Dr. Brené Brown -- researcher, TED speaker and author of the book Daring Greatly -- has spoken extensively about shame, unraveling all of its complexities, exploring its harmful effects and sharing the best ways to combat it. But while shame may be complicated, Dr. Brown says that one simple way to "unpack" it is by understanding the crucial difference between shame and its counterpart: guilt.
In this clip from "Super Soul Sunday," Dr. Brown says that it all comes down to your "self talk," or inner dialogue. "The difference between shame and guilt is the difference between 'I am bad' and 'I did something bad,'" she tells Oprah.
For example, Dr. Brown says, imagine that you had too much to drink one night and showed up to work hungover, missing a meeting. Someone experiencing guilt will say to themselves, "That was a really stupid thing to do. I wasn't thinking." In contrast, someone experiencing shame will say, "I'm an idiot. I'm such a loser." In other words, guilt focuses on behavior while shame focuses on self.
In the clip, Dr. Brown says that this distinction isn't something to take lightly. "Is this linguistics, is it a pet peeve, what's the deal?" she asks rhetorically. "This is serious."
So serious, in fact, that she reveals an alarming piece of information about shame's effects. "This is going to freak you out," she tells Oprah. "Shame [is] highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying and aggression. Guilt? Inversely correlated with those."
Therefore, the ability to change the self-talk -- and believe it -- can dramatically affect the outcomes of those measures and others. Even Dr. Brown admits that this isn't an easy task, but she shares her method for moving toward having a healthier internal dialogue. "I talk to myself like I would talk to Ellen or Charlie, my kids," she says. "The first thing I try to say is, 'You made a mistake. You're human. You're okay. I love you. You're going to get through this.' But the big piece is -- and this is a hard one – you've got to reach out and tell your story. You've got to speak your shame."
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