One of the core elements of mindfulness is learning how to identify where emotions are occurring in the body. Emotion is not just an experience of the mind, after all. It is a visceral, whole-self experience. And when you can notice and become aware of the emotions in your body, you can treat yourself with kindness.

Two of the most debilitating emotions human beings can feel are shame and guilt. These often cause deep suffering for us when we experience them, and mindfulness is one way we can alleviate this suffering.

Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) is a method of using mindfulness to comfort yourself. You treat yourself like you are a dear friend, and this self-compassion – self-love – is an antidote to guilt and shame.

It hurts to feel shame, but it’s helpful to remember that it is a universal experience. When we remember that we are connected – even in our darkest moments – to people all over the planet who have experienced something similar, this can help to transform potential feelings of isolation which may lead to depression, compounding our feelings of shame or guilt. That’s a downward spiral. Let’s see how we might turn that spiral into one that moves upward!

4 Mindful Steps for Dealing with Guilt and Shame

Next time you notice yourself getting stuck in a harmful thought spiral of shame or guilt…

1. Name the emotion: Pause long enough to name your emotion. Call it out. Recognize it for what it is. This simple step begins to calm your brain down and give you some space around your feelings.

2. Locate your emotion in your body: See if you can feel where the emotion is in your body. Do you feel it in your stomach? In your jaw? In your neck? Where do you feel tension or discomfort?

3. Apply soothing touch: Place your hands over the location where you feel the emotion in your body. Imagine warm oil or a warm compress opening up the constricted area. If that doesn’t work, you can place your hands anywhere on your body that you find comforting, such as over your heart, on your belly, cradling your face, around your shoulders in a hug, etc. When you give yourself this soothing touch, you are loving yourself. This takes you out of reactivity mode and into a more loving, calm space. You are releasing the nurturing hormones of oxytocin and endorphins, which calm your system.

4. Change the channel: Lastly, change the channel. It can be hard to change the channel as a first step when you’re feeling so poorly. So, call your emotion by name, locate it in your body, apply soothing touch to yourself, then invite yourself to change your channel of thought. Focus on something you are grateful for, perhaps going so far as to write a letter of gratitude to someone. (You don’t need to send it to get the mental health benefits of the shift in mood.) Choose an activity that gives you joy and fills you with calm, loving feelings. Pull up a wonderful memory and marinate in those feelings to install the goodness in your body and mind, pushing the mental state into a neural trait so the happy bridge gets reinforced in your brain. (That last suggestion is how I learned to rewire my brain for happiness and resilience, thanks to the groundbreaking and prolific work of Rick Hanson!)

Author's Bio: 

About Julie Potiker: Mindfulness expert and author Julie Potiker is an attorney who began her serious study and investigation of mindfulness after graduating from the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of California, San Diego. She went on to become trained to teach Mindful Self-Compassion, and completed the Positive Neuroplasticity Training Professional Course with Rick Hanson. Now, she shares these and other mindfulness techniques with the world through her Mindful Methods for Life trainings and her new book: “Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm In the Midst of Chaos.” For more information, visit