Feeling bad when you do something wrong is natural, and maybe even useful. Without it, where would we find the motivation to do better next time? But not all bad feelings are equally beneficial. Shame, which involves negative feelings about the self as a whole (i.e., feeling worthless), is associated with defensive strategies like denial, avoidance, and even physical violence. Feeling like you’re just a bad person at your core can undermine efforts to change, as change may not even seem possible from this perspective. Guilt, by contrast, involves feeling bad about one’s behavior and its consequences. Research suggests that criminal offenders who recognize that doing bad things does not make them bad people are less likely to continue engaging in criminal activity, and remorse, rather than self-condemnation, has been shown to encourage prosocial behavior. Healthy self-forgiveness therefore seems to involve releasing destructive feelings of shame but maintaining appropriate levels of guilt and remorse to the extent that these emotions help fuel positive change. In theory, self-forgiveness is only relevant in the context of transgressions that an individual has acknowledged and taken responsibility for. Without the recognition of wrongdoing, what would there be to forgive? In practice, however, self-forgiveness can be code for avoiding culpability. The self-forgiveness formula most conducive to constructive change seems to involve an acknowledgement of both positive and negative aspects of the self. Research suggests, for example, that people who have more balanced, realistic views of themselves are less likely to use counter-productive coping strategies like self-handicapping than those who either inflate or deflate their self-images. Along similar lines, self-forgiveness interventions have been shown to be most helpful when combined with responsibility-taking exercises. Alone, self-forgiveness seems to do little to motivate change. By Juliana Breines, Ph.D http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-love-and-war/201207/the-dangers-self-forgiveness-and-how-avoid-them
Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed,
is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have
behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can
and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time.
On no account brood over your wrongdoing.
Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.
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