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Shame Culture vs Guilt Culture

Primary emotions are largely precultural. Despite some idiosyncratic differences, the basic emotions anger, fear, sadness, and happiness are predominantly biological and thus, are universal, expressed and perceived in similar way across all cultures. But some emotions are totally cultural and expressed in social relations, are embodied, and affect power relationships

Ruth Benedict (in 1954) maintained that shame was a violation of cultural or social values while guilt feelings arise from violations of one's internal values. Thus, it is possible to feel ashamed of thought or behavior that no one knows about, and to feel guilty about actions that gain the approval of others. Shame necessitates awareness of self in relation to others; in guilt there is awareness of self in relation to some act. Guilt is more cognitive than shame. Shame, the argument goes, responds to the judgments of others and is indifferent to ethical principles in themselves, whereas guilt is an inner sensibility and corresponds to the morally autonomous self of modern man.

Shame has been labeled a self-conscious emotion in psychological literature. It is a powerful and ubiquitous human experience that can have a profound effect on psychological adjustment and relationship. With shame, there is the awareness of inadequacy or failure to achieve a wished-for self-image which is accompanied by, or originally arises from, the fear of separation or abandonment. Shame is strongly characterized by the view of oneself as fundamentally flawed and bad or lacking in dignity or worth. Concurrently, it is an interpersonal affect that requires the presence of another, in fact or in imagination, for its blow to be felt.

Shame and guilt are often improperly distinguished and are frequently referenced synonymously or used interchangeably. But with guilt, the self pronounces judgment on its activity; while in shame, the self pronounces a more summary judgment on the inadequacy of the self itself. Shame is exceedingly self-conscious and self-aware compared to guilt. The perception of the self as worthless and powerless is also more fundamentally tied to shame, while the belief that corrective action can be taken to address the consequences of their present or future behavior tends to be more present with guilt.

Eastern cultures have often been broadly contrasted with Western cultures as being a shame culture versus a guilt culture, respectively. Although shame and guilt are present in both cultures, scholars alike agree in shame culture shame sanctions play a greater role in regulating behavior than guilt sanctions.

One view of the difference between shame cultures and guilt cultures is that shame cultures rely on external sanctions of control while guilt cultures rely on internal sanctions of control wherein the collectivistic ethos of shame cultures serve to regulate and control behavior, while the individualism of guilt cultures is far more compelling to control and regulate.

Unlike the West, the dominant culture in East Asia is "shame" culture. not "guilt" culture. A key requirement for success therefore is a high emotional quotient, constantly dealing with emotions like "xinyong" (trustworthiness). "renqing" (humanized obligation), "quanxi" (connection or relationship) and "mianzi" (consideration for face)."

In cultures [such as Japan and Arabic societies] where shame is regarded as an important emotional experience and an integral part of socialization, syndromes akin to social phobia could develop as a result of the fear of rendering oneself socially unacceptable. The more moral and ethical codes and customs a society carries (both Japan and Arabic societies are heavily laden with such codes and customs), the increased likelihood could exist of people succumbing to the fear of being embarrassed, scrutinized, humiliated, or judged.

The idea of guilt is deeply ingrained in Jewish culture in everyday discourse, and is enshrined in both literature and humor. Is there something inherent in the Jewish psyche, as Freud argues, which predisposes Jews to guilt? There is little evidence that Jews as a religious and cultural group experience guilt to a greater extent than other groups.

Guilt and religion have a longstanding association in Western Culture. There has been a diminution in feelings of guilt in the past century years due to the decline in the importance of religion in Western societies. From the European Middle Ages onwards, a process of steadily increasing individualization took place, which found its culmination in the beginning of the 19th century. This process was closely linked to the transformation of a shame culture into a guilt culture.




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