Humans contend with a long list of emotions, and one of the most damaging is the one we call shame. Many people confuse shame with guilt, which describes how you may feel when you know or believe you did something you knew was wrong.
Shame tends to be a larger emotion than guilt, because it describes the way you feel when you come to believe everything about you is wrong, no matter what you may or may not have done. While guilt is typically tied to a specific action, shame often represents the accumulation of many things, including your perception of how others see you. As we go through life, we absorb the ways other people treat us, and if we frequently hear messages that make us feel inferior, undeserving, or inadequate, we start to believe them.
It’s harder to address shame than guilt. If you’re feeling guilty about a particular action, you can own up to it and take steps such as apologizing to remedy it. But shame is much more deep-seated, and there’s rarely a simple action capable of wiping it out. Shame tells you that you made that bad decision because you’re a bad person who isn’t capable of doing better.
The problem with shame is that creates a sense of disconnection from those around us. When we feel there is something wrong with us, we start believing we’re not worthy of being loved, of friendship, of affection, or the other emotions that grow out of our relationships with others. How can someone love me if I’m a fundamentally bad person? As we think less of who we are, we slide into a spiral that begins to destroy our self-worth. When shame interferes with our ability to love ourselves, it makes it difficult for us to love those around us. We begin to engage in destructive behaviors, which only strengthen shame’s hold on us.
The key to overcoming shame is to remember God created each of us for a purpose and instilled real worth in us. We may not have found that purpose, or shame may have led us to stray from the path set out for us, but God’s infinite forgiveness has the power to draw us back and fully restore us. It’s a journey that begins by developing an understanding of what’s behind our shame and confronting it.
If the journey to eliminate shame sounds too overwhelming to pursue on your own, you may benefit from time with a professional counselor. A trained professional can help you identify the sources of your shame and contrast them with the truth of who you are and were meant to be. As you restore your sense of self-worth, you’ll discover you’re genuinely capable of trust and worthy of love, which will improve all of your relationships. Why not set a time to talk with one of our counselors today?
A Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Teresa Land specializes in women’s issues, anxiety and depression, recovery from abuse, addiction, and helping church leaders.