When we feel ashamed of our secrets, we’re more likely to think about them over and over again. We can better cope by shifting away from shame and toward guilt.

A Columbia University study asked 1,000 participants questions about their secrets, including how much shame and guilt they associated with them. They also asked how often the participants thought about their secrets each day during the previous month.

The study found that people who reported shame thought about their secrets significantly more than participants who reported guilt. Additionally, those who felt shame struggled with feeling worthless or powerless.

This demonstrates that feeling ashamed of our secrets can destroy our wellbeing. Researchers say guilt is a better coping mechanism and can help us make better decisions in the future.


Slepian, M. L., Kirby, J. N., & Kalokerinos, E. K. (2019, February 11). Shame, Guilt, and Secrets on the Mind. Emotion. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000542