Relational disconnection is often rooted in shame. If I don’t believe that I can be loved, I will find it impossible to be in authentic relationship with anyone. I will find ways to distance myself from others, or to protect myself from being truly known. My core belief is that if you really knew me, you wouldn’t want to be in relationship with me. This is a prime indicator that shame is at play.
- Shame is different from guilt.
Ed Welch, a professor and the author of Shame Interrupted, first alerted me to the difference between shame and guilt. Guilt’s message is, “I did something bad,” and needs justification and forgiveness. Shame’s message is, “I am bad,” and needs an identity shift and relational connection. Sin leaves both in its wake, and shame is what lingers even after forgiveness has been sought and granted. Shame feels like it’s welded onto you, but guilt feels like something outside of you.
- Shame can arise from others’ sin against us.
Shame is commonly found in victims of abuse. Shameful and sinful acts committed against a person leave one more vulnerable to shame. It’s not uncommon for the victim of sexual assault to feel more shame than the perpetrator.
A poignant biblical example is in the story of Tamar who was raped by her brother, Amnon, who then expelled her and said he wanted nothing to do with her. She walks away mourning, cloaked in shame. 2 Samuel describes her exit: “And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went” (2 Sam. 13:19).
- Shame can arise from a past sin that haunts us.
Do you believe that your worst sin has been separated from who you are as far as the east is from the west? For those who take refuge in Christ, this is the truth about even your most shameful sin—it is no longer a part of you. Other people may remember, and you may remember, but to the one whose remembrance counts for eternity, your sin is nailed to the cross and no longer has power over you.
- Shame can feel like a vague sense of unworthiness and insecurity that isn’t immediately rooted in either past or present sin.
Shame can be another term for unbelief in God’s love for you in Christ. It’s one thing to believe that your sin has been removed from you; it’s quite another to believe that there is a divine love that can never be removed from you.
Shame acts like a barrier that keeps love from getting through—either God’s love or anyone else’s love. It sounds like the recurring doubt, “That may be true for others, but it’s not true for me.”