Shame and Regret

The final negative emotion in our series of negative healthy and unhealthy emotions is shame or embarrassment and its healthy counterpart regret.  Shame is generally provoked by holding unhealthy beliefs or attitudes (demands) about something shameful being revealed about you or a group you identify yourself with by either yourself or another and other people disapproving or shunning you as a consequence of that exposure.  We often experience these feeling of shame or embarrassment when we link our sense of worth to other people’s negative judgement.

It can be experienced by a person, even when it’s not about that individual but the group the individual identifies themselves with.  This can lead to a person who has acted shamefully being blamed for bringing shame on the group.  It is not the person who has committed the ‘shameful’ act but the unhealthy beliefs others hold about it and about that individual that provoked the feelings of shame and then possibly anger too.

Regret, the healthy negative emotional counterpart of shame is experienced when healthy beliefs are held about being disapproved of by others for having made some socially unacceptable behavior and consequentially being negatively judged or rejected.  Recognising our individual worth is not reliant on other peoples negative or positive judgment is the first step to solving shame problems followed by our acceptance of ourselves and our human fallibility.

Shame and guilt are often misinterpreted or thought of as being the same.  Shame emotions are provoked by beliefs about other people’s disapproval, guilt on the other hand is provoked by beliefs is one’s own disapproval of yourself due to breaking one’s own moral rule.

How do you know if you have shame or regret?

Feeling shame about having emotional problems is, unfortunately, very common.  Often when we are depressed we may hold a belief that “ I
shouldn’t be feeling depressed
” or reveal to others that I am feeling depressed, for example “If others know I am feeling depressed, they will judge me weak and I agree with them as depression is a sign of weakness”

When you experience shame or embarrassment you over exaggerate in your minds the shamefulness of what has been revealed and what other’s will now think of you.  You imagine the others thinking you are “awful” or deficient or lacking now they know this about you or even your family or the group on culture you belong to.   You also think that they are really focused on the shameful deed you have committed or you are associated with.  You will think that everyone is judging you negatively and want to expel you from their lives!

Regret on the other is felt when you hold healthy beliefs about other people’s disapproval, accepting yourself and thinking with compassion about your behaviour. You recognise the level of interest and disapproval other people may take in your behaviour and how long that disapproval may last.

When you experience shame you have a tendency to want to remove yourself from other people and isolate yourself from social interactions even when asked to become involved.  Sometimes when we are ashamed we attack the people who have shamed us to protect ourselves from feeling that shame. At other times we may try and over-compensate our feelings of low self esteem in self defeating ways, by for example, doing too much for other people and exhausting ourselves in the process.

On the other hand when we hold healthy beliefs about ourselves and actions and the opinions of others we tend not to act in this way, able to get on with our activities and interactions without isolating, attacking or overcompensating in any way.

When we experience feelings of regret we are able to accept ourselves and are able to re-engage social interactions with those who were disapproving whereas when we are stuck with feelings of shame we tend to ignore those attempts by others to restore social equilibrium and remain aloof.


  • Remember none of us are infallible we all have done things that we regret.
  • None of us are perfect because we make judgements about one another even though it is not in our best interests to do so.
  • Accept negative judgement exists but work on accepting yourself regardless of that.

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