When Is Shame Wrong?
“The one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).
When Ashley was growing up and displeased her father, she was told, “You’ll never amount to anything. You’ve got bad blood in you” (referring to her mother’s side of the family). The message got through, and as a little girl, Ashley felt like something was very wrong with her, something which she didn’t understand. Nonetheless it made her feel very inadequate and inferior.
As an adult, Ashley struggled with emotional relationships, always afraid of getting very close to people lest she would be rejected by them. She never felt quite good enough to be accepted, and thought of herself as defective, inadequate and was fearful of making mistakes.
Psychologists today identify the problem as “shame,” and recognize that it is a major stumbling block to satisfying relationships and fulfillment with many people. In their book Letting Go of Shame, authors Ronald and Patricia Potter- Efron say that shame “is a painful belief in one’s defectiveness as a human being.” Different than guilt which is what you feel because of wrongdoing, shame is what you have been made to feel because you think you don’t measure up to the standard of normalcy. It may be self-imposed, but generally it is something thrust upon you by other people.
Naturally, if you get caught doing something wrong and you are rebuked by someone, you feel shame, and rightly so, but generally shame is what you experience when you believe that you are defective as a person. Parents, friends, colleagues and even teachers can be the perpetrators of this wrong.
Eugene Whitney, a Christian psychologist, pointed out the fact that 90 percent of the work in most churches is done by 10 percent of the people, and, believes Dr. Whitney, “many of them are doing what they do because they feel they must earn the acceptance of other people.”
Is “shame” a new buzz word which we are now using to describe some of the dark feelings of the heart that people have always experienced? Or rather is it a brighter definition, a sharper negative outlining the dark shadows of the heart, which exposes some of the hidden feelings of our hearts? It can, indeed, be the latter.
Is there a solution to breaking through the shame barrier? Make a note of these simple guidelines, which can be like keys to unlock the doors that have kept you a prisoner of shame.
GUIDELINE #1 — Recognize the source of shame. This is half the solution immediately. Who told you that you are worthless or that you are not good enough? Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior unless you let that person do it. Neither can anyone shame you without your express permission to do so.
GUIDELINE #2 — Get God’s perspective. When a child is caught doing something wrong, parents will occasionally say, “Shame on you!” God’s Holy Spirit brings reproof in our hearts when we do wrong, but He never causes feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy. To the contrary, the Bible says that you are a person of value and worth, a unique individual made in the image of God. Feelings of inadequacy and failure never come from God; therefore, we must believe that we are a person of value and worth.
GUIDELINE #3 –Believe what God says about your personal worth. That you will find in the textbook on living, the Bible. Surprising as it may seem to some, what mental health experts are saying today is exactly what the writers of Scripture said long ago. It’s a discovery that is well worth making.
Resource reading: Zephaniah 3:14-17