Emotional Intelligence- Coping with Shame and Guilt

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When I started working in 1992, I had a friend and colleague named Prakash, who would come to the factory each day literally dragging his feet and after being pushed out from the house by his parents. Thankfully, he was yet to get married. He used to take leave at least two days in a week and a long leave of about 5-6 days once every quarter. He was not bothered that he was even losing his pay on account of leave, nor had any fear of losing the job.

Prakash was fat, dark, ugly, always shabbily dressed and quite lazy as well. But was it his fault that he was ugly? Agreed, he could have kept himself fit and groomed well. However, it is unfortunate that some people judge others on the basis of their physical appearance.

Prakash had some good qualities as well. He was very methodical and systematic in his work. He was technically brilliant. People would come to him for advice when stuck with a problem. He was an excellent artist. His paintings and craftwork were among the best. Still, why did he hate his job? Perhaps he was stuck in the wrong organization working under a bullying boss. His boss would yell at him for the smallest of mistakes (or even no mistakes). If those were committed by others, the same would be passed as one-off cases. He would be singled and made to come to work on a Sunday if there was a seemingly ‘extra’ work so that he cannot enjoy his weekend. He felt deeply humiliated by his boss every time he walked by- his facial expressions, his words and his rejection of him very obvious. His boss only had harsh and demeaning words of criticism for Prakash which led to him having a deeply rooted resentment and bitterness for this man. Prakash was not only bitter about his boss, he felt great shame, a truly toxic emotion.

Shame by definition is a painful feeling of having lost the respect of others, because of a seemingly improper behaviour, or sin. In this case Prakash was a victim of being labelled as incompetent by his boss and he felt ashamed about it. It’s also the feeling of worthlessness that creeps in from dishonour and disgrace.

I know of one of my office colleagues Rekha, who was married and her husband was in a top position in an MNC and she had two kids, one in 2nd std and the other one in 5th std. She was torn apart between the high paying corporate job and her duty for her children. She was not able to give time for her children as she would come late home as late as 10.00 PM sometimes and had to leave the house at sharp 8.30 AM leaving her kids with her maid. This guilt of not being able to take care, and give her love and affection to her children had started taking its toll on her health and also affecting her performance on the job. Now, she was neither happy with her job, nor happy on the personal front.

How many of us could relate to this story?

Guilt is a state of considering self as responsible for doing something wrong to others. It is a feeling that one gets and says to self “Why did I say this to him?” or “I should have allowed my son to go for the trip along with his friends.” Guilt is the feeling which one gets as a regret of one’s behavior because of which we later realise that the other person had suffered or is suffering. Guilt is a painful feeling of self-criticism for having done something that we realize afterwards, as being immoral, wrong, a crime, or a sin.

Guilt is a painful feeling of self-criticism for having done something that we realize afterwards, as being immoral, wrong, a crime, or a sin.

Shame as a painful feeling that emerges in you, when you are victimized by a more powerful person due to his/her bad or improper behavior towards you, making you feel miserable about yourself. Guilt and shame evoke different responses in us. Guilt has a subtle, underlying feeling that you should be punished. Shame is demeaning, poor of self-worth and creates a feeling of deep sorrow and sadness. In both, the emotions of guilt and shame common feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or helplessness may result. If these feelings are too strong and over a long period of time, it may result in depression, anger, anxiety, hatred, and some other disruptive emotions and stimulate a stress response.

Both guilt and shame will result in continuous negative thinking and these emotions will never lead to emotional freedom, strength and health either emotionally or physically.

Shame makes us feel as if every person we meet knows everything about us and is going to scrutinize us-even if our rational mind says that large number of people don’t know anything about or will be least bothered about us.

Where does the shame come from?

As discussed in the one my earlier blogs many people stuff their emotions in childhood, unfortunately, shame is also one of them. Even sadder is when children learn from their parents who ridicule or humiliate them in front of their siblings or even other relatives. Children can be subject to humiliation and shame at school by their teacher, coach, or class bully. Learning disabilities such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder may cause the children to fall victim and called as stupid, dumb, duffer or mentally retarded (remember Amir Khan’s Hindi film ‘Taare Zameen Par’). These negative remarks can have long-lasting imprints of shame even when they grow up as adults.

Feelings of shame can result in low self-esteem and self-doubt which will result in poor performance and failures, both at professional and personal levels. The repeated failures only add to feelings of worthlessness and grief. Deep down, the shamed person feels he/she is genuinely unlovable and unworthy of any body’s care. If a person suffers shame for a very long time and/or if the severity too is high, then there is a possibility that the person may get into depression. Person may also get into bad habits of alcohol, drugs, gambling, eating disorders and finally a victim to some deadly disease.

Many of you must have seen the Hindi classic Rajesh Khanna starrer ‘Aap Ki Kasam’.    The story goes like this; Rajesh Khanna gets married to his love Actress Mumtaz and after a couple of years there is a misunderstanding between the two of them. Rajesh Khanna sees his wife with another man in his house. He jumps to the conclusion that his wife has betrayed him for another man and both have a big fight and she leaves him and goes to her elder brother’s house. When Rajesh Khanna realizes his mistake, he goes to get his wife back, but his brother in law doesn’t allow him to meet his wife. Nor does his wife show any interest in going back to him. Poor Rajesh Khanna lives and dies with unending guilt of not understanding the love and loyalty of his wife.

However, sometimes the guilt can be false as well. I remember our maid once narrated her ordeal to my wife, saying that her husband was an alcoholic and beats her almost daily. She also told her that he is having an affair with some other woman and he is soon going to marry her. But surprisingly, our maid had no anger or frustration for him. Instead, she said “He has all the right to marry someone else, as I am not able to satisfy his sexual needs and also cannot bear him a baby. On top of that, I am overweight and not good looking as well. So, it’s ok if he has an affair with someone and gets married too”. False guilt is when one takes it on self when it rightfully belongs to the other person. False guilt arises when we have done nothing wrong but we have been partners to the sin, crime, or wrongdoing committed by someone else, albeit unintentionally. False guilt stems from low self-esteem and low self-worth. In the above case, my wife had a hard time convincing our maid that she was not at fault and she should detach herself from her husband’s sins and call the police/her relatives to warn him and if he mends his ways, try to forgive him.

Brain and Heart

These two are the most vital organs of our body. All the health issues related to disruptive emotions are related to heart because we don’t listen to what the heart wants to say. Brain, on the other hand, thinks more practically and rationally. Most times brain will rule over our hearts. The brain takes decisions more often on logic alone. One of the main functions of the brain is to protect us and hence it acts very fast.

Studies from Neuropsychologist Paul Pearsall shows that there are two types of personalities that they have classified as type A and type B. The type-A kind of people are action-oriented and are characterized by being impatient, always in a hurry, chronically angry and hostile and extremely competitive. Type A people are also highly aggressive, ambitious, hardworking, and easily get irritated by delays and interruptions. The brain is like Type A, always in a hurry, being judgemental, harsh, blaming, controlling and critical. The type B “heart” in contrast is gentle, more relaxed, and searching for long-lasting relationships and intimacy. It longs for having a bond.

The brain believes in “I, me, and mine”. Since a part of the brain is still primitive wherein our ancestors always expected attack from their predators, it is always in the protective mode (Flight/fight phenomenon). When the brain dominates the heart, it is abused, exploited, wounded and end up filled with hurt and pain. In stuffing or neglecting the emotions we just ignore what the heart is trying to say to us and listen only to the brain, thereby suffering from dangerous consequences of ‘neglected heart syndrome’ and health effects of abuse and totally masking the sensitive side of who we are. The key to peacefulness is tuning in to our own hearts to experience the child within us, the most sensitive inner self.

So, how do I listen to my heart?

Many of us have this habit of asking the question to self every morning: “How do I feel today?” to become aware of your emotional state, however, we must ask ourselves, “How do I make others feel?”

If you objectively and honestly give the answer to yourself, you may find that many of us make others feel driven, controlled, angry or hurt then there is a strong possibility that you are brain driven, a more practical person and that you are also dominating over your own heart as well as over the heart of others who stand in your path.

One of the exercises one can do immediately after getting up take a survey of how you are feeling in your heart and wish love, affection, peace, health, gentleness, appreciation, joy, and human dignity first to yourself and then to all others in this world, starting with your family.

Now how do I get over my feelings of guilt and shame?


  • Accept the fact that you are only human and could make some mistakes.
  • Ask yourself whether a particular situation or action was illegal in the eye of law.
  • In a similar situation, what may others have done in your shoes?
  • Did you respond in a natural -although not perfect way to a difficult situation?
  • Remind yourself that you are not perfect or omnipotent. You may not have the power to alter events


  • Remind yourself that the person who victimized you is the one who is at fault and not you and he/she is the one who should shame.
  • Remind yourself that you were totally helpless and alone in those circumstances, and the predator took advantage of it.
  • That there is nothing wrong with you and you are as good as or may better than most others as a person and there is no comparison between you and the person who victimized you.
  • You are loved and appreciated as much as anybody else around you.
  • Develop a habit of seeing self in the mirror and say “I am super confident”, “I am a person with high self-esteem” or “my self-worth is very high”
  • Finally, ask for forgiveness for the predator from the almighty and try to forgive him.

Conclusion: Guilt and shame are one of the deadliest disruptive emotions and can really break the person inside out ,resulting out of wounded hearts. However, good news is that broken hearts can be mended. We can learn to cherish,nourish, and protect this most precious part of our being.

17 thoughts on “Emotional Intelligence- Coping with Shame and Guilt”

  1. Superbly written, in a nice easy way which a layman can understand
    Keep writing on different issues

    1. Thanks a Lot, Preeti mam for reading my blog patiently. Sorry for replying so late. Do keep reading and motivating me

  2. Very nicely described the difference of shame and guilt in simple words and examples to layman…

    1. Thanks a Lot, Rupal for reading my blog patiently. Sorry for replying so late. Do keep reading and motivating me

  3. Excellent Article Shrikant! You have combined two movies of different genres to showcase Guilt and Shame. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks a Lot, Rakesh for reading my blog patiently. Sorry for replying so late. Do keep reading and motivating me

    1. Thanks a Lot, Premraj for reading my blog patiently. Sorry for replying so late. Do keep reading and motivating me

  4. Guilt and Shame both these emotions create some disgraceful and painful impact in many of our lives, here both emotions have described in receiptive mannar and I appriciate the conclusion which is full of hope and justice with a human being. This also reflect the lights of healthy thinking and forgiveness.

    1. Thanks a Lot, Sangita for reading my blog patiently. Sorry for replying so late. Do keep reading and motivating me

    1. Thanks a Lot, Dr.Samira for reading my blog patiently. Sorry for replying so late. Do keep reading and motivating me

  5. Very well written. Its so important to ask ourselves how we make others feel instead of thinking only about our feelings. Once we become sensitive to others feelings we will be mindful 9f our words and deeds and not hurt others and ourselves causing guilt and shame. Also worthy to note that we need to love and respect ourselves and display similar feelings to our loved ones and others who touch our lives.

    1. Thanks a Lot, Herjinder and sorry for replying so late. Kindly do keep reading my blogs on emotional intelligence and motivating

    1. Thanks a lot, Rahul for reading patiently. Sorry for replying so late… Do keep reading and motivating me…

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