The words guilt and shame are often used interchangeably, but they have very different meanings. Guilt is the result of something we either did or didn’t do (if we believe we should have done it). In other words, guilt arises from an act we have some control over. The act or omission may be unintentional, but we were still the agent in the situation.
Shame relates to our sense of self, of who we are as a person, our very identity. Some of the things we’re ashamed of are things we may have no control over. People are often ashamed of some aspect of how they look (too short, too tall, freckles, thick ankles) or of their backgrounds, for example. We are often ashamed of our perceived flaws, whether those flaws are physical, mental, emotional, or some combination thereof.
Guilt and shame are both feelings. It’s definitely possible to feel both guilty and ashamed of something we did or didn’t do—especially when our actions seem to confirm our worst fears about ourselves.
There’s a wide range of things people feel guilt or shame over, but there are also some universals. Most people would feel guilty if they neglected to do something they had promised a friend they would do—even if they simply forgot. And most people would feel guilty if they discovered they had done something that hurt another person. Different people—different types—might experience their guilt differently, but they would still experience it.
It’s a cover-up operation
When it comes to shame, though, there’s a common theme among Enneagram types. All the people who share a type have a similar need, desire—compulsion, one might say—to see and present themselves to others in a certain light. In order for us to maintain our particular self-perception and keep projecting that image, we have to deny an aspect of our own inner experience: the thing we’re most afraid we are or might be. The thing that, if revealed, would bring the greatest shame. The fatal flaw we take great pains to conceal, sometimes even from ourselves.
Each type tries hardest to avoid experiencing their own:
In order to avoid experiencing these feelings, we often gravitate toward things that aren’t in our own best interest. Shame creates another blind spot that keeps us from identifying and moving toward what we truly want.
We run fastest and farthest when we run from ourselves.
–Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
Note: Because each type is closely linked with two other types in a Triad, we also feel some of those other types’ shame, too–it just doesn’t hit us where we live to the same extent.
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I’ll be focusing on each type in regard to their perceived fatal flaws on consecutive Fridays. This Friday: Type 1: Embrace Your Inner Prodigal