Guilt Cultures

“Guilt cultures conceive of morality as a voice within – the voice of conscience that tells us whether or not we have done wrong. Shame cultures think of morality as an external demand – what other people expect of us. To feel shame is to experience or imagine what one looks like in the sight of others who pass judgement on us. Shame cultures are other-directed. Guilt cultures are inner-directed. Guilt cultures make a sharp distinction between the sinner and the sin. The act may be wrong, but the agent’s integrity as a person remains intact. That is why guilt can be relieved by remorse, confession, restitution, and the resolve never to behave that way again. In guilt cultures there is repentance and forgiveness. Shame is not like that. It is a stain on the sinner that cannot be fully removed. A shame culture does not provide forgiveness; it offers something similar but different, namely appeasement, usually accompanied by an act of self-abasement. In a guilt culture it makes sense to confess your sins. In a shame culture it makes no sense at all – instead it becomes all-important to cover up your wrongdoing by any means possible.”

Morality, Chapter 15, p. 216