Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A.

Just Listen

"Shame ON You" vs. "Shame IN You"

Guilt is about wrong doing, shame is about wrong being.

Posted Nov 05, 2013

If you’re a decent person, when you have done a shameful act, the “shame on you” is much less than the “shame in you;”
if you’re a narcissist or a psychopath, the “shame on you” isn’t enough to make you blink and the “shame in you” doesn’t exist.

Shame is different than guilt.  Guilt is about wrong doing and you can ease your guilt by making amends, paying penance or accepting punishment.  Shame is about wrong being, which means that you feel there is something essentially wrong or “bad” about you that is not so easily remedied.  Real shame is not as much about the shameful deed you committed, but about thinking that there must be something bad or even evil in you that possessed you to commit such a shameful act.

Usually that something bad or evil is connected to intense and deep feelings of rage or envy or jealousy (that cause you to wish bad things to happen to your friends) or about feeling deep down inside yourself that you don’t care about anyone but yourself (even if you are generous or politically correct in your actions). It is deep shame that causes you to not feel worthy or deserving of success or happiness.

One common method for easing that shame if you happen to be Catholic is through the sacrament of Confession, however for that to be meaningful you must then make a deepened re-commitment to Jesus and to the Catholic church.

A less common method because there is less of it currently practiced is traditional psychoanalysis.  In that approach you lay on the couch unable to see your analyst with the suggestion that you speak about whatever is on your mind without editing it, usually referred to as “free association.”  The reason for the couch arrangement is to not be inhibited or steered away from that free association by body movements of the analyst or other distracting and influencing non-verbal communication.  Despite the suggestion that you free associate, some of the most therapeutic breakthroughs occur when you share something you feel deeply ashamed of, something you cannot forgive yourself for and thus believe the analyst will judge you and not be able to forgive you for.  It is in the airing of such shameful secrets and in the non-judgmental communication and tone of the analyst that sometimes you can make great progress.

On the other hand, malignant narcissists or psychopaths don’t struggle with shame or guilt because they not only feel deserving of success and happiness and adoration, they feel entitled to it and entitled to it even if they didn’t do anything to earn it.

In fact such people would have scoffed at this blog and any advice on this topic.

If however you are one of the decent people, don’t scoff at this advice… avoid narcissists and psychopaths and if you’re involved with one, don’t try to change them, cut your losses and run.


  • Neurotics don’t feel entitled to what they do deserve
  • Personality disorders feel entitled to what they don’t deserve
  • Mentally healthy people feel entitled to exactly what they deserve, not more and not less, and they never act entitled

More Posts