The Ugly Truth About Shame, Embarrassment, and Guilt
The mere sound of the word conjures feelings of embarrassment and withdrawal. And even though it’s a normal feeling, it never gets easier–not even with age.
Unfortunately, many times we tend to interchange shame, embarrassment, and guilt thinking all three are the same.
In reality, there is some overlap, but overall, they are very different.
Sadly, we feel shame, embarrassment, and guilt about the dumbest things that are really just a mistake. Perhaps a very embarrassing mistake but one nonetheless.
The Christmas Tree Debacle (A Huge Embarrassment)
For instance, a few weeks ago I
destroyed killed our Christmas tree. Who even does that?
It was purely by accident, but I still felt an enormous amount of shame and embarrassment over the whole incident.
I’m trying to laugh now, but it wasn’t so funny a couple of weeks ago.
Here’s what happened…We had a strand of lights on the tree that didn’t work so I tried to “fix it.” Unfortunately, that “one” strand was connected to many other strands in the tree. Actually, it was connected to the whole middle section.
Sadly, most of the Christmas tree went dark due to my “fixing” it. The top and bottom of the tree were lit, while the middle section quietly stayed silent and mocked me as I stood in horror.
After another hour of “fixing” the tree, I gave up. I could no longer stand to look at my mess. There was no hiding this from my husband and kids.
In a fit of despair, I hauled the prickly green mess out to the alley and hid it behind a bush near our trashcans.
I would put it in the trash receptacle on trash day.
Later that night my husband asked about the tree. It was kinda obvious it was missing. Unfortuantely, I was forced back out to the trashcans because he insisted we fix it. Well…he fix it.
What he really meant was we are going to keep the stupid-looking tree for the next ten years no matter what.
More shame and embarrassment.
In my mind, we now had a six-foot, green blob whose middle section was missing lights due to my genius tree hacking. Furthermore, I am going to have to deal with this every year I pull out the tree, unzip the bag, and expose the lightless, furry limbs.
I could already feel the tree mocking me for the unforeseeable future.
Future shame, embarrassment, and guilt. Oh yay.
Shame and Embarrassment. What’s the Difference?
Like me, you may have the same feelings come over you when you make a mistake. Do you feel shame, embarrassment, or guilt?
The tree debacle was clearly a mistake, but mentally it was hard to separate an embarrassing mistake from real shame and guilt.
In reality, all three are different.
Embarrassment is an uncomfortable feeling that may undermine the image of who we wish others to perceive us to be. It includes actions that make us look or feel awkward, funny-looking, or stupid.
In my case, I didn’t want to look like the ding-dong who destroyed the Christmas tree. And be reminded of it year after year…
In contrast, shame goes much deeper.
Shame is associated with moral character, not social character or image. Shame is how we deal with something that we have done wrong.
Sounds like guilt, right? Not exactly. Let me explain.
The Difference Between Shame and Guilt
Shame says, “I am bad” whereas guilt says, “I did something bad.” Big difference.
Shame carries the fear of being exposed, rejected, or humiliated for behaviors such as addictions, aggression, or abuse; things that are generally found morally wrong by society. Shame makes you think you can’t change. That you are fundamentally flawed as a person. Powerless.
On the other hand, the Bible says guilt or “godly sorrow” exists to help us. It leads us to repentance and growth. This kind of guilt is healthy because it is motivated by love. There is a motivation to restore what has been broken. A sense of power to make things right.
2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (ESV).
Guilt is a sign of emotional health. Conversely, shame is not. Shame keeps us stuck in self; it’s all about me. In fact, it hides, blames, and pouts.
Shame is a Choice
Did you know shame is a choice? Since we all have shame (sinned) at one time or another, it is good to learn how to deal with it in a healthy way. One of the best ways is to turn to Jesus for help. He came so we didn’t have to live in shame. Ask Him for the power to change your mindset. To move out of self and into love.
People who stay stuck in shame choose not to take ownership of their mistakes and therefore wallow in self. People who choose to feel sorrow or guilt own their mistakes, make amends and change. And those who feel embarrassed because of a mistake…choose to forgive themselves, learn from it, and move on.
And maybe even laugh about it!
Letting Go of Shame
If you are feeling upset about a situation, ask yourself if it is shame, embarrassment, or guilt. Then you can deal with it appropriately.
If you are feeling genuine shame. it is time to explore your feelings. Ask why you feel this way. One of the ways I mentally work through shameful feelings is to use self-talk. It helps me separate the truth from the lies.
Psychology Today has some good suggestions on how to silence the shame in your life. Check it out if you need a starting point.
God knows your situation. Ask Him to reveal where you need to get set free. The most important thing you can do is talk to someone. Bring it out in the open.
If you need help, go to a counselor or pastor. There is no shame in doing that. In fact, it is the healthiest thing to do when you are stuck and can’t unravel your situation.
You don’t have to live a life full of shame. Jesus came to set you free from this kind of thinking.
Isaiah 54:4 says, “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more” (ESV).
Do You Have Family Problems? There is Help!
Are you experiencing family problems or even estranged? Are you feeling shame, anger, or rejection? Check out my book Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart on Amazon or at your favorite digital store.
This book not only talks about my seven-year estrangement from my Christian family, but it also gives solid tips to help you with your family problems. Break free from your pain. Allow God to heal you no matter what has happened in your family of origin. There is hope when your family falls apart.
Creating Family Memories Book
Get Creating Family Memories. This book will help you manage your family in a way that allows more time to be intentional with your kids. It includes a schedule too. You can get it at your favorite bookstore.
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