Etymology Of Guilt And Shame

January 12, 2016

Hi and welcome to this video. In this video I’m going to talk about guilt and shame but this time I’m going to talk about their etymology. Because when we approach these words from a linguistic perspective, it really helps to understand the root of these words. Now guilt and shame are emotions that have significant meaning to each of us in our own lives.

What one person considers “guilt” in their life is going to be different from the way another person experiences guilt. And that’s because the interpretation that we put around each of these emotions is unique. Because you as an observer are unique and individual. And you live a certain, unique interpretation of the world. So with that said, guilt and shame are going to be interpreted in a way that is unique to you. That they have some sort of special meaning and significance to you.

And I found that, in my examinations of emotions with myself and also with my clients, I’ve noticed that when you explore emotions from a linguistic perspective, things actually start to clear up more easily than they would have otherwise. This is because a lot of us were trained—you know—we go to school, we memorize facts, we remember facts, we regurgitate facts! And so we’re used to training our mind and working with the historical aspect of language and the descriptive aspect of language.

Etymology Of Guilt And Shame

So let’s talk about guilt and shame. With guilt it comes from two old English words. One is “gylt” and the other one is—you know, forgive my pronunciation but—is “gieldan.” The first one “gylt” comes from the meaning of “sin” or “moral defect” or some sort of “failure of duty.” And the second one “gieldan” is about paying for something to discharge a debt. So perhaps there is some sort of damage to property that the guilty is obligated to pay for.

And that brings us to the emotion of shame. Now shame, for me in my research, I found there’re two roots to it. The etymology comes from an old Norse word which is—again forgive my pronunciation—”kinnroði.” And which sounds to me like “ruddy.” And it actually means “cheek redness.” So the emotion of shame, according to the old Norse, has to do with some sort of physiological response which results in cheek redness.

The other possible root for shame comes from old English word, “scamu “—once again, my pronunciation—and it’s related to “disgrace,” “dishonour,” and “loss of esteem.” So we can very clearly see that shame is related to standards of the community. Just- That’s from the old English. But it’s very interesting that the Norse have a word that indicates some sort of physiological response which is the blushing, the cheek redness.

Working With Guilt And Shame

So now that you have these two words in their own linguistic history and their own linguistic background, I think perhaps it’s easier to work with them. Guilt as I mentioned earlier is about violating your own internal standards. And shame is about violating the community standards. So where does one start and one begin? And can you tease apart these two?

And when working with guilt and shame—and actually even all emotions—the invitation is to come in with a sense of curiosity, to not resolve something for the sake of resolving it, but to understanding it more.

Because what happens out of all of this is you get a better idea of who you are as that unique observer in the world. You get a better idea of how you interpret the world and what becomes significant to you.

And you know it’s funny? Life is just a series of events! You and I participate in events and situations that we come across. But the interpretations we have around those events, around those situations, are going to be so different based upon our previous history and based upon the way we interpret things in life.

What Does Guilt And Shame Create For You?

So the key here to working with guilt and shame—and I guess with all emotions—really is to understand the root of the emotion.

  • Where does it come from?
  • What does it mean?

Once you understand that then you can go ahead and begin to notice how it looks like for you.

  • What kind of physiological responses do certain emotions create in you?
  • What kind of stories do certain emotions have for you?
  • What kind of stories do you resonate with on a level of emotion that causes you to take some sort of action?
  • And what kind of actions do you do in these emotions?

I’d also like to take a moment to invite you to work with me as a life coach, to work with yourself, and within the Ontological Coaching as well as the Vedic frameworks, to really get a grip on understanding how life can be meaningful, how life can be satisfactory and how life can be wonderful for you.

Take care of yourself, have a beautiful day and I’ll see you in the next video!

Bye-bye for now!