WHAT IS SHAME?
Shame, guilt, and condemnation are similar in that they all have to do with sin, but different in degree, duration, and scope.
- Shame is an intense feeling of angst that makes you wish you could evaporate; extreme humiliation and remorse; a despairing of life from abject embarrassment.
- Guilt is realizing you have done wrong, usually for some particular sin.
- Condemnation is being sentenced (convicted) for doing wrong.
The word-group for shame (“disconcerted, ” “disappointed, ” “confounded”) occurs in the Old Testament most frequently in the Wisdom Literature and in the prophets (especially Isaiah and Jeremiah).
Guilt is feeling bad about what you do. Shame is feeling bad about who you are.
shame is broader than just our self-identity. It has to do with our relationships. Shame is deeper than guilt. It is not based on having done something wrong so much as a soul ache of being wrong at the core.
Guilt is an awareness of failure against a standard. Shame is a sense of failure before the eyes of someone.
In other words, guilt is about disobedience to a law or code, but shame is how I perceive others see me (or how I see myself).
How does shame affect our relationships?
Sinful human beings are traumatized before a holy God, exposed for failure to live up to God’s glorious moral purpose. The first response of Adam and Eve to their sinful condition was to hide from God, and consequently from one another ( Gen 3:7-8 ; 2:25 ).
Guilt and Shame: True vs. False
Powlison goes on to define the difference between true and false guilt. If I know I should treat people with kindness and patience, and instead I am continually irritable and I lose my temper, I should feel guilt. This is true guilt.
But if I have four preschoolers at home and I believe photo teams from House Beautiful should be able to show up at any moment to a spotless house, I might feel guilty because my house looks like an EPA disaster site. Here is a case of false guilt because I’m failing to live up to an artificial standard.
There can also be both true and toxic shame. If I have sinned against God and offended Him, or if I have sinned against another and hurt my relationship with them, I should feel a sense of shame. Shame is a healthy heart-response to the fact of a torn relationship.
If, however, my sense of shame does not reflect reality, then there is a problem. If I have not actually done anything to incur someone’s disfavor, but I believe I have, this could lead to false shame. Or if I wrongly believe that my actions have led to an irreparable breach, then I might react to my sense of shame by hiding myself—much the same way Adam and Eve did in the garden after eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:7-8).
The difference for Paul was this: the very sins that used to cause a sense of toxic guilt and shame no longer did, because Paul ruthlessly trusted in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross.“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Why? Because “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).
What are you ashamed of?
Who do you think is ashamed of you? Someone once made you feel like there was something wrong with you at your core, unchangeable. Who was it?
Who do you think today will be ashamed of you?
ADDICTED TO SHAME
Once we establish our core shame belief, we become addicted to it because it serves us in two primary ways:
- It gives us a feeling of control over other people’s feelings and behavior.
As long as we believe that we are the cause of others rejecting behavior, then we can believe that there is something we can do about it. It gives us a sense of power to believe that others are rejecting us, or behaving in unloving ways, because of our inadequacy. If it is our fault then maybe we can do something about it by changing ourselves, by doing things “right.” We hang on to the belief that our inadequacy is causing others behavior because we don’t want to accept others free will to feel and behave however they want. We don’t want to accept our helplessness over others feelings and behavior.
- It protects us from other feelings that we are afraid to feel, and gives us a sense of control over our own feelings.
As bad as shame feels, many people prefer it to the feelings that shame may be covering up: loneliness, heartbreak, grief, sadness, sorrow or helplessness over others. Just as anger may be a cover-up for these difficult feelings, so is shame. Shame is totally different than loneliness or heartbreak or helplessness over others.
Shame is a feeling that we are causing by our own false beliefs, but loneliness, heartbreak, grief, sadness, sorrow or helplessness over others are existential feelings — feelings that are a natural result of life. We feel heartbreak and grief over losing someone we love. We feel loneliness when we want to connect with someone or play with someone, and there is no one around or no one open to connection, love or play. Many people would rather feel an awful feeling that they are causing, than feel the authentic painful feelings of life.
If you are finding it difficult to move beyond shame, it may be because you are addicted to the feeling of control that your shame-based beliefs give you: Control over others’ feelings and behavior, and control over your own authentic feelings. As long as having the control is most important to you, you will not let go of your false core shame beliefs.
You can heal your shame when:
- You are willing to accept that others feelings and behavior have nothing to do with you.
When you accept that others have free will to be open or closed, loving or unloving — that you are not the cause of their feelings and behavior, and you no longer take others behavior personally – you will have no need to control it. When you let go of your need to control others, and instead move into compassion for yourself and others, you will let go of your false beliefs about yourself that cause the feeling of shame.
- You are willing to feel your authentic feelings, rather than cover them up with anger or shame.
UNASHAMED IN CHRIST
A disciple of Christ stands with him unashamedly in a world that finds the cross, God’s ways, and God’s persecuted messengers shameful. Those ashamed of him now will find Christ ashamed of them on the day of judgment ( Mark 8:38 ; Luke 9:26 ). Conversely, God is not ashamed to call the faithful “brothers” of Christ ( Heb 2:11 ).
Isa 54:4 (NKJ) “Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth…”
Joel 2:27 (NIV) Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.
1 Pet 2:6 (Wey) For it is contained in Scripture, “See, I am placing on Mount Zion a Cornerstone, chosen, and held in honour, and he whose faith rests on Him shall never have reason to feel ashamed.”
The Problem Of Self Confidence And Pride
Luke 22:31-34 (Phi) “Oh, Simon, Simon, do you know that Satan has asked to have you all to sift like wheat?–but I have prayed for you that you may not lose your faith. Yes, when you have turned back to me, you must strengthen these brothers of yours.” Peter said to him,
“Lord, I am ready to go to prison, or even to die with you!” “I tell you, Peter,” returned Jesus, “before the cock crows today you will deny three times that you know me!”
Peter was a boaster, being confident in himself. Like us, he was prone to make grand promises to God and then to blow it in actual experience, leading to the ache of shame.
Luke 22:59-62 (Phi) “I am convinced this man was with him…” “Man,” replied Peter, “I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crew. The Lord turned his head and looked straight at Peter, and into his mind flashed the words that the Lord had said to him… “You will disown me…” …and he [Peter] went outside and wept bitterly.
In this dismal process of humiliation we perhaps can understand at a deeper level how God is going to work out that no flesh will boast in His presence.