By Brittney Mahaffey, LCJP Intern (Student at UNC, Major in Sociologist with a Minor in Criminal Justice)
Recognizing the difference between guilt and shame when involved in restorative processes is important because those feelings can help determine the likelihood an offender reoffending, which is very important for Restorative Justice Programs to be successful. By definition, guilt is “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense” whereas shame is “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable” (Dictionary.com). When people experience guilt for something they have done, they have feelings of remorse which pushes them into reparative actions such as apologies and the desire to make things right again. On the other hand, shame builds walls within a person in order to block the painful feeling one directs inward, resulting in blaming others and denying responsibility.
Remembering that punishment is not a goal in restorative justice will help eliminate the need for shame which in turn allows offenders to feel remorse for their actions and be moved to want to repair the harm done. When offenders are able to express their guilt in a safe environment and take reparative actions, they are less likely to offend again because tension has been eased in a healthy way, unlike shame which builds more and more tension which cannot be released positively, creating anger and the possibility of continued offenses. During restorative processes it is crucial to separate the offenders’ actions from their identities because everyone makes mistakes and we are providing an opportunity for offenders to fix their mistakes, not become them.