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What's the Difference Between Guilt and Shame?

What happens when we feel guilt and shame? Our hearts may pound, we may feel sad, we might even want to cry. Physiologically our response to both shame and guilt is the same – but cognitively, the way we interpret these two emotions has consequences we may not realize.

In this edition of Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman andDr. Bob Duke deconstruct the ramifications of these two emotions.

If we feel shame for doing something wrong, we may want to hide. We may feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with us – and so atoning for our bad behavior isn't even possible.

Moreover, when we don’t feel we don’t have control over our actions – and that rather circumstances “made us do it” – we 're more likely to repeat our transgression.

Guilt, on the other hand, can be more productive. When we feel we’ve done something wrong we can make up for it by confessing, apologizing or dealing with the behavior. It is the behavior that is bad – not us as bad people.

Still, there's fundamental questions about the way we interpret the world through these two lenses. As 18th century politician and philosopher Edmund Burke said:

"Guilt was never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human mind, it perverts them, it leaves a man no longer in the free use of his reason, it puts him into confusion."

In a Views and Brews this fall, we’ll tackle the topic of guilt and shame with Two Guys on Your Head Live. Is there a difference in the way we interpret shame we can hide versus shame we can't hide? What happens when we feel guilty but can’t atone? And how does shame and guilt relate to morality, reason and the way we process daily behavior? Heady stuff, but don't worry – the Two Guys are here to try and make sense of it all.

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Copyright 2014 KUT 90.5

Rebecca McInroy is an award-winning show creator, host, and executive producer for KUT, KUTX, and KUT.ORG.