Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Shame of Shame

[Crossposted from Street Prophets]

For some reason as this Christmas season rolls along I keep being brought back to the issue of shame. Whether it is the "New Member's Packet" I have been working on for my FMO group; trying to figure out where I have been shamed in my life (and still carry shame from my life); or trying to discuss the difference between shame and guilt (and how to react to each) - I keep coming back to the horror of shame: the shame of shame.

As a theologically conservative follower of Christ who believes that there are actions that separate us from God, it becomes important to understand the difference between guilt/conviction and shame and the response to each. This is especially true since calls to righteousness are frequently called, and can be, attempts to shame someone; and while calling someone to righteousness may be a good thing - shaming them never is.

That is because while no human being has a good reason to feel shame (we all feel shame for many bad reasons). We all have reason to know we are guilty, need to repent, and be healed (this is good) but must avoid shame/pain (this is bad). So, lets start with a diagram:

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The are three components to that diagram; and we will look at each below (quotes, unless noted, are from the "The New Man's Survival Guide", by Pure Life Alliance):

All men and women experience shame, but many confuse guilt and shame. Guilt is about what we do. Shame is about who we are. It is an internal assessment that as a person we are bad or flawed. This shame leads to an emotional pain that cannot be effectively ignored for long
You can tell a child "that was a bad thing to do"; but you can never say "you are a bad child" -- my wife
This distinction between guilt and shame is essential. It is why I can say I love the sinner (the "who" who did it) and hate the sin (the "what" they did). In fact, the Bible is all about bad acts and not about bad people. It is not about "bad people" because God loves us; and did not make any junk.

This society drives shame. We are all "bad people" in some way:
  • Too fat or too thin
  • Too smart or too dumb
  • Too tall or too short
  • [Fill yours in here]
On a superficial level, this is because the feeling of being bad or flawed creates the cycle we are examining; and the pain that it creates drives our seeking medication to "relieve" the pain; and this seeking of "medications" to "cure" our "flaws" is good for the economy: the seeking of medication for the pain helps fuel consumerism. It also drives addictions and lifetimes spent on various and sundry bad "medicines" to cure the pain. The only cure for the pain is to remove the shame itself - to understand who you really are. The deeper level of this is that "the evil one" (hey, I believe in Satan) desires us to feel shame because it drives us away from God.

No one is bad. To say someone is a "bad person" is to lapse into judgment:
Romans 2:1-4 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
The boldface comment is critical: even if we do these "things" - it is God that redeems us (leads us to repentance); and God, even while we were all sinners, loved us so much that He gave up His own Son for us - each one of us. Again, God created no junk, and loves us all.

As an "exclusivist", I will of course be asked whether or not non-Christians are "bad" and therefore worthy to feel shame. No, the verses above leave no out for this - our choices may end up being "bad", and we may suffer for them; but we are imago dei - we are made in the image of God. We all carry the seed of our pre-fall perfection in our deep conscience; and each of us has within them that overflow of God's goodness. Again, God created no junk.

Certainly, after we become part of the Body of Christ we have no excuse for not recognizing the significance, acceptance, and security our position in Christ brings us; and there is no room, if we recognize that, to view ourselves as "bad people". That we have no excuse does not mean we will not view ourselves as "bad": then our choices are to feel shame (with the start of a separation from God out of disobedience); or guilt/conviction for which we repent and turn back to God and see ourselves as He sees us. We are certainly not reborn as junk either.

The particular shame (I think) that drives my addiction is the shame of not being able to be an adequate provider, husband, and father in my family. There is a proper guilt aspect to this: I am not an adequate provider, husband, or father. Rather than see this as something I am doing badly, I tend toward thinking I am "just wrong" or flawed - and that is "just the way I am". If I do that, then I experience the next step - pain; and not the step of repentance or change - and I certainly I find it harder to turn to God (since I am not worthy).

It is difficult for men people to identify pain in their lives. Often it looks like loneliness, inadequacy, panic, hopelessness and particularly anger. For many of us, wrong sexual pleasure "whatever" becomes our emotional pain medication.

Wrong Sexual Pleasure
The alluring part of this medication is that it works...but only for a short time. Our body releases naturally occurring drugs called endorphins, similar in makeup to morphine, though even more powerful. Our pain relief is short lived, as deep toxic shame comes crashing down, with destructive thoughts like: "I'm defective, I'll never change, and I'm worthless!" and the cycle begins once more.
This was written about sexual addiction - the one that gives us the greatest endorphin rush known; and it is applicable to all the ways we seek pleasure to medicate the pain our shame causes.

If we attempt to medicate the pain we feel from shame, we tend to make bad choices for our "medicine". This is because we haven't dealt with and removed the shame (the true cause of our suffering); still feel we are "bad"; and can only attempt to satisfy the five furies in ways that fail to satisfy them:

  • The normal outlet:
    1. of remorse is to flee from wrong;
    2. of confession is to admit what one has done;
    3. of atonement is to pay the debt;
    4. of reconciliation is to restore the bonds that have been broken; and
    5. of justification is to get back in the right
  • If we do not do "feed" the furies the right way; then they will be fed in some other way - driving our lives further out of kilter. For example:
    1. we do not flee from wrong, but just from thinking about it;
    2. we compulsively confess every detail of the story but the moral;
    3. we punish ourselves again and again offering every sacrifice but the one demanded;
    4. we simulate the broken bonds of intimacy by seeking companions as guilty as ourselves; and
    5. we seek not to become just but to justify ourselves.
  • The greater purpose of conscience is not to inform us of moral truth, but to motivate us to live by it - driving our lives out of kilter is the exhortation of last resort. Therefore,
    pursued by the five furies, a man becomes both wickeder and stupider in a progressively downward spiral: more wicked because his behavior becomes worse, more stupid because he tells himself more lies. -- J. Budziszewski
    This is, of course, the classic description of people on their way to "bottoming out". In my opinion, our conscience drives us to the bottom in this way so we will "break", and in breaking, be open to truly repent and change - and become who God sees us as. This process does not just occur in the classicly addicted.

    This brings us to the latter stages of attempting to "medicate" the pain from our shame:
    This cycle causes a need for greater doses of "pain medication" because we build up a tolerance to these endorphins. As a man person takes stronger "doses" of wrong sexual pleasure, [their] shame and pain grow. This means [they] needs even stronger medication the next time
    So, remember, you have absolutely nothing to be shamed over. Be guilty if you are and repent; but shame almost guarantees you will not feed your furies wisely.

    ["The Other Shameful Shoe" drops here]


    1. appreciated your blog. Glad I stopped by.

    2. Thanks for posting this. I found it through the Christian Carnival.


    How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
    1. The Golden Rule
    2. You cannot read minds
    3. People are not evil
    4. Debates are not for winning
    5. You make mistakes
    6. Not everyone cares as much as you
    7. Engaging is hard work
    8. Differences can be subtle
    9. Give up quietly