And I was helpless to watch from somewhere within, knowing I was suffering from shame, but unable to think my way out of its cage.
What is shame?
The concepts of guilt and shame are frequently confused with one another. They both seem triggered by the same stimuli. Yet they are two distinct feelings with quite different implications and outcomes.
I've seen two definitions of the differences that ring true to me.
The first is that shame is related to your social position, while guilt is a personal feeling. That is, shame requires your sense of relation to others -- you have done something and others are exerting pressure on you to stop. OR, if they don't know what you've done, you are afraid they will find out because if they did, they would exert pressure on you. Whereas guilt is the knowledge that you've done something wrong, and you feel remorse and a desire to correct the behavior regardless of whether anyone else knows about it.
The second difference is perhaps the most enlightening. Guilt is about what you have done; shame is about who you are. Guilt is, "I have done something bad". Shame is "I am bad".
Brené Brown gave two powerful TED talks on the concept of vulnerability that both focus heavily on the concept of shame. I cannot overstate this concept enough, so I will repeat it in her words: "Shame is a focus on self; guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is I am bad, guilt is I did something bad."