productive shame

(new term)

  1. utilizing feelings of shame for personal growth and development.


Productive shame is when we acknowledge feelings of shame and then try to understand and work through the thought patterns that form them.

While we feel guilt after committing a wrongful act, shame is when we feel guilty for being who we are, being the type of person who committed the act. Guilt is feeling bad for something we’ve done. Shame is feeling bad for being a person who does wrong. Shame typically accompanies, or is associated with, guilt and therefore the two are often confused.

We need to recognize shame and reflect on why we feel it. If we commit a wrong and we feel bad for being the type of person who would do so, we can check in with ourselves and determine if that wrong was part of a blip or something out of character. Additionally, if that wrong is something we have produced several times we can reflect on the situation and work towards making positive corrections.

Related Article: Example of Toxic Shame in the US Version of “The Office”

Shame can bring overwhelming feelings of negativity and pain. When we use feelings of shame productively we equip ourselves with the ability to make positive character changes and to grow and evolve. We free ourselves from negative feelings and work towards living a move loving and fulfilling life.


Mary is constantly late for appointments and meetings. It is common for her to keep people waiting for long periods of time. She hates when people keep her waiting and she feels like she is a bad and inconsiderate person for always being late.

Toxic shame: Mary feels bad for always keeping people waiting. The feelings of shame make her sluggish and it takes her longer to get ready. She is even later than she was before. When she meets up with her friend she is standoffish and assumes they think she is a bad person. Her being standoffish leads her friend to assume Mary does not want to be friends with them so they stop trying to make plans. This leads Mary to feel justified in her incorrect assumption derived from toxic shame.

Utilizing productive shame: No longer wanting to be the late person Mary makes a resolution to start getting ready a half-hour earlier than she thinks she needs to keep herself from being late. She makes it a point to be on time and if she is going to be late due to things not within her control (traffic), she does not beat herself up about it, sends a message or calls the person she is meeting to let them know.


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