We are all human and do bad things. We feel bad for these bad things we did. Remorse is a healthy response, but self-condemnation is not. Remorse is defined as "deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed," while self-condemnation is defined as "the act or an instance of condemning one's own character or actions." For the bad things I've done in my life, I go back and forth between the two, and I am also writing this article to see how to waver more so on the side of remorse than self-condemnation.
Self-condemnation, to me, is the feeling that you're not good enough, that you should be something you currently are not. In a spiritual context, for those that are religious, self-condemnation is the act of putting yourself in the position of God. Why? According to Christine Hoover, "the Holy Spirit convicts - we don't convict ourselves." When we convict ourselves, it makes us center on ourselves. "I'm not good enough," "I need to try harder and be better at this," or "my past mistakes define me" are examples of this kind of self-conviction. We are not meant to go to the cross. Jesus did. It is almost a point of arrogance and pride to wallow extensively in our shame and try to pay Christ's shame ourselves.
But enough of theology - another point against self-condemnation is the fact that we rarely tell other people they should condemn themselves. So why should we do it for ourselves? Lara D'entremont writes that "when we wish the sadness would go away, we murmur to ourselves that we deserve it. It's almost as if we believe that self-condemnation helps pay the price for the sin. We make it more forgivable by suffering for it." Naturally, self-condemnation is extremely self-centered.
All of us know this, but how do we stop ourselves from our often natural inclination to condemn ourselves? Even though the line between the two isn't as thick as this article may put it, the answer is remorse.
Remorse is the ability to humble oneself and healthily repent for past mistakes. For example, we often feel remorse not only for the consequences of our actions, but also the intentions behind them. Few can argue that cheating on a partner comes with good intentions. When you condemn yourself, you do not forgive yourself. But when you feel remorse, you can take responsibility for your actions and forgive yourself simultaneously. And it's also important to differentiate between forgiving yourself and letting yourself off the hook: the difference is whether you take responsibility.
Again, I waver between the two and go back and forth all the time. Sometimes I really do internalize that some things I've done are so bad that I deserve the cross, and that feeling is a terrible offshoot of remorse. But the difference between a good and bad person, I've been told, is the ability to feel remorse for bad actions in the first place. It's a lot easier not to feel remorse if you can and not take any responsibility for your actions. After all, Thomas Hobbes once said that life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," so there will always be a part of ourselves that may question whether we should have consciences and feel remorse for our past misdeeds in the first place.
So what should we do when we feel remorse? Famous psychologist Phillip Zimbardo, the architect behind the highly controversial and questionably unethical Stanford Prison Experiment, instructs us to "take a few deep breaths and examine why you created this past negative experience...Realize that what's done is done and while you can't change the past, you can choose not to recreate the situation in the future by working through your experiences in the present." Remorse is a wonderful emotion in that when we feel it so strongly, and not to the point of condemning ourselves, we are pushing ourselves to vow that we will never make the mistake again.
With remorse, we always learn important lessons, and that emotion, however painful it is to feel, is the fuel we use to turn shit into gold, evil into good. According to Zimbardo, we can always be thankful not for the mistakes we made or the ways we hurt others profoundly, but the lessons we learned in the aftermath. "We have the opportunity to learn from it and live through it. We can choose to become a better, more enlightened person and create for ourselves a brighter, kinder, more compassionate future."
So to feel remorse instead of its cancerous offshoot in self-condemnation, we need to remind ourselves that life goes on regardless of the decisions we make. Just wallowing in our shame isn't allowing life to go on, but rather an attempt to be Jesus. The goal isn't to be Jesus Christ when we think about our past mistakes. The goal is to be more like Jesus, because there are always going to be millions of ways we fall short of being God. We don't regret bad things we did to pay a price - no. That price is often never something we're capable of paying. We regret to learn, become better people, and turn the suffering we inflicted into hope, and ultimately to turn evil into good.