Overcoming Guilt and Shame

“Fools make fun of guilt, but the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation.” “The Wise Inherit Honor, but fools are put to shame!”

Proverbs 14:9 & Proverbs 3:35 NLT
Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

The Dangers of the Last Days

From time to time, most people experience some degree of guilt, shame, or both.

These natural feelings often are often categorized as moral or social emotions because they might involve awareness of the difference between right or wrong and have a tremendous impact on our relationships with others. In some cultures, guilt and shame are regarded as interchangeable.

There are, however, some distinct though sometimes subtle differences. Most importantly, shame occurs as a result of the imagined critical perception of others, while guilt is a response to a person’s own judgment.

These negative emotions can also contribute to the risk for a variety of mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alcohol and drug abuse.

Distinguishing Shame From Guilt

Our experiences may highlight how guilt and shame can differ. We may felt guilty when we overreacted and gave our children or other younger children or maybe our subordinate severe punishment. That guilt eventually motivated us to change our behavior toward them and go easier on them when tey misbehaved. When our guilt finally bated, we felt better about ourselves and others.

Guilt relate to our experiences with others. We feel guilty when we think we have wronged another person or persons in some way. And guilt is more adaptive social emotion. In fact, it can enhance relationships when the guilty party makes amends and apologizes for his or her behavior.

In general, when we experience guilt, we feel bad about something we did. Whereas when we feel shame, we feel bad about who we are. Chronic shame can lower self-esteem, lead to a negative self-image and a multitude of problems including self-neglect, self-destructive behavior, perfectionism, outbursts of rage, and abusive behavior.

Different Reactions To Guilt and Shame

Research on prisoners highlights some of the differences between these negative moral emotions. Within three years of being released from jail, about two out of every three U.S. inmate end up back in jail.

In their study, investigator June Tangney and her colleagues from George Mason University interviewed nearly 500 inmates, asked them about feelings of guilt and shame, ad reviewed their arrest records. They found an association between reincarceration rates and participant’s report of feeling guilt and shame.

In the journal Psychological Science, the researchers reported that inmates who felt guilty about their behavior had a lower rate of reincarceration, while those who tended to feel ashamed of themselves did not.

The results suggest that guilt leads to remorse and regret, which often motivates people t change their behavior for the better. By contrast, shame tends to be directed more toward the self and can lead to defensiveness, denial of responsibility, ad blaming of others – a response that can lead to aggression and repeated criminal activity.

The participants who tended toward feelings of shame, expressed defensiveness, and blamed others for their behaviors were more likely to be incarcerated again, whereas inmates who expressed feeling guilt without blaming others had a lower rate of reincarceration.

Seven (7) Strategies for Overcoming Negative Emotions


1. IDENTIFY WHAT TRIGGERS OUR EMOTIONS

In 1st Corinthians 2:3-5 NLT says, “3 I came to you in weakness – timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 4 And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5 I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.”

Paul came to Corinth not as a powerful preacher and debater ready to take on the city but, rather, in weakness – timid and trembling. His attitude was not fearful, but utterly dependent upon God for the important task of bringing the Gospel into this wicked and idolatrous city. He did not depend on using wise and persuasive speeches to change people’s hearts. That would happen only by the work of the Holy Spirit among them. The power of their conversion was not through him and his preaching but through the Holy Spirit.

Pinpointing whether we are feeling guilt, shame or both, will help us figure out how best to deal with these emotions. Understanding what triggers our negative emotional reactions can also give us insight that helps us avoid those triggers in the future.


2. FORGIVE OURSELVES

In Hebrews 9:22 NLT says,” In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.”

Blood from a sacrifice symbolized cleansing and forgiveness, thus nearly everything was purified by sprinkling with blood. In fact, without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. Why does forgiveness require the shedding of blood? This is no arbitrary decree on the part of a bloodthirsty God, as some have suggested. There is no greater symbol of life than blood because blood keeps us alive. Our Lord Jesus shed His blood – gave His life – for our sins so that we wouldn’t have to experience spiritual death, eternal separation from God. Our Lord Jesus is the source of life, not death. He gave His own life to pay the penalty for us so that we might live.

Learning to forgive ourselves and will help us overcome feelings of shame and guilt. Everyone makes mistakes. Recognizing them and moving on builds self-esteem and reduces the risk of chronic shame. If we embrace our mistakes, understand why we made them, and forgive ourselves, we will learn from those incidents and do better the next time.

3. CHECK OUR ANGER BEFORE HURTING OTHERS

In Ephesians 4:26-27 NLT says, “26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”* Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.”

Another characteristic of the old nature that has to be put off is bad temper, or a lifestyle characterized by anger. The words, don’t sin by letting anger gain control over us, are quoted from Psalm 4:4. The Bible doesn’t tell us that we shouldn’t feel angry, but it points out that it is important to handle our anger properly. We must not indulge our angry feelings or let them lead to pride, hatred, or self-righteousness. Our Lord Jesus Christ became angry at the merchants in the Temple, but this was righteous anger and did not lead Him to sin. Believers must follow our Lord Jesus’ example. We ought to reserve our anger for when we see God dishonored or people wronged. If we get angry, we must do so without sinning. To do this, we should deal with our anger before the sun goes down.

According to Deuteronomy, sunset was the time by which wrongs against God and against others should be made right (Deuteronomy 24:13, 15). Anger that is allowed to smolder and burn over time can eventually burst into flame and give a mighty foothold to the Devil, causing people to sin as they become bitter and resentful. It is so much better to deal with the situation immediately; perhaps the previous admonition to lovingly speak the truth can solve the problem.

Dr. Neal Krause of the University of Michigan found that people who are able to forgive others experience enhanced psychological well-being and less depression than grudge-holders. That means the next time someone wrongs us and triggers feelings of anger, it’s healthy to recognize our feelings and avoid acting on them.

One approach is to write a candid letter, but instead of sending it, put the letter away until the next morning. Often the process of writing about negative feelings helps dissipate them. Reading the letter after a night’s sleep could provide perspective that helps distance us from those feelings – hopefully enough to make sending the letter unnecessary.

4. BUILD SELF-ESTEEM BY MAKING GOOD MORAL CHOICES

In Romans 8:9-11 AMPC says, “9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to Him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, He will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”

In contrast to those still controlled by the sinful nature, believers are not controlled by our sinful nature when we have yielded control to the Spirit of God. To not have the Spirit of Christ means to not be a Christian. Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Spirit lives within our human spirits, but our fleshly bodies are still infected by sin and will die. Sin has been defeated by our Lord Jesus Christ, but sin and death still claim their hold on our mortal bodies. Yet in these bodies we are alive spiritually and can live by the Spirit’s guidance. In addition, we are promised the physical resurrection of our bodies into eternal life. The Spirit of God who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead will also give life to us. So there is wonderful hope even for our prone-to-decay bodies.

If we feel better about ourselves, we’re less likely to experience shame. Keep our accomplishments and successes in mind; that will help us rebut our inner self-critic. Matching our actions to our beliefs is another great self-esteem builder.

5. TALK ABOUT OUR FEELINGS

In James 4:10 AMPC says, “Humble yourselves [feeling very insignificant] in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you [He will lift you up and make your lives significant].”

To bow down before the Lord and to admit our dependence on Him means recognizing that our worth comes from God alone. It is recognizing our desperate need for His help and submitting to His will for our lives. Although we do not deserve God’s favor, He reaches out to us in love and gives us worth and dignity, despite our human shortcomings. When we do so, the promise is sure: He will lift us up and give us honor. One of the most touching biblical illustrations of this truth is found in our Lord Jesus’ parable of the forgiving father (see Luke 15:11-32). The son took his inheritance and set out to be the world’s best friend. It was not until he found himself bankrupt in every way that he repented. He returned home, grieving. The son confessed to his father that he was unworthy to be called a son. But the father lifted him up and welcomed him back into the family. The act of returning required submission. The wayward son’s words of repentance required humility. The end result was great joy. Humility before God will be followed by His lifting us up.

Having a chat with a trusted family member and/or friend can help us gain perspective on our feelings. That person might offer an alternative view of the situation that provides some insight.

6. APOLOGIZED WHEN WE ARE WRONG

In Colossians 3:9-10 NLT says, “9 Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

Because our Lord Jesus Christ is “the truth” (John 14:6), believers ought to practice truth in all areas of life. They should not lie to each other. Lying to others disrupts unity by destroying trust. It tears down relationships and may lead to serious conflict in a church or fellowship. Lying can take place in words said as well as words left unsaid. Believers should not exaggerate statistics, pass on rumors or gossip, or say things to build up their own image at others’ expense. Instead, because they have stripped off the old evil nature and all its wicked deeds, they should be committed to telling the truth.


The “old nature” was each person before he or she came to know our Lord Jesus Christ. The person was enslaved to sin, bound to the earth, without hope. But believers have clothed themselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed. The “new nature” from our Lord Jesus Christ frees us from sin, sets our hearts on “things above” (Colossians 3:1), and gives us the hope of eternity. Paul was appealing to the commitment the believers had made, urging them to remain true to their confession of faith. Every Christian is in a continuing education program. Renewal is constantly needed in the believer’s battle against sin and the old nature. What we learn is personal knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ who created this new nature within us. The goal of the learning is Christlikeness. The more believers know of Christ and His work, the more they are being changed to be like Him. Because this process is lifelong, we must never stop learning and obeying.

Saying we’re sorry to someone we have wronged can relieve us of guilt and help us avoid feeling shame in the future. Even if the wronged person is not receptive to our apology, we’ll feel better having done the right thing. When we apologize, do so and with sincerity. Offer the person our assistance, and if they refuse, move on.

7. GET PROFESSIONAL HELP IF WE NEED IT

Check out our website at https://homefellowshipchurches.org for Home Fellowship Churches Ministries.

If we find that emotional burdens of guilt and shame are not going away despite our best efforts, consult a mental health professional for advice. Chronic guilt or shame may be an indicator of a mental disorder like depression, which usually responds well to professional intervention.

Reference: The Mind Health Report – Dr. Robert Small, M.D.

THE PRIORITY OF PRAYER by Dr. Charles Stanley of InTouch Ministries https://www.intouch.org/watch/the-priority-of-prayer

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