It’s actually easier to identify the effects of shame than it is to define its essence. But I’ll try. Shame is the painful emotion that is caused by a consciousness of guilt, failure, or impropriety, that often results in the paralyzing conviction/belief that one is worthless, of no value to others or to God, unacceptable, and altogether deserving of disdain and rejection. As you can see, shame and guilt are not the same thing.
The difference between guilt and shame is a very fine line. Guilt is the objective reality of being liable to punishment because of something we’ve done. Shame is the subjective feeling of being worthless because of who we are. It’s the difference between making a mistake and believing we are a mistake. Feeling guilt when we sin is a good and godly and healthy response. So we run to God and seek his forgiveness. But feeling shame when we sin is a bad and destructive response that compels us to run from him for fear of his disdain and contempt.
Shame can lead to a variety of emotions and actions. It leads to feelings of being not just unqualified but disqualified from anything meaningful or of having a significant role in the body of Christ.
People enslaved to shame are constantly apologizing to others for who they are. They feel small, flawed, never good enough. They live under the crippling fear of never measuring up, of never pleasing those whose love and respect they desire. This often results in efforts to work harder to compensate for feeling less than everyone else.
Shame has innumerable effects on the human soul. Those in shame have a tendency to hide; to create walls of protection behind which they hunker down and hope no one will see the true you. They are terrified that their true self will be seen and known and rejected by others. So they put on a false face, they adopt a personality or certain traits that they think others will find acceptable. They are convinced that if someone were to see them for who they really are, they’d be repulsed and disappointed. So they are led to be less than their true self. They deliberately stifle whatever strengths they have. They say to themselves: “Whatever I do, don’t be vulnerable. It’s dangerous.”
Breaking free from shame is almost always a process, but it begins with a miraculous breakthrough. One can be enabled by the Spirit to see the lie of shame and the truth of forgiveness but there is often a lifetime of behavior and attitudes that must be progressively brought into alignment with the truth of who we are in Christ.
I want us to explore the only lasting and meaningful cure for shame. It comes from embracing in your heart the simple truth that your value and identity are not determined by what others have said to you, about you, or perpetrated against you. Your value and identity are determined by who you are as an image-bearer and what Christ has done on your behalf.
To be continued……….