Good, Shame = Bad

The truly sad part of shame is that shame-based people are, at best, likely to have less rich, less rewarding, and less interpersonally meaningful lives than they’d like. And at worst they become mired in depression, anxiety, addiction, violence, isolation, dysfunctional relationships, and various other manifestations of deep emotional pain. Read More

Try this Solution!

Whether it is to resolve shame or guilt, the rule is that the solution is always there for any problem. Believe me, I used to feel very guilty for my own wrongdoings right since childhood. Once, I even went into depression for the same. However, I did not lose hope due to which I was able to come out of it through the grace of my spiritual master who taught me to overcome it my realizing my own self ( Since after then, I have found myself to be guilty or shameful such that it proves to be self-devastating.

This was just to share my experience! Thanks author for that distinction between the two.

Dear Robert Weiss, I am

Dear Robert Weiss,

I am afraid that both you and B. Brown overlook one fundamental aspect: there are no 'guilt'-based or 'shame'-based people at all. But there are clearly cultures that manufacture either guilt (more typical of Western, Christian societies) or shame (typical of family-/clan-based Asian societies).

In other words, no one ever 'chose' a guilty or a shameful nature or was born with one. There are only differences in sensibilities (and, of course, resilience). We are not born full of shame, we learn to react that way to norms and what follows their trespassing.
Hence there is little point in trying to use therapy to make someone feel less guilty or ashamed. Therapy can make people more resilient; but it can't do away the underlying cultural learning.
I think it would be a crucial error to project into the psyche what originated on the outside.

Both a Freudian and a gene-based view of reality tend to underestimate the crucial influence of cultural learnings. In order for someone to feel worthless there needs to be an intricate system of values in place, social hierarchies, surveillance, judgements, a public opinion, a developed conscience etc.

To claim that guilt can be productive but shame is always toxic seems to miss the most important point: what the cause of such reactions is ...

America is becoming more and more a shame society.

Guilt comes from actions the person is at fault for, from what I understand of the article. Things like theft, murder, vandalism, etc. the person chose to do and now regrets. Shame by contrast is a more abstract notion that is more severe than guilt if only because the person did not choose to experience what he/she is now ashamed of. Things like sexual orientation, race, economic/employment status, etc. Things that they shouldn't be ashamed of, but because our society is seriously fucked up, they are. How are we supposed to reduce the "stigma" of being, say, mentally ill, gay, or transgender, if in 150 years we haven't even been able to reduce the "stigma" of being black?

The rising acceleration of absolutist conservatism has brought about an increase in personal devaluation based on categories one may find him/herself in through no action of their own. Yet because they are in that category, they blame themselves because a repeated mantra of "X is all your fault" is all they ever hear. Especially if that mantra comes from authority figures who have something the person desires, i.e. wealth, social status, good looks, etc. A rich Republican congressman who filibusters on and on about how people on unemployment are stupid losers who just didn't try hard enough probably has everything the unemployed person wishes s/he could have. Power, wealth, attractive spouse, free time, nice things, etc. It really puts the "bully" in bully pulpit.

I myself am ashamed that I can't do math -- I just can't, it's foreign to me -- and would never be able to cut it in a "desirable" STEM or finance major in college. Which puts me SOL regarding education; I can either go on and study something marginally interesting yet economically worthless in the liberal arts, putting myself into debt and having zero employment prospects after the fact. Or I can forget college altogether and have zero employment prospects with just a high school diploma (but no debt). Either way, this puts me into a "shameful" category, the unemployed, or the perpetually "under-employed" -- retail clerks, fast-food employees, janitorial staff, etc. Double shame if I have to go on public assistance, because "if a man cannot work, let him not eat." I tend to think that Americans by and large have absorbed this Ayn Rand tea party mentality and feel entitled to throw scalding-hot coffee at the kid behind the BK counter because s/he gave out a small or kid-size order of fries instead of medium, large, or extra-grande Chris Christie. But what do you expect from a society where school children are encouraged by their parents to physically assault their classmates who -- horror of horrors -- only have the iPhone 4 and not the uber-cool 5S?

There are so many categories of shame in this country based on superficial crap like language, skin color, and especially job (or lack thereof). So many categories the workforce now deems undesirable that have nothing to do with you per se, but are programmed into these keyword databases that HR recruiters use to "weed out" the "potential liabilities." Did you major in something "stupid" like English literature or history? Attend a school that wasn't one of the following: Harvard, Harvard or Harvard? Were your parents union members? Did/do they work in the public sector? What's your name, is it Mary or Sue? Or Jamal or Juanita? Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, excluding all other false gods and those who do not follow the One True Path of faith? Oh, you're an atheist, well, don't call us, we won't call you. What/who do you "Like" on Facebook? Oh, Rachel Maddow and NOT Bill O'Reilly? YOU'RE FIRED!

It's almost too bad that America doesn't accept seppuku in the way the Japanese do. The way we've managed to shame everyone but a tiny, minute fraction of people and ruin their lives permanently leaving them scrambling for tiny crumbs under the table really makes you wonder if our collective suffering wouldn't be alleviated by a visit to good old Dr. Jack K. But then, there's no way the "conscience clause" would allow that to be covered under "CommieCare." No, of course not, because that would be, dare I say it, a crying shame.

I agree with you. I realized

I agree with you. I realized that shame is something others want me to feel, and I can choose to feel it or not. Mostly not I might add, because it is not productive feeling things for another persons satisfaction or demands. Guilt is genuine.

So trying to do the right

So trying to do the right thing and not get other people down, by not burdening them with my uninteresting stories of shame, makes me a bad person.

Well, that's nice.

Honestly, there's a huge gaping logical hole in the reasoning, which is that you are presupposing that everybody has access to people with an infinite reserve of patience. That's not true. And quite a few people actually try to prevent their friends from leaving them, by not telling them about the boring intimate shame stuff.

It is not unhealthy to maintain one's integrity.

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Robert Weiss is the author of Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Sex, Intimacy and Relationships.


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