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Dealing With Guilt And Shame


(Some rough notes on an important topic)


Sarah was rich. She had inherited twenty million dollars. Plus she had an additional income of one thousand dollars a day. That’s a lot of money any day, but it was immense in the late 1800s.

Sarah was well known. She was the belle of New Haven, Connecticut. No social event was complete without her presence. No one hosted a party without inviting her.

Sarah was powerful. Her name and money would open almost any door in America. Colleges wanted her donations. Politicians clamored for her support. Organizations sought her endorsement.

Sarah was rich. Well known. Powerful. And miserable.

Her only daughter had died at five weeks of age. Then her husband had passed away. She was left alone with her name, her money, her memories, … and her guilt.

It was her guilt that caused her to move west. A passion for penance drove her to San Jose, California. Her yesterdays imprisoned her todays, and she yearned for freedom.

She bought an eight-room farmhouse plus one hundred sixty adjoining acres. She hired sixteen carpenters and put them to work. For the next thirty-eight years, craftsmen labored every day, twenty-four hours a day, to build a mansion.

Observers were intrigued by the project. Sarah’s instructions were more than eccentric … they were eerie. The design had a macabre touch. Each window was to have thirteen panes, each wall thirteen panels, each closet thirteen hooks, and each chandelier thirteen globes.

The floor plan was ghoulish. Corridors snaked randomly, some leading nowhere. One door opened to a blank wall, another to a fifty-foot drop. One set of stairs led to a ceiling that had no door. Trap doors. Secret passageways. Tunnels. This was no retirement home for Sarah’s future; it was a castle for her past. The making of this mysterious mansion only ended when Sarah died. The completed estate sprawled over six acres and had six kitchens, thirteen bathrooms, forty stairways, forty-seven fireplaces, fifty-two skylights, four hundred sixty-seven doors, ten thousand windows, one hundred sixty rooms, and a bell tower.

Why did Sarah want such a castle? Didn’t she live alone? “Well, sort of,” those acquainted with her story might answer. “There were the visitors…” And the visitors came each night. Legend has it that every evening at midnight, a servant would pass through the secret labyrinth that led to the bell tower. He would ring the bell…to summon the spirits. Sarah would then enter the “blue room,” a room reserved for her and her nocturnal guests. Together they would linger until 2:00 a.m., when the bell would be rung again. Sarah would return to her quarters; the ghosts would return to their graves.

Who comprised this legion of phantoms? Indians and soldiers killed on the U.S. frontier. They had all been killed by bullets from the most popular rifle in America — the Winchester. What had brought millions of dollars to Sarah Winchester had brought death to them. So she spent her remaining years in a castle of regret, providing a home for the dead. You can see this poltergeist palace in San Jose, if you wish. You can tour its halls and see its remains.

But to see what unresolved guilt can do to a human being, you don’t have to go to the Winchester mansion. Lives imprisoned by yesterday’s guilt are in your own city. Hearts haunted by failure are in your own neighborhood. People plagued by pitfalls are just down the street .. or just down the hall. How many Sarah Winchesters do you know? How far do you have to go to find a soul haunted by ghosts of the past? Maybe not very far. Maybe Sarah’s story is your story.

[Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, Word Publishing, 1991, pp. 193-195]

1. Guilt and Regret

I counseled a young woman who had an affair, then had a baby, and adopted it out – and has ever since had a compulsive habit of looking into mothers’ prams, and strollers and later into the faces of other children – to see if she could recognize the child she gave away. The guilt drove her to attempt suicide several times…

Another woman – a missionary – flew from another country to talk about something she’d done – a sexual adventure – before she married. She’s told the story publicly since, but I’ll spare you the details. The terrible guilt caused her to have several ‘nervous breakdowns’. But in our therapy she decided to ‘come clean’. She wrote it down – plus lots of other junk in her life, read it aloud through her tears, then we burned it up and flushed it down the toilet, while hearing God’s word about casting our sins into the depths of the sea!

How people try to shed guilt:

Blame shift : “I did it, but they made me do it.” Rationalize : “I did it, but it wasn’t what you think.” Sanctify it : “I did it, but God understands and knows I couldn’t really help myself.” Deny it : “It’s so horrible it must not have happened.” Grade themselves on the curve : “I did it, but everyone else did too.” Samuel Beckett, the absurdist Irish playwright, was stabbed one day in Paris by an utter stranger. Beckettt survived the attack. Later he visited his assailant in prison, to ask: Why?

The prisoner had nothing to say. To each of Beckett’s questions he would only mumble, “I don’t know.”

There is no more chilling answer an adult can give. It is a robotic answer, a childish lament: I don’t know why I did it. Or as the cartoon philosopher Pogo used to say, “We has met the enemy and he is us!”

The Bible has many stories about guilt and regret. There’s David after his terrible acts of murder and adultery; Peter after denying his Lord three times…

I acknowledged my sin to you, and… you forgave. Psalm 32:5. Repentance is turning from our sin to God. It’s a simple, decisive act, and you can sense incredible relief in the psalmist’s words. Augustine, in his Confessions tells of his conversion as he read Paul’s words in Romans 13:13-14: ‘All at once, as I came to the end of the sentence, my heart was filled with a sunshine of confidence, before which all my dark doubts fled away.’ Psalm 32 was his favourite psalm, and he had it put on the wall over his bed.

One of the scariest stories about regret is Jesus’ parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. If only the rich man had noticed the beggar at his door…

Christianity has always taught that the ultimate regret is to reject God and find out too late the enormity of what you have done…

Here’s something on this from the ‘prince of preachers’ C H Spurgeon:

‘My dear friends, allow me to express my hearty joy that you are here, and let me also express the hope that you are here for a purpose you do not as yet understand. God has a special favour to you, I do trust, and therefore he has brought you here… But if you should despise the Word which you have heard; if the impression that has been made–and you know it has been made – should die away, one of the most awful regrets you will ever have when you come to your right sense and reason in another world will be the feeling that you had an opportunity, but that you neglected it. I cannot conceive a more doleful wail than that of the one who cries at last in hell, “The harvest is past – there was a harvest; the summer is ended – there was a summer – and I am not saved.” To go to perdition in ordinary times is hell; but to go from under the sound of an earnest ministry, where you are bidden to come to Christ, where you are entreated with honest tears to come to Jesus – to go there after you have been warned is to go not to hell merely, but to the very hell of hell. The core and marrow of damnation is reserved for those who hear the truth, and feel it too, but yet reject it, and are lost.’

(Most of our churches have a softer, gentler, kinder God!)

According to Jesus, many many people will regret working hard to amass wealth which one day they will leave behind.

On the Web somewhere I read this: ‘As a pastor I have had the high honor of leading in hundreds of funerals. Typically, my car follows the hearse, leading the pallbearers and the family. In all of these services, I have never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch on the back. Wouldn’t it look ridiculous to see a funeral procession led by a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer filled with stuff? Yet, many of us spend our days chasing after things that will not last.’

There are four aspects to forgiveness: you receive forgiveness from God, or others; you forgive yourself; perhaps, if I can say it reverently, you forgive God for whatever happened that God could have prevented (there’s painful mystery there); and you forgive others.

Is there someone we should have forgiven – but haven’t yet? Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch heroine of a Nazi concentration camp, used to tell the story of speaking at a Munich church after the war when, following the service, a man came forward with his hand outstretched. She recognized him as one of the most cruel guards at Ravensbruck Prison where her sister Betsy had died. Initially she tried to avoid shaking his hand by fumbling in her purse. He asked for her forgiveness saying that Christ had already forgiven him. Finally, she shook his hand, and felt a healing in her soul: a forgiveness that will last on into the next world. They held each other for a long time. She had never known God’s forgiveness so intensely.

Forgiveness, in the Bible, is an event, not just an idea. In the forgiving transaction, something tangible happens. Our sins are ‘blotted out’, cast into the sea, though they are scarlet they become white as snow, removed as far as the east is from the west (an infinite distance, unlike northness and southness which are finite). When God forgives, something very real – eternally real – happens.

And if your regret involves someone who has died, then ask God to forgive you, place it in his hands and walk free from the prison of regret.

evaluate what rule/s we broke, whether their ours or someone else’s, and whether we should apologize and genuinely self-forgive, or invoke the Serenity Prayer and learn from our “mistake.”

Guilt and Shame are closely connected emotions, we tend to feel guilty when we have violated rules or not lived up to expectations and standards that we set for ourselves. If we believe that we “should” have behaved differently or we “ought” to have done better, we likely feel guilty. Shame involves the sense that we have done something wrong that means we are “flawed,” “no good,” “inadequate,” or “bad” and is usually connected to the reactions of others. Anytime you catch yourself thinking “if they knew ______ then they would not like me or would think less of me,” you are feeling shameful. Shame can involve family secrets involving other family members as well as around issues like alcoholism, abuse, abortion, bankruptcy, unemployment, etc.

Overcoming guilt and shame does not mean not caring about your actions. It involves taking responsibility for what you did and coming to terms with it. There are 5 steps:

Assess the seriousness of the action: frequently guilt and shame means that you are living your life in a way that violates your principles or that you are judging too many small actions as serious. Questions to consider: Do other people consider this to be as serious as I do? Do some people consider it less serious? Why? How serious would I consider the experience if my best friend was responsible instead of me? How important will this experience seem in one month? One year? Five years? How serious would I consider this to be if someone had done this to me? Did I know ahead of time the meaning or consequences of my actions (or thoughts)? Can the damage be corrected? How long will this take? Was there an even worse action I considered and avoided?

Weigh your personal responsibility. How much of the violation was your sole personal responsibility? List all the people and aspects of a situation that contributed to an event about which you feel guilty or ashamed. Include your self last. Assign percentages as to who was responsible.

My chief concern this morning is Christians who are unable to put the past behind them, and the result is defeated lives, a lack of joy, and complete ineffectiveness in ministry. Our passage today conveys a most amazing truth: there is no sinner so gross or so corrupt that Jesus Christ cannot make a past tense out of his lifestyle. But it also tells us that the past must remain in the past. I encourage you to open your Bibles and keep them open, but if you don’t have one with you, our Scripture text will be on the screen.

(1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

The unrighteous do not have to stay that way. (11)

Our fate is never sealed until we take our last breath. One of the beautiful things about the Gospel is that it shows how one’s present can become one’s past. Verse 11 contains one of the truly great statements in all of the Bible. “And such were some of you.” That is a statement of hope following a verse of despair. It is a statement of triumph following a verse of defeat. And all of its meaning is wrapped up in the tense of the verb. “And such were some of you.” It’s sad, but you can never live down your past with some people. What you were is what you will always be as far as they are concerned. If you ever lied to them you are a liar. If you ever stole, you are a thief. If you were ever divorced, you are a divorcee.

Not so with God. He can take the ugliest present and turn it into a past. He can make a person a former idolater, a former adulterer, a former slanderer, and a former alcoholic. In fact, there is no life too gross or too corrupt that Jesus Christ cannot make a past tense out of it. The only person unredeemable is the one whose heart is too proud or too hard to accept God’s forgiveness. All others can experience transformation. In other words, a lost sinner can become a sinner saved by grace.

The radical change that takes place is described in verse 11 in a three-fold manner. “And such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.” The repetition of the conjunction “but” three times may not be very good grammar; in fact, the NIV and most modern translations include it only once. But it is found in the Greek text three times, and it expresses the strongest possible contrast in the Greek language. Paul is trying to set up the incredible difference between the past and the present in their lives. “This is what you were but this happened, but this happened, but this happened”

All three of the verbs are in the past tense, actually a tense that in Greek generally speaks of once-for-all action. Something climactic happened to them and they would never be the same! Let’s examine each of these three actions which must take place before a lost sinner can become a sinner saved by grace.

1. He must be washed. There are two distinct interpretations of the phrase, “you were washed.” One sees it as the washing of regeneration by the blood of Christ, while the other sees it as baptism. The problem with the former is that it doesn’t fit the grammar. The verb “washed” is not in the passive voice, as our English Bibles would make us think, but rather in the Greek middle voice, and it should be translated, “you washed yourselves.”

That leads me to think that Paul is talking about the washing of baptism. I’ m certainly not a believer in salvation by baptism (and I don’t think this passage teaches that), but neither do I think we should make it say something else if Paul meant to refer to baptism. Acts 22:16, I believe, throws some light on our passage. That verse says, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” Here we find the same verb, also in the middle voice, and its connection with baptism is undeniable.

It is not baptism which saves a person, but in the NT baptism is viewed as the human side of conversion. These Corinthians had been gross sinners, but they had turned to Christ for a spiritual washing which was symbolized by being baptized. Their present became their past when they had themselves washed.

2. He must be sanctified. This second phrase turns our attention to God’s side of conversion. The verb is again past tense, but now is in the passive voice, showing that the subject is being acted upon by God. The term sanctification, like washing, has two possible meanings in the NT-one is objective and the other is subjective. The root meaning of the word is “to set apart” or “to cause someone to become holy”, and normally we think of it in the subjective sense. That is, we speak of someone becoming sanctified as he becomes more mature holy in his living patterns.

But sometimes the word is used objectively or positionally to describe a person’s state before God when he believes. In other words, when a person becomes a Christian he is immediately sanctified or set apart from his old allegiances and set apart to God. Subjective sanctification should, of course, follow objective sanctification, just as maturity should follow birth, but here, because of the past tense, I am inclined to think Paul is speaking primarily of objective sanctification, or the believer’s position in Christ.

3. He must be justified. This is the third great thing that must happen if a lost sinner is to become a sinner saved by grace. This verb, too, is in the past tense and passive voice, since it is God who justifies-no man ever yet justified himself in God’s sight, though many have tried.

The doctrine of justification is a beautiful and fundamental biblical truth. The closest synonym for “justification” is “acquittal.” In a criminal court the defendant may well be guilty, but if he is declared “not guilty” for lack of evidence or for any other reason, then he is set free anyway, and because of the law of double jeopardy, can never be tried for that crime again.

Our case before God is similar on a legal plane. We stand before Him guilty of many crimes. While the evidence is perfectly clear, there is One who represents us as attorney for the defense. He says, “My clients are guilty as charged. But their crimes have already been paid for. I died for them.” And the Judge turns to this Attorney, whose name is Jesus Christ the Righteous, and says, “I am satisfied. The defendants are acquitted of all charges. They are free to go and can never again be charged for those sins.” Can there be a greater truth in all of Christianity than the fact that gross sinners are justified on the basis of the shed blood of Christ? I don’t know what it would be.

Now I believe the Apostle Paul has one more proposition to communicate to the Corinthians in these three verses besides the fact that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God and the unrighteous do not have to stay that way. This third proposition is not stated as such, but I think it can be read clearly between the lines. It is this:

The righteous have no business living like the unrighteous.

: Friends, let me repeat again that there is no sin you have committed that can’t become a past tense condition under Christ’s shed blood. You don’t have to be a prisoner of your past. In Christ you can rise above your past to live a life that gives great glory to God. The change that is achievable in a person’s life through Christ is remarkable. Where else can you go but to Church to find a large number of former fornicators, former adulterers, former homosexuals, former thieves, former drunkards, former slanderers. In fact, I wonder if I asked all of you who fit into one of these categories (and some not listed but just as serious, like those formerly in bondage to drugs, pornography, eating disorders, anger, etc.) to stand, how many of us would be left sitting? Well, why not? If this passage describes what you once were, will you stand? (More than half the congregation stood)

2. Shame and Regret

—- Shame and Religion by Don Nathanson, 8/23/96 The best reference on this subject is “Shame, Exposure, and Privacy,” by Carl Schneider, published originally in 1976 and out of print until 1992 when I asked W. W. Norton to reprint it and wrote a new introduction for the Norton edition. Carl is an ordained minister whose PhD thesis became this little gem of a book. Among the points he makes is that there is a healthy side of shame—called “awe” in religion—as when we compare ourselves to God. I have always liked the plaque on friends’ boats “Oh Lord, thy sea is so vast and my craft is so small.” Without a sense of shame, we cannot recognize the humanity of others.

James Fowler, whose landmark book “Stages of Faith” details the growth of religious maturity as an analogue of the search for enlightenment, has just released a new book with a similar title (I forget exactly) that takes our work on innate affect and the nature of shame and merges it with his own work on the development of religious sophistication. He deals quite well with the tendency of religions to use shame improperly, as well as the healthy side of shame. I had the privilege of reading the book in manuscript and recommend it highly—you can get the exact name from Books in Print at any bookstore. I’d give you more information about it, but my own final copy hasn’t arrived yet!

Robert Atkins, PhD, pastor of the First United Methodist Church (100 West Cossitt Avenue, La Grange, IL 60525) has written an excellent article entitled “Pauline Theology and Shame Affect: Reading a Social Locution” in a special issue on “The Social World of Saint Paul” for the journal _Listening: Journal of Religion and Culture_, Spring 1996 issue. In it, Dr. Atkins asks us to revise our understanding of St. Paul’s speeches and behavior in terms of what we now know about shame and suggests its relation to the culture of Paul’s time

Have you known people who were prisoners of their past? Either they have done something that society or family will not let them forget, or they have done something they won’t let themselves forget, or they have suffered some trauma they keep reliving. Our mental hospitals are full of people whose inability to deal with the past has resulted in a near total loss of contact with reality. Many suicides can be traced directly to the fact that a person allowed his past regrets to control his present destiny.

Sadly, sometimes even those devoted to helping people escape their pasts inadvertently perpetuate the perception that the past defines a person. If you have ever been involved in a 12-Step Program, you are aware that each person is encouraged to introduce himself this way, “Hello, I’m Sue, and I’m an alcoholic . . .” or “I’m John, and I’m a sexual addict . . .” I know what the program is trying to do-to help a person be honest about his problem as the first step toward healing. But I disagree that anyone, least of all a Christian, should define himself that way. How much better to say, “Hello, I ‘ve Dave, I’m a child of God who is addicted to alcohol.”

Saying that is so much better because no person can consistently behave in a manner inconsistent with the way he perceives himself. If we perceive of our basic identity in terms of our past behavior, we will have a strong tendency to revert to that behavior in times of pressure. On the other hand, if we perceive of our basic identity as a child of God, we will be much more likely to act like a child of God. Proverbs 23:7 reads, “As a man thinks within himself, so he is.”

Like each of our other natural emotions, moderate shame and guilt help to regulate our daily lives. When these feelings are too intense and/or too frequent, they become toxic – they degrade our (mental + emotional + spiritual + physical) health in significant ways. To reduce toxic guilt and shame to “moderate” (healthy), we first need to know clearly what they are and aren’t.

Shame is a set of thoughts, feelings, and a belief whose theme is “I’m flawed, bad, ugly, awful, stupid, clumsy, … – i.e. I’m a worthless, defective, unlovable person – no matter what anyone says !”

Guilt is a related set of beliefs, thoughts, and emotions whose theme is “I broke an important rule [a should (not)…, ought (not) to …, or must (not)…]. I made a mistake / screwed up / blew it – I did something wrong.” Remember thinking and feeling that? Probably the next inner voice you heard whispered or bellowed “I’m bad !” That’s how guilts helps us kids and adults nourish our core feelings of shame.

Here are some key things to know about toxic shame:

Where does shame start ? Before infants can think or talk with words and concepts, we automatically form “good me” and “bad me” senses or feelings. These come from perceptions of our caregivers’ voice tones, facial expressions, and some behaviors. Repeated patterns of caregiver smiles, friendly-face and eye contact, “cooing,” caressing, holding, and breast feeding build core “good me” feelings. Repeated absence of those behaviors and experiences seed a core “bad me” attitude. Irregular caregiver behavior patterns promote early personality splitting: “I’m good. / I’m bad.”

What affects our early shame ? Things like…

Our main caregivers being split. If we get both “good you” and “bad you” signals from one or several split caregivers (like Mom and Dad) – “bad me” feelings take root;

Our caregivers ignoring us. Getting little or no attention, pre-vocal infants and young kids are apt to feel subliminally “I don’t matter (I’m worthless.)” Without other consistent “good me” messages, “I don’t matter” becomes as matter-of-fact as fingers and toes, which has nothing to do with logic or reality.

Our early smallness, uncoordination, and ignorance are all daily opportunities to compare ourselves to the awesome “giants” that tend us, and to repeatedly conclude “(compared to them) I’m bad / stupid / clumsy / weak / …”;

Our caregivers guiding (“disciplining”) us in shaming vs. loving ways (“Eloise, you are so stupid !”) – the roots of our “bad me” self-image deepen. Name-calling, sarcasm, swearing, “the look,” degrading, and some physical punishments all fertilize our “bad me” attitude.

Caregivers not lovingly teaching us the difference between doing wrong and being (bad). e.g. “Max, lying is bad. You lied to me.” (so you’re a bad person.)

If siblings, relatives, teachers, or friends often ridicule and humiliate us and our caregivers allow that – our shame increases;

If the people around us often don’t listen to what we’re trying to say – or interrupt or laugh at us for trying – we’ll probably conclude “I’m not worth listening to.”

If people we’re around a lot do the reverse of these things – often and regularly – the “good me” side of our personality grows strong, over time.

What happens to toxic shame as we “grow up” ? As we develop our wisdom and vocabulary, human nature endow us with constant “inner voices,” or thought streams. Most (all ?) of us who were ignored or shamed too often in our early years automatically develop an “inner voice” who can be called our “Inner Critic,” or “Inner Shamer.”

When our original shamers and blamers aren’t around so often – this “part” of us diligently carries on their work for them. “S/He” fills our heads with uninvited harsh criticisms and comments like “Your socks don’t match (you’re so stupid),” and “How could you possibly forget Jean’s birthday ?” A common companion “voice” is our “Inner Perfectionist,” who relentlessly let’s us know of our endless set of (shameful) failures. Do you have these inner voices ? Toxic shame has been called the master wound, because it cripples or blocks the exchange of real human and spiritual love.

Recovery authority John Bradshaw calls toxic shame “the gift that goes on giving,” referring to parents’ unintentionally passing on their own ancestral shames and guilts to their kids. Without recovery, they’re at risk of growing up and doing the same… Has that invisible old bequest affected anyone you know? For more perspective, see this succinct review of the power of positive self esteem, by Dr. Nathaniel Branden.

healthy and un-healthy shame challenge yourself: which methods of coping with shame have you used?

Deep, unhealthy shame is the internal feeling that we are “dirty”, flawed as a person, or not good enough. In some people it can result in low self-esteem. People living with underlying shame may believe these feelings are normal, and may think other people feel the same way. While these feelings may be quite common, they are not the norm, and can impede fulfilling our happiness.

Like other human emotions we may perceive as “all bad”, there certainly is a positive aspect of shame. In a positive setting, shame is the feeling message that let’s us know we aren’t acting within our morals and values.

There are so many non-helpful messages we pick up throughout our lives that can become internal, automatic messages. We can unconsciously (unknowingly)

repeat these messages in our mind over and over again. We usually pick up, or formulate these non-helpful messages when we’re forming our self-image (how we see ourselves, and how we believe others see us). The consequence of feeling this kind of shame is devastating and always painful.

Non-helpful shame, may sound like:

“I’m a failure” “Nobody could possibly love me” “I’m not a good mother/father” “I can’t relate to other people” Winning is not everything, but wanting to win is.

– Vince Lombardi

Some non-helpful ways of coping with shame may include: (Coping is the maintenance of emotional well being)

Self Abuse: self abuse either through your thoughts or with your body.

Chronic Victimization: difficulties setting limitations with other people, and don’t believe they have the right to say “No”. Not taking care of their own needs, often not recognizing they have needs. Difficulty taking responsibility for their own life and the consequences of their behavior; usually blaming others for what is happening in their life (society, parents, boss).

Abuse of Others: taking out unresolved hurt and anger on others who are more helpless (like kicking a pet, or yelling at a younger sibling).

Depression: being weighed down by feelings (hopelessness, powerlessness, and overwhelmed).

Rage: unleashing rage is a way to keep other people away. “People can’t see my inner self if I keep them away.” Unable to feel in control of your life: anger is a way of maintaining control through intimidating others.

Control: to control feels powerful. When a person has power they feel less vulnerable to being shamed again. It involves controlling their feelings, thoughts, and actions as well as manipulating others.

Perfectionism: Being taught to have unrealistic expectations, fear of being abandoned if we’re not good, right, perfect, constantly push to do our best.

Addictions and other Compulsions: shame is at the heart of all addictions/compulsions. Shame sets a person up for psychological dependency which can lead to physical dependency.

Compulsive relationships – look for others to fill us up. Enmeshed relationships – primary goal is passions and excitement. Apathetic relationships – primary goal is avoiding vulnerability and pain. Each person walks down a parallel track with physical, emotional and sometimes social distance between them. Suicide/attempts: the ultimate act of shame. I am hopeless, unworthy and don ‘t deserve or want to live

How does shame relate to humiliation and embarrassment ? Shame is a private experience. Embarrassment is the bad feeling that occurs when our shameful traits, actions, and “failures” are exposed publicly – specially to those who’s admiration and respect most matters to us. We can embarrass ourselves, or others may do that “to” us – if we grant them responsibility for our dignity. Humiliation happens when we or another act to reduce our (healthy) pride or self respect in public. Ridicule arrives when others (and/or our harsh Inner Shamer) express their scornful (disrespectful)

criticism of our actions, traits, appearance, ideas, or beliefs.

What are the behavioral symptoms of toxic shame and guilt ? There are many. See if you recognize any of these…

What’s the opposite of toxic shame ? An unshakable true (vs. phony) belief that “I am a good, valuable, useful, lovable child / adult / person no matter what anyone else says or implies. I have talents to develop, and non-shameful human limitations – which empower me to bring unique value and worth to our world.” The terms non-egotistical pride, Self love, and Self respect describe the opposite of toxic shame. Egotist describes a person who doesn’t have enough healthy shame, empathy for others, or humility.

Healing toxic shame is the process of replacing our infantile conviction that “I’m bad / disgusting / damaged / worthless / no good /… with some credible version of the belief above – in all “members’ of our inner family (our personality parts). Do you believe building such a new belief is possible, over time ?

growing a solid “good me” core attitude (i.e. healing our excessive shame),

Break the silence. When secretiveness surrounds shame, it may be important to talk to a trusted person about what occurred. The need to keep silent is often based on the anticipation that revealing the secret will result in condemnation, criticism or rejection by others. Often the fear of how people will react is much different from how people really react and can force reassessment of the situation. Make sure you choose someone you trust and allow yourself enough time to say everything you need to and receive feedback.

Self-forgiveness. Being a good person does not mean that you will never do any bad things. Part of being human is making mistakes. Self-forgiveness may involve changing your thought from, “I made this mistake and I am an awful person,” to “I made this mistake during an awful time in my life when I didn ‘t care if I behaved this way” or from “I was abused because I deserved it” to “I was abused because my parents were out-of-control.” Self-forgiveness involves recognizing your imperfections and mistakes and accepting yourself, shortcomings and all.

Making reparations. If you have injured another person, it is important to make amends for your actions. This involves recognizing your transgression, being courageous enough to face the person you have hurt, ask for forgiveness and determining what you can do to repair the hurt you have caused and to avoid such difficulties in the future.


‘Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it – I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. … Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldy sorrow brings death.’ (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). What does Paul’s experience teach us about regret?

What was wrong with Sarah Winchester’s regret-behavior?

Rowland Croucher


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