Shame: What It Is, How to Heal

Dr. Donna HartFor Those Seeking Hope2 Comments


Shame feels. . .awful. It says, “I’m unpresentable.” Donna Hart, PhD, who works in BCC’s Arlington Heights and Schaumburg offices, shares what it is and how to heal through God’s loving power. This article appeared first on Donna’s website and is used with permission.

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Shame has a long history. It starts right at the beginning of Genesis 3:6-10, where we see the stuff of life crammed all into one paragraph: God, temptations, self-consciousness, and shame.

One by one, shame’s trinity of nakedness, rejection, and contamination come marching by. Nakedness came first. For Adam and Eve it seemed as if nakedness dominated. They hoped fig leaves would cover, but they still felt uncomfortable so they hid.

Hiding, covering up, self-protection, and feeling exposed are all signs of shame. 

Following on the heels of the nakedness came the experience of being rejected, separated from God, and cast out. You read the details in Genesis 3:23-24. Wherever you find rejection you will also notice a sense of nakedness and contamination. In this story, each person felt separated from the other and both were separated from God.

How Shame Feels

There is an enduring message to shame that says, “I am unpresentable,” led Adam and Eve to hide from each other and from God. Their behavior shows us that it is experienced horizontally, before other people, and vertically, before God. Many of us will commonly feel it before other people, but don’t really feel it before God.

Shame over what they had done caused Adam and Eve to feel unpresentable before God, and for good reason: they literally contaminated themselves by moving toward something God said was forbidden.

How It Starts

Did they bring shame on themselves?  Scripture distinguishes between shame that comes from our own actions and shame that comes from the actions of others. To know cleansing and acceptance, you are going to need to distinguish between the two sources.

Identifying shame that stems from our own sin is not a pleasant experience, but it’s still a good one, especially when we realize that God is quick to forgive. There is relief when you come out into the open.

The process should seem fairly simple: you did wrong and you admit it. You own what you did.

But when shame is attached to the sins done against you, it is more complicated and will require a different internal discussion. To uncover the external sources of shame that affect you, ask yourself what things have been done to you that you prefer to keep private. Think about things in your life that you insist on keeping secret. This is where you will find  that it is attached to what you have done.

How It Affects Your Connections

The connection between shame and your associations or allegiances is an important one because it’s an everyday experience.

If you have an older sibling with a bad reputation, and you now attend the school where that reputation was established, you are going to try to hide your family tie as a result of shame you feel about your sibling. When someone makes the connection between you and your sibling, you will immediately feel the shame of being associated with your sibling and their behavior.

Do you turn from those you think will damage your reputation and turn toward those you think will enhance it? On the flip side, are you a name-dropper who hopes that in saying, “I know so-and-son” you will be elevated?

How It Affects Your View of God

It works in a similar way with God. If you turn toward Him and trust Him, you associate yourself with Him and share in His reputation. If you run from Him, you may enjoy a moment of independence, but it will be followed by the enduring sense that you are an outsider.

Shame isolates, but it is more personal and relational than you realize. Shame and its opposite, honor, always have something to do with other people. Do you experience honor when you are associated with honorable people?

Do you experience shame when you are identified with the shameful?

God Wants to Heal You

God has his finger on this human struggle with shame. Our shame problem is important to God because He loves you and wants intimate relationship with you.  Since it is important to Him, you can be sure He will do something about it.

Shame comes from what you have done, your past associations, and what has been done to you.

Here is where Scripture’s initial strategy of blending all these together makes our internal battles less complicated: If you can’t figure it out, all you have to know is that if you experience shame, no matter what the cause, there is a way out and God has the answer. Make your association with God and share His reputation.

How has the Lord wiped the shame out of your life with His intimate love?

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2 Comments on “Shame: What It Is, How to Heal”

  1. Thank you for this article. We are struggling through the mire of confusion related to shame. Our son was sexually abused by a close friend in Jr high. His sense of shame has prevented him from finishing college and maintaining friendships. He has been given several psychological diagnoses and tried countless medications. Nothing has seemed to work. Shame is a word thst is surfacing now. We are praying that God will reveal Truth to his heart and release him from the burden that the gospel will take away.

    1. Hi Ellie,

      Sadly, sexual abuse and shame very often go together. This is especially true among males sexually abused by other males. May we encourage you and your son to reach out to a biblical counselor? We have several male counselors on staff who meet in person and by Skype. A male biblical counselor would apply God’s loving and effective truth to your son’s heart. Feel free to get in touch with us.

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