An Inconvenient Truth: Shame, Regret, and My Ugly Theory

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“Shame is a soul eating emotion.”

Carl Gustav Jung

If this were of any consequence and if I were a person of any significance, this one certain belief/opinion I have regarding a specific matter I hold would most likely be considered controversial or just plain ignorant. No, it’s not political, or derogatory in any other fashion. It’s a simple idea on what some may call a “philosophical” matter, but for me, it’s really a non-issue.

It’s regarding shame and regret, and simply put I do not believe anyone can truly be ashamed of anything. This is usually where the two camps of thought get together and meet to either attack my “negativity” or speak of my stunted and simple intelligence.

Now to clarify, the emotions stemming from what I would call “genuine shame” are very real: the embarrassment, the humiliation, and all the other awkward emotions. Shame tends to take form on outward reactions.

I just don’t believe people can do something they would be ashamed of, not on a primal, base-line level anyway. What I’m trying to say is that I understand why my “belief” is not of the majority and is considered to either be arrogant or ignorant. So, I’ll at least try and explain.

According to verywellmind, shame can be described as “a feeling of embarrassment or humiliation that arises in relation to the perception of having done something dishonorable, immoral, or improper”. Although I agree that those emotions exist within us at certain times, especially after that personal sense of humiliation sets in, I think they are more so interrelated with how we feel about ourselves.

Shame, however, in the minimalist and misinterpreted way it exists, can be used as a tool for both good and bad purposes.

Arlin Cuncic, a therapist and author, writes, “Since we want to be accepted, shame is an evolutionary tool that keeps us all in check.”

I agree with that ideology, but I always go back to the idea of human nature and how something like “shame” fits on Mother Nature’s “emotional food chain”. I just don’t believe people can truly do something they are ashamed of. It’s an under-the-surface issue in which I predict semantics will play a role in the outcome of said debate.

It’s a bold statement to make, I know, but here goes: I’ve never done anything I was ashamed of, and I only say that simply because I believe human nature disallows us from doing something we would be ashamed of. I don’t doubt that the emotions tied to shame exist and are real. I feel shame is like a selfish, personal Band-Aid. Being ashamed is being humiliated after the fact. Would you do that one thing that caused you so much shame again? No. You’d stifle it and hope you have the strength to keep the lion in its cage.

Regret is an “intelligent and/or emotionl dislike for personal past acts and behavior”. One may say, “Well, what’s the difference between the words?”. There is one major difference: Shame is about personal humiliation. Regrets are about guilt. It may not seem like a big difference, but I assure you it is.

Many think the words “shame” and “regret” can be used interchangeably, but that would be incorrect. They both express different meanings. To sum it up, regret is about wrong actions, while shame is about being wrong as a person.

So, although shame and its surrounding emotions do exist, it does only in a certain context. One can feel shame and its sister emotions, but, in my opinion, we can never truly do anything we are ashamed of. It’s human nature on a primal level. Regret is the awareness that you’ve done wrong, and you feel remorse for having done it.

Below is a clear example of the differences:

Regret: I did something bad.

Shame: I am something bad.

Shame is a feeling of humiliation after having done something whereas regret is a feeling of guilt after doing something wrong.

4 thoughts on “An Inconvenient Truth: Shame, Regret, and My Ugly Theory

  1. Interesting topic, Josh! I will spend some times pondering this. As someone who works in mental health, I have often heard clients tell me that they feel ashamed of themselves…for example, for being gay, for addiction issues, even for mental health issues. That seems different to me than feeling guilt. But you’ve raised an interesting point and one that I will consider. Thank you for posting something so intriguing!

    1. Thank you for reading and allowing yourself to think outside the norm for a minute. Shame, guilt, regrets…their all real. I just mean by the standards of a “human nature” kind of ideology that those terms (especially shame) have different meanings. Looking at it now, I wish I had made that point more clear.

      1. I think you did a great job articulating your meaning, Josh! I think this sort of interaction can help to clarify our thoughts and how we express them. I find that a very valuable tool about blogging 🙂

  2. Shame has never been much of an issue for me, and I think it’s because, like you say, I probably wouldn’t do anything that would be shame-worthy. Guilt can be an issue when I’m undermedicated, and my brain will dredge up every minor wrong it can find from the last 20 years, but thankfully that tends to be well controlled when I’m adequately medicated.

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