Is there a such thing as healthy shame?


Yes, there is. It’s called guilt. Excessive guilt, of course, is never a good thing if it isn’t warranted. It’s stupid to feel guilty for something you didn’t do. People who wallow in excessive guilt and shame might as well be crawling on the ground wearing a “Kick Me” sign. And of course if you do that you will be kicked to death.

But guilt over things done wrong indicates the presence of a conscience. Maybe guilt (along with other prosocial emotions) have been buried in narcissists, but with self-awareness also comes the ability for narcissists see themselves the way others see them. You can’t change until you can see yourself realistically instead of through the horse-blinders of a false self. The only problem I see with this is that for some newly self aware Ns, they assign too much blame to themselves. Some “trasgressions” just mean you’re human. Just because you’re a narcissist doesn’t mean everything you do or say is evil or has some sinister hidden motive. It’s sometimes hard for a newly-aware N to distinguish their toxic, manipulative actions from those things anyone would do in a similar situation.

I’ll give you an example. Yesterday someone cut me off in traffic. Only tailgaters make me madder. This guy almost caused me and several other cars to wreck–but he would have been clear and probably gone on his merry way, uncaring about the wreckage behind him that he caused. (Sound much like narcissism?)
I felt my blood boil and flipped the guy the bird.

Is that narcissistic? It could be, if the guy wasn’t really cutting me off and I just imagined he was, or if it didn’t really bother me and I just felt like flipping him the bird because I was in a bad mood and didn’t like the bumper stickers on his tailgate. But no, the jerk did not signal and cut about 2 inches in front me, causing me to slam on my brakes which could easily have catalyzed a massive pile up. I was angry alright–I was righteously angry.


But for about an hour afterwards, I was beating myself up over that. “How could you have been such a narcissistic bitch?” I chided myself. “Maybe he was in a hurry.”

In a hurry? No. He should have left earlier. He didn’t need to be cutting me or anyone else off in traffic. He could have killed someone. So for that, beating myself up with guilt was unnecessary.

But if I’d flipped him the bird just because I thought it would be a fun thing to do, and felt shame afterwards, then that just indicates a conscience exists there somewhere. And if humans didn’t have a conscience, we’d fall into anarchy and even barbarianism. Conscience, indeed, is what makes us human after all.

This type of “shame” isn’t the same as the kind of shame wrought on all of us as kids (which taught us learned helplessness and forced us to built our elaborate defense mechanisms)–it’s a healthy kind of shame, because it gives you the impetus to want to make changes, instead of just whining and bitching to everyone about how “bad” and “hopeless” you are. Healthy shame or guilt is proactive: you do something about it to make it right (which relieves your feelings of distress at the same time).

Pathological shame leads to personality disorders in adulthood. If a child feels secure the mother will come back and give them a hug and forgive them, they learn that shame isn’t the end of the world. They are then free to develop normally and feel shame based on actions rather than character.

A disordered child (attachment disordered until adulthood) with emotionally abusive parents learns that THEY are unacceptable, not just their actions. This forms the matrix of narcissism (and other PDs). “Knowing” they are so unacceptable and must be a horrible person, they are forced to develop a false self which overcompensates (or some other maladaptive defense mechanism). Ironically, narcissists have TOO MUCH shame, even though they can act like anything but. They’re overcompensating, believing deep inside that they’re worthless and bad.

I hope this gives hope to some narcissists who think they have none, or lets some non-narcissists see that we’re not all hopeless.

Only 5 things are really needed for change–
1. self awareness
2. ability to tell right from wrong (only those with psychoses or cognitive challenges can’t actually tell the difference) — even psychopaths can tell right from wrong, but only a minority choose to do what’s right.
3. willingness to change
4. willingness to be vulnerable.
5. willingness to experience some pain but also have a lot of insights
They work in that order.

That’s it! 😀


2 thoughts on “Is there a such thing as healthy shame?

  1. I don’t think guilt and shame are the same thing. Read Bradshaw’s “Healing the Shame that Binds You.” Guilt is something that can lead to atonement. But shame is despair over one’s very being. That was the gist of it as I recall. I don’t feel guilt but I’m not immune to shame. Unfortunately. I can do without negative feelings about myself. Also, I never thought “self-aware” meant knowing how others see one. I am “self-aware” whether others see me or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m going to add something to my post that explains the difference better, and why it happens.
      As long as you know the difference between right and wrong, Fran, and choose the right thing, shame isn’t really necessary. The right kind does help most of us stay civilized though.


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