Why are some people adaptive in their guilt while others feel shame in response?
"We don't quite know, but we do know that shame and guilt exert a profound influence on people from early childhood all the way into adulthood," noted Tangney, who is currently examining the implications of moral emotions and cognition in longitudinal studies involving the rehabilitation of criminal offenders.
If you are inclined to feel shame, Tangney offers this advice: "What I found in my clinical work or teaching students is that sometimes, just educating people about the difference between shame and guilt, and the practice of recognizing when they feel shame, can make a huge difference. If you are feeling shame, do a rational rechecking and focus on a plan to make things right."
What we know, says Tangney, is that there are good ways and bad ways to feel bad. And assuming it's justified and you have done something to feel bad about, then that guilt you are feeling may be perfectly OK.