Use the Evolutionary Purpose of Guilt to Your Advantage

Why a long maligned emotion needs to be better understood and embraced.

Sean Kernan
6 min readJun 19, 2024
Pexels Images via Engin Akyurt

Guilt is often maligned in self-improvement content. And much of this it with good reason. The emotion can unnecessarily punish people over long periods of time.

Even further, guilt has been used to shun LGBT communities via religious convictions and general bigotry. In fact, guilt has been used to shame virtually every marginalized group and even dominant majority groups. It takes no prisoners.

Political arenas take it further, rebranding guilt as a scarlet letter, as proof of moral bankruptcy of opposing factions, evidenced by the endless lawsuits and investigations being thrown in both directions ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

But guilt serves an important evolutionary purpose that is rarely discussed, and which is useful in everyday life. It isn’t always evidence of an immutable character flaw.

Looking inward for evidence

Can you remember the earliest thing you felt guilty about?

I have a vivid memory from when I was 6 years old and living in the Philippines. We were at school and on a playground. One of the other school boys had jumped up and was…

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Sean Kernan

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