Oftentimes, we put guilt and shame in the same boat. But researchers have found there is a vast difference between guilt and shame. One of the biggest differences is the toxic effects of shame.
According to Dr. Brené Brown, guilt is focused on behavior and can be helpful and adaptive as we grow and mature. Shame is focused on self and is toxic to our growth and maturity. Guilt is an uncomfortable feeling that goes away after a short period of time while shame is an intense feeling that lasts a long time.
She defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
This intensely painful feeling can have toxic effects in our lives. Here are three toxic effects of shame that we can overcome.
1. Shame can make us believe lies about ourselves.
We all have an image we want to portray to the world. When you look at social media, you will see a collage of our perfect photos from our summer vacation and of our perfect smiling families. You will see posts celebrating the dream job we landed or the dream house we bought.
Oftentimes, while we are busy portraying a certain persona online, we are struggling with the shame from our past that we try to hide from the world. We buy into the lies that are running through our minds: the lie of not being good enough, the lie of being unworthy and unlovable, and the lie of not being able to overcome our past mistakes and failures.
We put toxic labels on ourselves, keeping us from reaching our potential in life. If we believe we are not smart enough, we might not apply for the job we desire. If we believe we are unworthy and unlovable, we might isolate ourselves and miss out on connection and community. If we believe we cannot overcome our past, we might never fully live in the present and we might fear the future.
But the good news is we are valuable and deeply loved. In Genesis 1:26-27, God tells us we are created in His image. Jesus showed His love for us on the cross while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). He came to earth to help us overcome our faults and failures.
When we hear these lies playing over and over in our head, we need to identify them as lies and replace them with truth. Through prayer, we can lift our thoughts to God and ask Him to reveal truth–how He really sees us. We can journal our thoughts by writing down the lies and writing what we know to be truth next to them. Or we can simply talk to a close friend about how we are feeling and allow them to speak truth into our lives.
2. Shame can hurt our relationships.
When we harbor shame in our hearts, we tend to isolate ourselves from our loved ones. We are afraid of what they might think of us if we reveal too much of our thoughts and feelings. We fear they will leave us if they discover our faults and failures. We protect ourselves by not being vulnerable in our relationships.
When we refuse to open up to the people around us, we push them away, which can destroy our relationships. This increases the intensity of our shame and causes us to fear being in relationships.
Also, when we feel ashamed, we might lash out at our friends and significant others because we are trying to release anger and frustration over our perceived failures and inadequacies. But rather than making us feel better, it just hurts the other person, creating another barrier to building healthy relationships.
Even if shame has ruined past relationships, we can make the choice to not let it ruin another relationship. Before we can find fulfillment in our relationships with others, we need to build a healthy relationship with God by placing our faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Beginning a relationship with Jesus will change our lives.
If you already have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, take some time to take it to the next level by studying the Bible on a weekly basis, praying daily, or joining a small group of Christ-followers. At Chase Oaks, we believe in doing life with others. We offer a variety of short-term groups, such as Established, and long-term groups, such as LifeGroups.
3. Shame can cause anxiety and depression.
When we believe the lies we tell ourselves and carry them into our relationships, it is easy to struggle with anxiety and depression. If we try to cover our shame, our feelings of anxiousness, loneliness, and sadness will become more intense and can threaten to take over our lives.
According to Dr. Brené Brown’s TED Talk, “Listening to Shame,” shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, suicide, and eating disorders. Shame makes us think irrationally, limiting our ability to enjoy satisfying relationships and personal and professional successes. It gives us a negative view of our lives.
If you are struggling with anxiety and depression today, we have licensed counselors that can help you work through your pain and shame. The first step in healing from the toxic effects of shame is to reach out for help.
If you are not ready to make an appointment with a counselor, join a support group or talk to a close friend or pastor. At Chase Oaks, we can help find the right care for you! No one should ever have to face shame alone. Check out our Care Resources to see what would be a good next step you can take toward healing.
Join us this weekend for a special message from Cindy Park on the power of shame and how we can move beyond the shame of our past to experience joy and freedom in our lives. If you miss this weekend’s services, stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for this special week in our series, “Things That Keep Us Up At Night.”