(in conversation with Margot Kelley) I once heard someone say: ‘If you are not ashamed, after the fact, then you’re not having enough fun!’ I think of guilt as an extreme form of regret. Margot Kelley suggests that guilt is associated with the violation of social mores, such as lying, cheating or stealing. From the point of view of natural selection, guilt provides an emotional reminder for controlling socially inappropriate, or self-defeating, actions. Sociopaths often admit to little or no remorse for pain or death inflicted on their victims. Shame, we believe, is more related to dishonor. Individuals, even families, can become dishonored in a social network demanding conforming behavior. Shame is often the result of intentional, or unintended, hurtful behavior that causes pain in others, especially in a relationship. Our feelings of shame tend to be more intense than those we associate with guilt. And we tend to hold on to them longer, perhaps due to our intractable sense of self-importance.
A Collection of Writings on Nature, Science, and Art by John Holland