Embarrassment, Shame and Guilt

Embarrassment, Shame and Guilt

I was initially embarrassed for getting caught while taking this photo. Then I felt a little shame for feeling embarrassed for getting caught, rather than for intruding on the couple's privacy. And, when I first contemplated whether or not to post the photograph, I even experienced a little bit of guilt. But then, I decided to write about the whole thing...

Embarrassment, shame and guilt. What's the difference? It doesn't seem like there is a standard way to distinguish between them. But, roughly speaking, embarrassment involves discomfort with oneself in the context of socially unacceptable behavior and at the time of contact, while shame does not necessarily involve public humiliation and it can linger on after it's triggered. Guilt, on the other hand, is an emotion experienced when we realize or believe that we have compromised our own standards of conduct or moral values, carrying a sense of responsibility or remorse after the fact. Embarrassment, shame and guilt are popularly defined as "negative emotions", but I tend to disagree. After all, psychopaths don't have any true sense of guilt or remorse.

What embarrasses or shames you - and what does not - is a good self-indicator or who you are. On TV reality shows, when people are asked the simplest common knowledge questions such as, where Canada is on the map, or the name of the Vice President, and they can't answer, they don't show any signs of embarrassment. On the other hand, a pimple on the face is the end of the world for some - at least for a few days. In modern times, appearance seems to matter a whole lot more than knowledge. And, what embarrasses or shames us as a society is also a good gauge of "our collective values". So, what does embarrass or shame you?
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