Mindfulness Exercises

Guilt Is Healthy, Shame Is Not

By Fred Kofman
Philosopher and Vice President at Linkedin

Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.”
Gretchen Rubin

You feel guilty when you believe you did something inconsistent with your values and, through that action, you hurt someone that matters to you.

Think of a time when you felt guilty. You probably judged that you transgressed some moral boundary and, because of such transgression, you damaged another person (or yourself).

Guilt calls for an apology, an effort to make amends and to recommit to the value you failed to demonstrate. Guilt also calls for repairing what you damaged and making the person you hurt whole.

Expressing guilt productively, you restore your integrity.

You feel ashamed when you believe you are something inconsistent with your values. When you feel you are wrong, no matter what you do.

Shame is not an emotion; it is a frozen assessment that there is something fundamentally wrong with you. Shame doesn’t call for any action, since no action can change what you are. Shame just hangs over you like a black cloud that never stops raining.

There’s no healthy expression of shame. The only healthy thing to do about shame is to recognize it for the harmful illusion that it is, and let it dissolve. Like the mirage of water on the road ahead of you dissolves when you approach it.



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