Why do we have persistent shame?

Credit: flickr/suelenpessoa

I remember sitting in my car one day, pondering the question, “Why do I keep struggling with lingering shame?” »

I have read a lot about shame, whether from a psychological, social, theological or moral point of view. Some might think that personally I wouldn’t struggle with shame. (In fact, many people are motivated to undertake doctoral studies precisely because the subject concerns them personally.)

Identify sources of persistent shame

At that moment, a realization crystallized in my mind. We can only feel deep and lingering shame about things closely tied to who we are..

Things like shame and honor involve more than just appropriate behavior. They are more holistic than guilt. Shame (and honor) are fundamentally about his sense of identity because they are attached to his values ​​and his sense of belonging. I realized that I would continue to linger in shame as long as I fundamentally identified with one type of person over another.

Yes, there can be good reasons to feel shame, like when I do shameful things. I remember Romans 6:21,

“But what fruit did you then derive from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of these things is death.

However, shame should not have such persistent power that it stigmatizes and strangles us. If he has that power, then our sense of identity is tied to a set of values ​​and perspectives that align with something other than Christ.

Not All Kinds of Identity Are So Compelling That They Evoke Shame. I’m not ashamed of being a bad baseball player. (I got hit in the head three times in a 6 inning game, twice in the outfield). I’m also not always embarrassed to have worn a haircut in 7e grade where I ruffled my hair one side only of my head, earning me the nickname “flamer” because my classmates said I felt like the side of my head was on fire.

Likewise, I no longer consider myself worthy of high social status because I dated some of the most attractive girls in my high school. I don’t feel the weight of honor I felt when I was first accepted into my first choice college because I no longer define my identity or worth by my GPA or the school I attended.

“Am I enough? »

What are the roots of your lingering shame? Either way, we must consider how to cut the root, and we repress what feeds perpetual shame.

These are some markers of the beginning of my life. The criteria by which we judge ourselves worthy of respect or disrespect vary. It could be your appearance, your grades, your relationship status, or your ministry. The standards we use may change over time, with some criteria being better or worse than others.

Everyone wonders, “Am I enough? (e.g. smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough, etc.). If we are not “enough”, we fear not belonging to this or that group. We can feel shame. Indeed, whatever we think we do “enough” practically determines our religion.

What do I mean by “religion”? David Zahl, in Secularismsays this:

“It is our ‘control story’ or ‘the matter of how we dispose of our energies, how we see fit to organize our own lives and, in many cases, the lives of others’ (p. 9).[1]

“Our religion in small r is the supporting story of our life. Ritual and community and all the other stuff comes second… Our religion is the one we rely on not only for meaning and hope, but also for sufficiency.» (page 10)

We boast or rejoice in things that we suppose will be enough for us. These are the things that we assume will ensure that we belong to this or that group, and therefore have an identity.

Ask yourself, “In what ways do I worry about being enough?

Think long and hard about this question. When you find answers, you will identify identity markers that root any lingering feelings of shame you may feel.


[1] He quotes David Dark Life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious.


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