"I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame." Psalms 34:4-5 NIV
The Bible, in a quick computer search, reveals 119 references to the word "shame." It is no wonder that so many in the Judeo-Christian heritage experience shame as one of the main emotions of their religions.
However, shame is systemic in the human psyche - perhaps it is the "original sin" and the very thing we must conquer in our journey with Christ to be able to lead healthy and creative lives.
What is the nature of shame?
Shame is most often defined as an emotion rising from "a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace." I have the sense that shame is more than a transient emotion, however. This begins to become evident when we see the words considered to be shame's antonyms:
"pride, self-esteem, self-respect."
Shame, then, in a psychological sense, can be foundational in the makeup of personality, and not in a good way. Shame is more than a 'feeling' you have in response to a situation or action. The sensation of shame is only the symptom of the deeper internalization of self-hatred, poor self-esteem, or worthlessness.
Guilt vs. shame
It is important to recognize that 'guilt' and 'shame' are not the same thing. Simply put, guilt is felt when we have done something bad; shame is felt when we think you ARE bad. But very few of us, because our our own internalized shame, can raise our children without confusing the two.
The feelings are so easily confused because we are trained at an early age to be ashamed of the wrong things we have done. Yes, we took that cookie after we were told not to, but the message we got was "bad boy" and "bad girl" along with spanking for disobedience.
The confusion is deepened when we get to church where we learned that we are all sinners, and have always been so from birth because we were born into the Original Sin of our parents Adam and Eve. This shame we can identify with, because we know the pain of being a "bad boy or girl". However the freedom of Christ's forgiveness in the theology of salvation are concepts that are not accessible to the typical child until long after the spiritual shame is internalized.
Then, too, parents, religion and society have found great success in controlling conformity by misplacing guilt ascribed to actions and attributes which are not moral choices at all. Practically all bodily functions are surrounded with rules which are enforced with rewards and punishments - from potty training to masturbation or eating to sneezing. Shaping what 'comes natural' to us is taught, fought, and brought to some sort of conformity with the frequent consequence of deep shame of our bodies being appropriated. The damage continues when we did not rise to expectations in our talents, abilities or interests. Even fundamental attributes of sexuality, disability, differences in personality or academic ability are shamed into silence and conformity.
Shame on you, if you think I am going to stop here...;-D
©2009 David Loofbourrow All Rights Reserved