Guilt and shame are emotions we deal with all the time and it is wise for us to understand the difference between the two.
Guilt can have a positive influence in our lives. When we feel guilty about what we are doing it motivates us to change. It encourages us to reconcile with those we have hurt or offended. There is also a redemptive quality as we seek God’s forgiveness.
But shame is different. It does not want to change you; it wants to beat you down. It keeps bringing up your failures and weaknesses again and again. Its sole goal is to humiliate you.
Shame tries to define who you are. Even after we have asked God to forgive us, shame keeps shaking our sin and failure in front of us. Unlike God, it doesn’t want you to forget your past, because it is screaming in our face how bad we are.
Shame isolates us and keeps us hooked up with feelings of being unworthy or never good enough. We believe there has always been something wrong with us and that we could never change. Shame points the finger and says there is something wrong with you!
One psychologist, Carl Jung, describes shame as the “swampland of the soul” and if you are like me, you have spent a fair amount of time wading around its dank, muddy waters reliving those moments when you brought shame upon yourself.
Maybe you were too forward or took a risk and stepped outside the box in a moment of inspiration and later felt shame and even condemnation over what you did. It has happened to me. In the past year, I have stepped out and taken chances, including a leadership role and then later was bombarded with feelings of failure.
Often I am the only one who perceives these moments as a mistake. Nobody else does. But shame steps in saying that no one liked what you did.
When this happens, we start pulling back, but often we aren’t running or hiding from others but rather from the gifts inside us that are showing up as we conquer fear. Shame wants to immobilize you.
In my mind, shame is like taking a whip and lashing your back until you bleed and the pain and shame completely overtakes you. It questions everything you do, it challenges every decision you make, because you are not good enough.
Often what happens is that our guilt turns to shame when we don’t forgive ourselves for something we did. Shame is guilt internalized. It is unrelenting condemnation!
But the Bible says:
8 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1 NASV)
There is no condemnation because of what Christ did and we need to accept and believe that.
Now when I feel the noose of shame tightening around my neck, I purposefully engage the Holy Spirit to release me from its strangling hold. I will take deep breaths, reject the shame and ask the Holy Spirit to refresh my spirit and blow truth over me.
It’s like being resuscitated from near death. Truth wins as we engage with God through His Holy Spirit and His word.
Many of us have a shame and guilt blueprint that developed over the years that can even be rooted back to our childhood. This takes time to process as we go through a ‘reveal and heal’ process identifying the root causes of shame as we recognize the need to forgive ourselves, or someone who caused the shame.
But many times we feel shame for things we were not responsible for. Therapist Terri Cole says “shame thrives in silence and secrecy.” We need to talk these things out with the right people otherwise we will continue to judge and punish ourselves for things that we were not responsible for.
“It is common for you inner cruel voice to be the internalized voice of someone who was constantly criticizing and judging you in childhood. That voice isn’t even yours.”
We need to turn off this voice and learn to perceive ourselves in the light and truth of God’s love and His word. Like a thief, shame’s goal is to steal your joy, kill your spiritual life and destroy your future.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)