Are you struggling with how to deal with shame and guilt?
The mere sound of these words conjures feelings of hiding 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 and guilt with embarrassment. We think all three are the same when they are not.
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In reality, there is some overlap, but overall, they are very different.
Sadly, we feel shame and guilt about the dumbest things that are really just a mistake. Perhaps a very embarrassing mistake but one nonetheless. Sadly, we don’t know how to separate the truth.
The truth about shame is that it is sneaky, destructive, and lurks in all of us waiting to permeate our souls if we let it while guilt is actually healthy.
Let me explain the differences. Learn how to deal with shame and guilt, and not get it confused with embarrassment.
Table of Contents
Getting Shame and Embarrassment Confused
A few weeks ago I
destroyed killed our television set. Who even does that?
It was purely by accident, but I still felt an enormous amount of shame 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…Our TV didn’t work so I tried to “fix it.” A cable wasn’t connecting in the back of the unit so I tugged on it. Instead of making a better connection, a piece broke off.
Sadly, the TV went dark. It quietly stayed silent and mocked me as I stood in horror.
After another 30 minutes of trying to “fix it,” 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 TV to the trash cans and hid it.
Later that night my husband asked about the TV. It was kinda obvious it was missing. Unfortunately, I was forced back out to the trash cans because he insisted we fix it. Well…he fix it.
What he really meant was we are not getting a new one. Crud.
In my mind, we now had a TV that didn’t work and the kids were going to be complaining until their dad had time to look at it. Furthermore, I was going to have to deal with whining and complaining every day.
I could already feel the television mocking me for the unforeseeable future.
Future shame. Oh yay.
After a couple of days, I realized the whole thing was a mistake. A stupid one, but still a mistake. In fact, I had good intentions despite the outcome. I did nothing wrong.
What I was actually feeling was embarrassment about the situation. I didn’t need to feel shame.
The Difference Between Shame and Embarrassment
It’s not just learning how to deal with shame, it’s also embarrassment. Like me, you may have the same feelings come over you when you make a mistake. Do you feel shame? Or is it embarrassment?
The TV debacle was clearly a mistake, but mentally it was hard to separate an embarrassing mistake from real shame.
In reality, the two are very 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 TV. And be reminded of it day after day until it was fixed or we bought a new one…
In contrast, shame goes much deeper.
The truth about shame is that it 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.
The truth about shame is that it 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 change our ways. 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.
If you want to know how to deal with shame and guilt, keep reading.
How to Deal With Shame and Guilt
It is easier to learn how to deal with shame and guilt if you know how they function in a person’s life. If you are feeling upset about a situation, ask yourself if it is shame or guilt. Or perhaps just embarrassment.
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!
Is Shame Worse Than Guilt?
If you want to know how to deal with shame and guilt then learn the real truth about shame? It is evil.
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 to help you let go and forgive yourself. There is no shame in doing that. In fact, it is the healthiest thing to do when you are stuck in shame and guilt 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. This is how to deal with shame and guilt.
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).
How to Overcome Shame and Guilt
Now that you know the difference between guilt, shame, and embarrassment you can overcome this in your own life.
You have a choice every day on how you think and what you do. Furthermore, once you start taking responsibility for your actions you will no longer have guilt.
You are not condemned as a believer in Christ. You were freed from shame at the cross. Start acting like it!
If you are wondering about our TV. We eventually got a new one! I killed it for good.
Did you learn how to deal with shame and guilt? Comment below.
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.
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