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Routines and Rhythms of Homemaking
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When Shame is a Bully

Emotional health is vital to our physical and spiritual health. Taking inventory of our whole person is critical to moving through each day with our optimal potential. When thinking about embracing my everyday, it is especially important to recognize any toxic thinking patterns that might sabotage any capacity for growth. Latency or underdevelopment may hamper what I could be or eliminate future success. If shame is a reoccurring theme in my thoughts, it might be identified as a bully. Let’s explore shame in contrast to guilt along with the healthy pathway to eradicate toxic thinking.

One key cause to unhealthy emotional health is through shame. Perhaps you can recall an experience of bullying in your past. While I can pick from more than one incident, I often go back to the time when I was walking with my younger brother to school. We were new in this place. We were different. We were not liked for reasons outside our control such as our skin color and our newness in the culture. For weeks this group of boys would bully us as we walked together back and forth to school. One day one of the boys began pushing us backwards. I caught my balance while my brother fell backwards on the ground. At this moment, I knew I had to respond or this bullying would only get worse. Quiet and calm responses had not helped. I pushed back and the bully fell backwards. I communicated to the group what might happen if this bullying continued. This startled him and he realized that I meant business. Strangely, this confrontation ended the bullying.

This is a childhood example of bullying that fits with the idea of shame as a bully. Shame keeps coming and coming until we confront it and tell it to stop. It must be processed in order to cease its incessant rotation.

Another event of bullying involved a false story concocted to intimidate another young man in leadership and myself from responding honestly to an inquiry. Without devolving a long story, this shaming tactic failed to result in causing us to cower, but it did cost us a few friendships who could never untangle the truth of the lie placed on us. In this case, the shame was real, but our guilt was absent.

A third and final example is of a young adult who continually stole from his family. Guilt drove him to stop his behavior. Because he asked forgiveness for his crimes and began the process of retribution, he resolved his guilt and eliminated the shame. If he is reminded of his history, he just needs to remember that he responded in a manner to resolve the wrong. Shame is coming from unhealthy thinking.

What is shame?

A plausible definition of shame might be a painful emotion caused by the awareness of having done something wrong or foolish. It might be a negative emotional state, sometimes originating from childhood, marked with chronic, self-reproach and a sense of personal failure as defined in the American Heritage Dictionary.

What is shame not?
Shame is not guilt. Shame has warning signs. The response and responsibility for shame and guilt can be vastly different.

Guilt is a self conscience emotion often associated with shame. Guilt is a sense of distress about the potential of a negative outcome of a situation. Guilt is a feeling of deserved blame for one’s actions. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, guilt is “blamable, blameworthy and culpable” indicating that one deserves responsibility and punishment. The crime might be intentional or result from a “grave error or misdoing.”

Our natural instinct with unwanted feelings is to push them out of sight. If your mind was a tunnel and painful emotions could just evaporate easily, life would be amazing. More likely, your mind is like a balloon filling up with the all of the negative emotions and thoughts. Shame can be one of the deepest emotions to dig out of this chasm. Only by dealing with this sensation of shame can the revolving doors of toxic thinking be reset to healthy responses.

What does the Bible say about shame? What does the Bible say about guilt? When something is rolling around in your thoughts, it is critical that you identify whether it is guilt or shame.

Can you imagine what Adam and Eve felt after disobeying God in the garden? Were they guilty or ashamed or both? Sometimes shame is a response to guilt, but shame can recycle itself once guilt has been acknowledged and resolved.

It seems natural to stop here and contemplate the proper response to guilt. As we look at God’s word for direction and wisdom, one of the best passages comes from the poetry of King David. He committed an atrcious series of sins. He failed to be with his men in battle which caused him to be in a place where he viewed a woman of “unusual beauty” in 2 Sam 11:2. This woman was Urriah’s wife. Urriah just happened to be one of David’s extremely elite fighting men. You can read this graphic story in its entirety in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. The story builds with a pregnancy, a man of integrity who cannot be swayed to do wrong even while drunk, a murder hatched and carried out, a stolen wife and a dead baby. How bloody were David’s hands with this lust.

Once again, David turns to his music, his poetry and his God. He writes the now greatly loved Psalm 51. He begs God to stop looking at him with this “stain of his sin.” Let’s take a moment to read portions of this psalm.

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there. Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. Then I will teach your ways to rebels, and they will return to you.  Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. Unseal my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

David demonstrates that the path through is through confession. Hiding does not resolve the sin. Going on as if it never happened certainly creates a bigger problem later. May you and I examine if there are any stains of sin in our lives. Guilt is healthy and useful if it leads me to confession.

What is SHAME?

What are the warning signs of shame? Shame manifests itself in averted eyes, a soft murmuring voice or paralyzing physical reactions. Spontaneity is squashed. Authenticity is impossible. Invisibility is attempted. Shame might cause the slumping of shoulders, isolation and even anxiety producing physical responses.

Can you be your true self? Is authenticity your goal?

What is the difference between shame and guilt?
Shame is like regret while guilt results from feeling like morality is compromised or conscience is violated. Granted both are related and may regularly become tangled with each other. Shame often lingers when a wrong is confessed and resolved with an apology, retribution or even punishment. Shame speaks to the reflection or the remembering associated with an incident either received or inflicted.

Who benefits from shame stalking me?

When does shame become self-sabotage? Shame leads to anger, depression, anxiety and self-depreciating thoughts.

Shame likely circulates until resolved with honest and specific action. Call it out.

Let’s recognize the steps to resolving guilt so we can properly identify wrongly circulating shame.

What are the steps to an apology?

(These clear recognizable steps are taken from Focus on the Family “Cure for Feeling Real Guilt” February 1, 2008)

  1. Acknowledge the offense.
  2. Offering an explanation.
  3. Expressing remorse.
  4. Offering reparation. 

When an apology fails, it is often because the offense is not accurately acknowledged festering a broken relationship. In order to move forward we must confess our wrong doing, clean up our mess and make amends. All of this begs self-awareness, humility and courage.

Ask yourself how you feel if someone did this to you, would you want an apology? Humility leads to remorse. Humbling ourselves does not mean we need to strip ourselves of self-worth and dignity. Self-hating is certainly not a healthy reaction.

A proper apology admittedly does require courage. Sometimes our apology will not be accepted. Regardless of the reception, our motive recognizes our heart posture. You can only be responsible for your part. 

Back to the difference between shame and guilt, shame tends to deny responsibility for wrong doing. Shame also is a response to wrong done to us. When guilt is the response, a person is more likely to accept responsibility for the crime.

In an ideal situation, real guilt is released and restoration is experienced.

What are the takeaways from exploring shame as a bully?

Shame and guilt are not the same.

My responsibility is to own my wrong doing and make it right. I am not responsible for others.

God invites me to live in freedom. Healthy thinking is a choice that must be developed by habit.

Join a conversation with Tim & Leah on the Embrace Your Everyday podcast.

More inspiration:

Toxic Thinking: Renewal Through Neuroplasticity

Lies Women Believe

Soul Keeping

7 Simple Ideas to a Supernatural Prayer Life

Invest in the Long Game

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