known people who feel so much shame about themselves that they
never allow themselves to feel good about themselves. They
never take pride in things that they do, and they generally talk
down about themselves. If someone compliments them, they
have a hard time accepting the compliment. Somewhere along
the line, someone has caused them to feel a deep sense of shame
that has stuck with them for years, and which they're having a
hard time shaking off.
This shame turns
their life into an emotional hell.
Shame and guilt
are strongly related; for me, the easiest way to make the
distinction between the two is in the sentences "I feel
ashamed," and "I feel guilty." The two
feelings are not the same for me.
Shame and guilt
are very similar in one important aspect, though: they are
both feelings that people will use against you if they have the
chance. This is especially true of "authority"
figures who are insecure themselves--if they can get other people
to feel badly about themselves, then their own power or strength
grows, in their minds. Unfortunately, many of these people
prey on others who are very vulnerable, and they can cause someone
to feel a great sense of shame about him or herself for a very
long time. How many of us haven't heard the words "You
should be ashamed of yourself"? And how many people
have taken those words to heart and never let them go, carrying
their shame into adulthood, parenthood, their careers, and every
other facet of their lives?
Truly, nobody in
the world has the right to tell me how I should feel. If I
do something that they don't like, that's okay--I need to learn
about feelings myself, not hear about them from others who may or
may not define feelings in the same ways that I do. If I
internalize their words and start to feel a deep sense of shame
about myself and who I am, then I'm simply sabotaging my future
chances to come to terms with who I am and what I feel.
I have to look at
this from another perspective, too--do I attempt to make other
people feel ashamed for their words or actions? Because if I
push too hard, I may end up contributing to years of emotional
pain and suffering for this person. Do I have the right to
define what another person should be ashamed of?
leaders are quick to use shame as a tool to try to get people to
"follow God" more closely. They don't see that
getting people to follow anything because of a sense of
shame--rather than because of a strong desire to follow--is
ultimately more destructive than helpful.
Shame can be a
great tool for us if we use it for what it's worth. If I'm
ashamed about the way that I talked to someone, then I need to use
that sense of shame as a sign that I need to apologize. Then
I need to put the shame behind me--after all, I have no intention
of doing the same thing again. And if I do slip up and
repeat the act, then I can apologize again, and be glad that the
lesson has been learned more deeply.
Do you know
someone who feels a deep sense of shame and who doesn't give him
or herself a chance to feel good in life? Unfortunately, we
can't "fix" such people, but at least we can contribute
to their "recovery" by continuing to give them positive
input in their lives. Do you feel such shame yourself?
Then you need to deal with it face to face and then put it behind
Listen to me,
saying "You need to." I really don't have the
right to say that, do I? So let me rephrase it:
If you will deal
with your shame face to face and put it behind you, then chances
are good that you will see a great improvement in your quality of
life. And here's hoping that you always will allow yourself
to lead a very high-quality life! You deserve it!
(By the way, I do
believe that there's a positive side to shame. Once having
felt shame for a certain action, the desire to avoid feeling it
once more keeps us from performing similar actions in the
future. But once again, we need to know how to learn from
the shame and then put it out of our lives.)