Resolving Our Negative Moral Emotions

Dr. Robert F. Mullen

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Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the
pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI—deliberate,
repetitive, neural information.  WeVoice (Madrid)

We retain an abundance of destructive information, formed by our core and intermediate beliefs ― information seemingly impervious to uprooting due to its resistant or repressive nature. A lot of this negative information is from the unresolved moral emotions of shame and guilt. These often lead to internal or external blaming, determined by who we choose to be accountable. While each is a natural response to things that negatively impact us, when left untreated, they encumber our neural network with negative energy and obstruct the process of recovery. 

Whether or not we chose to be accountable for our actions determines how we attribute blame. If we are unwilling or unable to accept responsibility, we resort to external blaming. Internal blaming is taking responsibility for things over which we either have no control or for which we have no accountability. Both are irrational and cognitively distorted attributions.

Recovery from disorders like social anxiety and depression requires restructuring our neural network – feeding it positive stimuli to counter the years of toxicity. Unresolved shame and guilt impede the flow of positive neural input unless and until we evict the bad tenants.

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There are three basic types of transgressions: Those inflicted on us by another, those we inflict on another, and those we inflict on ourselves. By not resolving these conflicts, we remain both victim and abuser. We are victimized by holding onto the transgression against us. We are abusers when we transgress. Our shame for either act victimizes us. Self-transgression and blaming are both abuse and victimization, neither conducive to recovery. 

There are volumes of psychological treatises on guiltshame, and blame. The following brief overviews focus on their impact on social anxiety, depression, and comorbidities. 


Shame is the stomach-churning feeling of humiliation and distress that comes from the sense of being or doing a dishonorable, ridiculous, or immodest thing; the feeling that we are unbefitting and undesirable. A pioneer in shame study, psychologist Gershen Kaufman described the emotion as “sudden unexpected exposure coupled with blinding inner scrutiny.” Shame is painful, incapacitating, and inescapable, embracing every aspect of the human experience. It negatively impacts our psychological and physiological health, eroding our self-image and our relationships with others. We feel powerless, acutely diminished, and worthless. We want to become invisible. Failing that, we often become hostile and aggressive. 


Shame says I am a mistake; Guilt says I made a mistake

Guilt is a psychological term for a self-conscious emotion that condemns the self while conscious of being evaluated by another person(s). Guilt is the painful awareness of having done something wrong, coupled with the innate need to correct or amend. The moral emotion of guilt causes us to self-deprecate and invites condemnation from those who witness our actions.

We feel guilt for harming another, and for being the type of person who would cause harm. We feel guilt for harming ourselves. We guilt ourselves for things over which we have no control.

Unless resolved, we carry the emotional baggage of guilt and shame throughout our lives, adding to the negative self-beliefs generated by our disorder(s). It is unhealthy and non-conducive to recovery and self-transformation. Retaining this toxicity of adds to our anxiety and depression, and can compel behavioral obsessiveness, avoidance, and other personality shortfalls that impact our self-esteem. When we hold onto these feelings, we construct our neural network with anger, hurt, and resentment. 

Symptomatically, we feel shame and guilt for our self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. These negative moral emotions are irrational. Social anxiety, like most disorders, is the result of childhood disturbance that interferes with our optimal physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development. The disturbance can be real or imagined, intentional or accidental. Social anxiety sense this vulnerability and onsets in adolescence. Cumulative evidence that a toxic childhood is a primary causal factor in lifetime emotional instability has been well-established.

Both shame and guilt have their usefulness. They can be revealing, cathartic, and motivational, encouraging emotional and spiritual growth, and broadening self-awareness. That may mitigate their emotional impact, but it does not address their toxic impact on our neural network if left unresolved. They are both self-focused but highly socially relevant, supporting important interpersonal functions by, for example, encouraging adjusting or repairing valuable relationships and discouraging acts that could damage them. 

Forgiving is the only rational response. The irrational response is blaming. When we want to escape from the toxicity of our negative moral emotions, rather than rationally challenging them, we resort to blaming. 


Blaming is the act of censuring, holding responsible, or making negative statements about ourselves, another, or a group. We condemn their action(s) as wrong, and socially or morally irresponsible. Holding ourselves or others accountable for harmful behavior is a justifiable response. Holding onto that anger is self-destructive. Cognitively distorted blaming falls under one of two categories. External blaming involves holding others accountable for our actions, rather than accepting responsibility for their consequences.  Internal blaming is taking responsibility for things over which we either have no control or for which we have no accountability. We perceive everything as our fault and feel shame and guilt when things go wrong. 

Self-blaming is a toxic form of emotional self-abuse prevalent in social anxiety disorder. We irrationally blame ourselves for our behaviors and our perceived character deficits caused by our disorder. SAD thrives on our self-denigration, self-contempt, and other hyphenated forms of self-abuse. We blame ourselves when we avoid interacting with someone out of our fear of rejection. We have something noteworthy to share in class but are afraid to raise our hands. We want to join a conversation but are afraid our nerves will expose us. Then, adding insult to injury, we beat ourselves up because our symptoms get the better of us causing us to self-characterize as stupid, incompetent, or unattractive. SAD negatively impacts our core sense of self and our ability to behave in socially constructive ways. 

Blaming becomes irrational when left unresolved; it is irrational to self-harm. The resolution is forgiveness. We cannot hope to function optimally without absolving both ourselves and others whose behaviors contributed to our negative thoughts and behavior. This willingness and ability to forgive is a necessary component of the transformative act and indispensable to recovery. By withholding forgiveness, we deny ourselves the ability to function optimally.

Our resentment and hatred are divisive to our emotional well-being and disharmonious to our true nature. Inner harmony is impossible unless we heal the anger within ourselves. The inability or unwillingness to forgive impedes the flow of positive thought and action necessary for recovery. Forgiving is the only way we expel hostility. Of unresolved and irrational guilt, shame, and blame., Forgiveness is the rational response; social anxiety disorder is the epitome of irrationality. 


Forgiveness is the goal, forgiving the process. This forgiving, which underscores the attributes of courage, compassion, and self-reliance, is indispensable to the revival of our self-worth. 

Forgiving those who have harmed us. It is important to recognize that forgiving is not forgetting or condoning. Our noble self forgives; our pragmatic self remembers. The actions of another may seem indefensible, but forgiving them is for our well-being, not theirs. We forgive to promote change within ourselves and, as forgivers, we reap the rewards. 

Forgiving ourselves for harming another is accepting and releasing the guilt and shame for our actions. It’s important to recognize that transgression against another is a transgression against ourselves. Our shame and guilt can only be resolved by accepting responsibility, making direct or substitutional amends, and forgiving ourselves. The act of self-forgiveness accepts and embraces our imperfections and evidences our humanness. 

Forgiving ourselves for self-harm. Transgression against the self is self-sabotage. It belittles, undervalues, and condemns us. Self-pity, self-contempt, and other hyphenated forms of self-abuse devalue our inherent character strengths and virtues. Forgiving ourselves is challenging because our self-harm is generated by our deficit of self-esteem.

Why is it difficult to forgive?

Our anger and resentment physiologically sustain us. We have acclimated to the neurotransmissions of the hormones that reward the negativity of our unresolved moral emotions. We label our anger, righteous indignation. We persuade ourselves those who have harmed us are devastated by our hostility notwithstanding they are (1) unaware they injured us, (2) have forgotten, or (3) take no responsibility. The only person affected is us, the injured party. 

The benefits of forgiveness

Forgiving begins when we conclude that the disconnectedness, brought on by our unwillingness to confront our hostility, becomes so fundamentally discomforting that resolution is essential for emotional survival.

The act of forgiving relieves us of all that has happened before and offers a future that is unencumbered by the past, giving us room for new possibilities. The act of forgiving resolves animus and restores us to equal footing by eliminating the other’s influence. Forgiving ourselves for allowing our perception of victimization stops us from paying that victimization forward. 

In a group session, Jimmy L. claimed he couldn’t forgive his parents, their injustice was so severe. “If you knew what they’d done to me you wouldn’t ask me to forgive them.” He was unwilling to relinquish his parents’ negative hold on his psyche, much like a cancer victim refusing chemotherapy. Nonetheless, his awareness of the physiological ramifications of holding onto anger and resentment bodes well for the future.

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