Shame vs. Regret
Excerpt from: Who’s REALLY Driving Your Bus?
By James O. Henman, Ph.D., Psychological Associates Press, 2003.
There is a significant difference between these three emotional reactions. Guilt about past events and shame reactions can actually prevent healthy change in the present. Which feeling reactions feel most familiar to you?
Guilt – Can be a healthy, useful signal (conviction) when we are going the “wrong direction” in the present. It is a feeling signal to an action, rather than a statement about self. We need to feel good about noticing guilt in the present, and turn toward a healthy direction, releasing the feelings of guilt. God only wants us to feel guilty as a motivation for change; guilt is not a goal in itself. Guilt about past events or actions, no longer present, tend to transform into shame over time, feeding into anxiety and depression.
Shame - A destructive, condemning judgment about self. It is a feeling and perception of self-rejection and self-hatred. Shame says: “I am bad and wrong.” “It’s just who I am.” “I am a mistake.” “I am a failure.” Shame is a statement of identity rather than a statement about specific actions. Shame is very common in Depression.
Regret - A healthy grieving reaction. It can be experienced as a variety of different feelings that come with experiencing the honest acceptance of past and present events. Acceptance does not mean agree with or like what happened, it is simply a nonjudgmental acknowledging of the present. It says, “I feel badly that this happened and wish things had been different. Regret draws us toward healing and healthiness. If it is a present situation, Regret helps motivate healthy change in the present. If it is a past situation, Regret helps create a desire to learn and grow from that painful past difficulty.