Shame vs. Guilt

Shame Depends on How We Believe We are Viewed by Others Due to our Behavior; Guilt Involves the Awareness of Having Done Something Wrong.

YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED that many people use the words shame and guilt interchangeably. This is regrettable because, from a psychological perspective, they actually refer to different experiences. Guilt and shame sometimes go hand in hand; the same action may give rise to feelings of both shame and guilt, where the former reflects how we feel about ourselves and the latter involves an awareness that our actions have injured someone else. In other words, shame relates to self, guilt to others.

Looking first to the dictionary definitions, we see the following:

  • Guilt. A feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
  • Shame. The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, hurtful, etc., done by oneself or another.

As noted before, in everyday language people tend to use these words more or less interchangeably. From a therapeutic perspective, the distinction can be most important and useful. Many people crippled by shame have very little capacity to feel guilt, for example. In order to feel guilt about the harm you may have done to somebody else, you must recognize him or her as a distinct individual. A person who struggles with interpersonal relationships, or who has a mental illness—such as attachment disorder, borderline personality disorder, or bipolar disorder—might not feel true guilt even if he or she were to use that word to describe a feeling.

Many people who display narcissistic behavior often suffer from profound feelings of shame, but have little authentic concern for other people; they don’t tend to feel genuine guilt. The lack of empathy found in narcissistic and other personality disorders makes real guilt unlikely since guilt depends upon the ability to intuit how someone else might feel.

When shame is especially pervasive, it usually precludes feelings of genuine concern and guilt from developing; the sense of being damaged is so powerful and painful that it crowds out one’s feelings for anyone else. In such cases, idealization often comes into play. Other people are then viewed as perfect, “the lucky ones” who have the ideal shame-free life we crave. Envy may be at the root of these thoughts.

SHAME

Shame says, “There’s something inherently wrong with me that isn’t wrong with everyone else.” It tells you that you’re worthless and incapable. Therefore, you must find some way to prove your own worth. At its worst, shame says, “I am outside the love of God.” A person with a shamed sense of identity reads the Scriptures and usually feels condemned. Unfortunately, far too many believers are feeling dirty, worthless, ashamed of themselves; convinced their offenses are beyond the reach of the cross. Having such a poisonous attitude about yourself can lead to belief that you are unclean and therefore unworthy to approach God and have the living and intimate relationship that He wants to have with you. Shame prevents us from intimacy with God because it makes us feel unworthy and distant from Him.

Shame causes us to make statements like this:

  • I often think about past failures or experiences of rejection.
  • There are certain things I cannot recall about my past without feeling guilt, shame.
  • I seem to make the same mistakes over and over again.
  • I feel inferior.
  • There are aspects of my appearance that I cannot except.
  • I am generally disgusted with myself.
  • I feel that certain experiences have basically ruined my life.
  • I perceive myself as an immoral person.
  • I feel that I have lost the opportunity to experience a wonderful life.

Healing from shame involves learning to get our sense of value and significance from God. We need to get out from behind the secrecy of this idea that we are unsalvageable because shame is grown in secrecy. Remember, we’re only as sick as our secrets. We have to start counting our blessings and develop a grateful spirit.

GUILT

There are some significant differences between guilt and shame. Guilt is what takes place when a person realizes their failure. The source of guilt—”conviction,” if you prefer— is the Holy Spirit. To be sure, true guilt is a good thing. It helps us judge our behavior against the laws, it allows for restitution, punishment, and making amends. It allows us to pay for what we have done. False guilt involves sin we’ve repented of and asked for God’s forgiveness, but where the devil still pushes us to feel unreedemed. He wants us to see ourselves as the sum of all our bad behaviors and nothing more.

With guilt, we are motivated to confess. Get it out in the open. Find a way to make amends for our actions. Shame, however, wants us to internalize. Stew in our complete badness. Feel horrible about who we’ve become, while forgetting who we now are in Christ. The goal of guilt is ultimately forgiveness. Shame would rather we feel pain and total condemnation. The end result of dealing effectively with guilt is freedom and growth. The point of shame is, quite simply, bondage. Someone who takes ownership of his or her guilt has the potential of giving their body over to God as a living sacrifice. We become open to doing good. Sharing our testimony. Preaching the Good News. On the other hand, shame owns and controls us. The cycle of shame leads to anger, bitterness, resentment, self-hatred, and depression. There is no peace with shame.

The Day Guilt Was Born

Shame and guilt did not exist initially in the Garden of Eden. But no sooner had Eve defied God and taken a bite of the forbidden fruit, these emotions fell over her like a dark shadow. Their silhouettes followed her until her dying day. She would be buried in their cold presence. And as Adam followed in his wife’s footsteps, two more shadows were born. Guilt and Shame are conceived in their rebellion. We are painfully acquainted with them today. We would love to part with them, but they won’t leave us alone. Although these two emotions are related, they aren’t identical. Guilt is typically linked to an event: I did something bad. Guilt says, “I made a mistake; please forgive me.” Shame is tied to a person: I am bad. Shame says, “Please forgive me, I am a mistake.” Guilt is the wound, whereas shame is the scar it leaves. While guilt is seeing what you’ve done, shame is seeing yourself as a complete failure because of what you’ve done. Guilt allows us to look at the sin (the offense). Shame involves focusing on a deep-seated sense of self-denigration.

Shame and False Guilt Create Strongholds

If we continue to ruminate on our past failures, it will wear us down spiritually. Satan takes over, aiming at getting us to see a distortion of who we are—especially who we have become through Christ. Satan wants us to look at our past failures so much that we begin to see ourselves as nothing but failures! He doesn’t want us to see who we truly are. He’d rather keep us thinking about all the bad behavior until all we see when we look in the mirror is a dirty sinner. The complete opposite of who and what we really are in Christ.

In fact, shame is one of those things the Bible speaks of as an imagination that must be cast down. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” An imagination is an image in your mind that is inaccurate. If you see yourself as a failure, when you’re actually a washed-in-the-blood child of God, you’ve fallen victim to an imagination that must be dealt with.

Shame is very destructive to relationships—especially with God. There is a good reason Satan wants us to feel like failures and dirty sinners who cannot be redeemed. Feeling that way keeps us from confidently approaching God’s throne and having an intimate relationship with Him. Scripture tells us that God wants us to draw near to Him with a clean conscience that has been freed from dead works. We’re not expected to forget the wrongs we’ve done, especially if such behavior led to dire consequences, such as broken hearts and destruction of relationships. Hebrews 9:14 says, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God” (NIV). Timothy speaks of this “pure conscience” (see 2 Timothy 1:3).

Shame and false guilt are based upon deception, which is the opposite of truth. So how are we supposed to worship God in Spirit and truth if there are imaginations hanging around in our minds that are contrary to the truth? But how do we defeat or overcome these bear traps? First, we need to stop dwelling on our past failures. Are you ignoring them? Am I? Not really. When we dwell on them as if they’re not forgiven and forgotten by God, we are ignoring the lie that our sin has not been adequately dealt with and washed away. In other words, we are actually meditating on ghosts! Sins that no longer exist. Micah 7:19 tells us, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (NIV).

We must deal with our shame by reminding ourselves of how God has dealt with our guilt.

Disassociate, Don’t Disavow

Why do you think God wants us to be new creations? Because He wants us to no longer be in bondage to our past. We’re to disassociate ourselves with the people, places, and things that were a part of our sinful past. Paul succinctly writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Psalm 103:12 says, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far he has removed our transgressions from us.” Not only are we to accept that our sins are forgiven, we need to leave them there and press forward toward the things God has for us. Philippians 3:13b-14 says, “…forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (NIV).  God has been merciful toward our unrighteousness, and says “…their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12).

Coming from a past history of active addiction, and involvement in 12-step programs, I can’t help but refer to the following words contained in the Ninth Step Promises: “We don’t regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” This is especially applicable in recovery. I recall hearing from an old timer at a meeting years ago, “…we have to get to the point where we stop seeing our past as a liability and start seeing it as an asset.” Whether we’re working with others in recovery or sharing our testimony with unbelievers, our past experiences—good or bad—are tools, indeed assets, for helping others. This is a practical application of the doctrinal concept that we have become a new creation through our faith in Christ Jesus.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Because we were designed by God to feel guilt, we all should have the capacity for it. But sometimes we are not clear about its underlying motivation. If your fear of getting caught is greater than your desire to heal your relationships, then you are suffering from an unhealthy guilt and it is likely to be with you for a long time. Trust me, I’ve been there. Shame feels bad as well, but it is different from guilt. Shame is the painful feeling of disconnection from others that comes from feeling defective. You may think you feel bad because of things you have done, but shame is a bad feeling that you have about yourself, and you had that feeling long before you committed any of the things you think caused it.

Guilt and shame are strong emotions that we need to acknowledge and deal with before our relationships will go well. To manage guilt, we must do things differently. Being honest about wrongdoing, repenting of it, and seeking forgiveness are things we can do in response to guilt. To deal with shame, we must actually be different. That is, we must be vulnerable and experience what it is like to share our feelings honestly with others in ways that change us and help us be a better person.

All of us walk around with some degree of shame. We can’t talk ourselves out of it, or even have someone else explain to us why we shouldn’t feel it. No one can be cured of shame, but we all can experience healing. When we are courageous and vulnerable enough to open ourselves up to God’s grace, we will experience what it is like to feel complete acceptance down to our very core. Courage, vulnerability, and acceptance heal shame. And experiencing that with God heals it in the most powerful way.

God forgives you; you must learn to forgive yourself.

 

 

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2004 Sarah Young
February 17

Jesus Calling Cover Art.jpg

I AM THE RISEN ONE who shines upon you always. You worship a living Deity, not some idolatrous, man-made image. Your relationship with Me is meant to be vibrant and challenging, as I invade more and more areas of your life. Do not fear change, for I am making you a new creation, with old things passing away and new things continually on the horizon. When you cling to old ways and sameness, you resist My work within you. I want you to embrace all that I am doing in your life, finding your security in Me alone.

It is easy to make an idol of routine, finding security within the boundaries you build around your life. Although each day contains twenty-four hours, every single one presents a unique set of circumstances. Don’t try to force-fit today into yesterday’s mold. Instead, ask Me to open your eyes so you can find all I have prepared for you in this precious day of life.

MATTHEW 28:5-7; 2 CORINTHIANS 5:17

 

 

Are You New?

Most people want to be someone new. This is why seemingly every cover of the most popular magazines and books, the topics of the most popular radio and TV shows, and the most trafficked blogs and websites are about one thing. Becoming a new you. Most everyone, even if they don’t use the biblical language of sin and redemption, knows something is wrong, that we’re not entirely who we could or should be, and that making changes would be a good thing. Using biblical language, we want to be “saved” from the consequences of our sin. We want to be “justified” or declared good by whomever or whatever we worship, which can range from Jesus to a false deity. We want our friends and co-workers to have a high opinion of us. We want approval from our parents, or even ourselves.

As humans, we are religious by fallen nature, which means we think we can be justified in one of four ways. First, loosely religious people assume they’re good enough and that no spiritual devotion or extra effort is required for God to be pleased with them. Such people make moderate life corrections and learn occasional new life lessons, but for the most part they believe that only really bad people (and not themselves) need to be made new. Basically, they’re already saved and justified in their own minds. Isaiah 64:6 says, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.”

Second, secular religious people work very hard at social causes because they think they’re good and need to overcome evil with their goodness. These people tend to see others’ problems more than their own and smugly think they’re God’s gift to the world, here to change it and make it new. They justify themselves by saving the rest of us.

Third, non-Christian spiritual people try to change themselves with vaguely spiritual self-help books and programs, wanting to become new but not understanding how to achieve that in Christ. They follow the trendy books and ideas about loving oneself as the means by which they can unleash their potential and change their life. For them, God provided principles to save and justify ourselves. They add something you will not find in the Bible: God only helps those who help themselves.

Fourth, devoutly religious people work hard at keeping the rules of a particular religion in an effort to justify themselves as good and obedient people in God’s sight. Such people try very hard to do the right thing so God will love them and be pleased with them. This thinking is pernicious, and likely most common for the kind of people who would read books by Christian authors rather than seeking a relationship with Christ.

Paul was a man just like this until he became a Christian. He put off his old religious identity and put on his new identity in Christ. Paul lists his “religious” credentials in Philippians 3:5-6. Paul’s point was that he had a perfect record. By the religious rules of his people, he would’ve been considered nearly perfect. Of course, inwardly he was filled with the sins of pride and self-righteousness. What exactly is self-righteousness? It means being convinced of one’s own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others. This type of person is narrow mindedly moralistic. They are not willing to accept opinions, beliefs, or behaviors that are unusual or different from their own. They are completely confident of their own righteousness, especially regarding morals. A selfrighteous person acts superior to his peers because he believes his moral standards are perfect.

Though Paul looked perfect on the outside, he believed that his noble birth, impeccable education, tireless work ethic, clean lifestyle, and unprecedented religious devotion to be rubbish compared to his new identity. Having been made new, Paul had righteousness through faith in Christ. The Greek word for rubbish (skubala) means refuse, dregs, or dung. This tells us exactly what Paul thought about his former life. After having a new identity in Christ, Paul found every previous effort and accomplishment to be as worthless as stinky trash, and as disgusting as a steaming pile of dog dung.

Speaking from his own experience and identity in Christ, Paul explains how we live out our new identity in Ephesians 4:14-24, which says, “With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus, and have learned the truth that comes from Him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Holy Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God; truly righteous and holy.” (NLT) Repentance is explained in terms of walking down a different path than we have been, by putting off our old self and putting on our new self. One way to define repentance is a turning away from what was.

Practically, this means we no longer think, desire, or act according to our old identity as someone disconnected from Jesus Christ. Instead, we have a new identity in Jesus, and we become a new person, created according to God in true righteousness and holiness. Of course, we have to learn to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. Paul says this new identity has to be put on like clothing. Therefore, it is a good idea every day as we dress ourselves physically to also pray that God would dress us spiritually to live out our identity in Christ as we go through our day. But how do we put off our old self and put on our new self? The answer is found in the effects of Christ’s work on the cross. He made justification, regeneration, and glorification possible for us. Justification makes us externally new. Regeneration makes us internally new. Glorification makes us eternally new in Christ.

While we’re genuinely new in Christ, we’re not yet completely new in Christ. There is still a seed of rebellion in us. There are temptations all around us, and the snares of the devil have been set. In this life, we continually grow to live out of our new identity as new people in Christ through a process called sanctification. In this process, we learn more about Jesus and become more and more like Him by the power of the Holy Spirit as we believe the Bible truths I’ve talked about in this blog post.

One day, we will die. If we die in Christ, we’re made fully, completely, unchangingly, and eternally new. This is called glorification. On that day, your faith will be rewarded as you see the risen and reigning Jesus face-to-face. On that day, everyone in Christ will be made completely perfect as together we rise like Jesus to be like Him forever. In Christ, you are new.