Shame: A Toxic World of Self-Deception

Jonathan Daugherty

Shame is the underlying belief that you are defective as a person. It is different from guilt. Guilt is actually good because it alerts us to inappropriate behaviors and can be a useful emotion to point us back to truth. But shame is destructive because it doesn’t act as an alarm for wrong behavior. Instead, it chooses to attack your personhood through the deception that screams into your soul, “You are a mistake.” It slides right by the behavior and lunges at your inner being.

This toxic self-deception can create great confusion, frustration, and even despair to the point of seeking relief through addictive patterns.

The entire premise of shame-based thinking is founded on lies. You are NOT a mistake. God took great care and precision in fashioning you after Himself (Gen. 1:26,27; Psa. 139:13-16). But shame wants to cause you to believe that at the core of your being your design is defective. If that were true, then God Himself is defective. Shame lies about who you really are.

But belief is a funny thing, isn’t it? Does the object of your belief need to actually be true to keep you from acting as if it were? No! A good example would be people who believe in Santa Claus. The fact that Santa doesn’t exist in reality (sorry) has no bearing on how people who believe he exists will act. The belief is what ultimately drives the behavior, not the object.

So, if shame has convinced you that you are defective at the core, a mere cosmic mistake, guess where your actions will follow? They will lead you down a path of self-hatred and woundedness because the belief says you should behave in self-destructive ways.

So, where do we form our beliefs? From our thoughts. Do you see the breadcrumb trail we are on now? Starting with your self-damaging behaviors, you wind a trail back to the underlying beliefs of shame, and then you must come to their place of origin: your thoughts. Thoughts are those ideas that we allow to remain in our minds until they become patterns of thinking. Imagine thoughts being to you what cud is to a cow. You bite off an idea you read in the paper, or in a passage of Scripture, a conversation you had with a friend, or from a sermon you just heard. You chew on it for a while and down it goes into your mind library. Over time you bring it back up to chew on it a little more and send it back down, this time even deeper than before. Do this long enough and you form a belief, whether the original idea was true or not.

Shame is toxic because it moves us to embrace false beliefs that affect how we view everything else in life. If you latch on to the belief that you are a mistake and defective at your core, every decision you make in life from that point forward will be tainted in some way by this false belief. This is why it is so important to combat the lies of shame with the truth of God’s Word.

We are told that God’s Word is alive and active, sharper than a double-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). Now that’s the kind of weapon we need to extract this cancer of shame! As you wield the Sword of the Spirit in all the areas where shame has deceived you, new patterns of thought based on truth will form new beliefs. Your new beliefs will move you toward actions consistent with your true identity and carry you farther and farther from your old, shame-based lifestyle. But in the same way it took time for you to create a belief system built on shame’s lies, it will take time to reverse such a system and develop truth-based beliefs.

The following are some good starting points for building a new belief system based on truth.
Think of these verses as ‘Truth Cud.’

‘ 2 Cor. 5:17 ‘ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

‘ Galatians 2:20 ‘ I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

‘ 2 Peter 1:3 ‘ His [God’s] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

Start chewing on truth today. As you bring truths such as these listed above back to your mind over time, you will not only develop a new system of belief, but you will also destroy the stronghold of shame in your life. And when shame is destroyed, purity and joy will thrive!

Need additional help in the battle for purity? See Every Man’s Battle.

Getting Confession Right The First Time

Edward J. Grant

It had been years since Sally felt the gut-wrenching, searing pain of betrayal that left her world shattered in countless broken pieces. ‘This can’t be happening all over again,’ she thought, ‘not after all we’ve been through.’ What should she do? Where should she go with the holidays around the corner? Was her marriage over and should she demand her husband leave the home immediately? How could she be so stupid to ever have trusted him again? She was in shock, not unlike the shock that accompanies the death of a loved one. Her feelings would surely intensify in the coming days and weeks as the reality of her husband’s treachery settled in.

It began with the discovery of a pornographic web site on the computer. She knew that none of her three children had visited it and prayed that they hadn’t found the graphic pictures. That discovery, painful enough in its own right, was just the beginning. He confessed that hadn’t been honest with her when he first confessed seven years ago, admitting to using only four or five prostitutes during their marriage. There had been many, many more, ‘countless’ in his words. Then she was willing to attempt to salvage their marriage. Since that time they had both worked hard to rebuild, spending thousands of dollars in the process. They attended weekly support group meetings, marriage counseling, cried tears by the bucketful, and endured the interminable tug-of-war between hope and hopelessness. She began to see relational change over the years as both took the first fearful, faltering steps towards genuine intimacy, eventually renewing their wedding vows when she came to trust him once more. Now she learned that he had never been sober; he had lied to everyone. He had indulged in a number of affairs and never ceased frequenting prostitutes.

Having recounted some of the moral and spiritual failures of Israel to the troubled congregation at Corinth St. Paul wrote, ’11These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.’

As we reflect on one woman’s devastating experience caused by her husband’s sin let us consider several fatal flaws that contributed to his failure.

1. Confession needs to be complete. Whenever we try to do damage control by holding back important facts about our behaviors – often under the guise of ‘sparing her further pain’ – we are left with the relentless question: ‘If I had told her everything would she have stayed with me?’ Shame attends our incomplete confession and becomes the favorite target at which Satan hurls his accusations. King David was no stranger to the attempt to cover his sins instead of confessing them. He writes in Psalm 32, ‘3When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.’ Confession brought relief and healing in his heart and in his relationship with God: ‘5Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”– and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

2. Shame causes the intense pain that propels the addict into the predictable cycle of addiction. When some painful event in life accesses the well of shame hidden in the wounded heart the addict resorts to the familiar cycle of pre-occupation, ritual, and acting out, culminating with despair. The goal of acting out is a journey to the land of numb: no feeling is better than emotional pain. Loved ones are all too familiar with the emotional distance acting out causes between them and the addict.

3. Forgiveness comes from confessing our sins to God, but healing comes from confessing our sins to one another. James writes, ’16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.’ The healing God intends comes from caring relationships with fellow pilgrims wherein the lies we believe about ourselves can be dispelled. The four core beliefs of the addict are:
1. I am a bad and worthless person.
2. If you really knew me, you wouldn’t love me
(ergo no one gets to know the real me).
3. Sex is my greatest need.
4. Only I can meet my needs.
As fellow strugglers share their failures, pain and encouragements with each other the truth of divine, unconditional love begins to sink in.

4. Radical commitment to honesty. Unless a person is willing to commit to honesty regardless of the consequences, true change and healing is not possible. Jesus said, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.’ Walking in and living by God’s truth frees us from the weight of guilt, the arrows of shame and the accusations of Satan. Living by the truth is scary when you are accustomed to living a lie, but it is the only path on which we can find fellowship with God and the freedom He has promised.

Men struggling with sexual integrity, please see Every Man’s Battle.
If you are married to a man struggling with sexual integrity, please join us for our Every Heart Restored program at our next New Life Weekend.

Sexual Purity And The Gospel

Lance David

I have a confession to make. I don’t understand the gospel. That’s not to say I don’t know the nuts and bolts of it. However, I’m embarrassed to say, the gospel rarely captures my heart. Let me explain.

The other day, my wife made a confession to me. Our three-year-old daughter had slammed the front door on the fingers of our one-year-old daughter (and this slamming thing has been a problem without a good solution for a while now). In frustration and fear my wife shouted, ‘You stupid kid.’ Of course she wasn’t proud of this and had hoped it would blow over, thinking it was probably the first time that the little squirt had heard that word. However, the next day, the question came, ‘Mommy, what does stupid mean?’

Have you ever wished you could take something back? My wife never wanted anyone in the world to call our precious daughter stupid- and she had done it! To solidify that this was not merely going to blow over, the next day my wife and I both heard our three-year-old say to our one-year-old, ‘You stupid baby.’

It was after this that my wife told me what had happened.

Now, I love my wife. She is such a good gift to me. She is not perfect, but is my perfect match. And, I love my daughter- the coolest three-year old in the whole world. And my wife felt really bad for what she had said. But I was struggling. My head said, ‘It’s not the end of the world for your daughter. She knows her mother loves her. This is a really good thing that your wife told you and she’s hurting.’ But I was starting to feel the anger well up inside me. Things like, ‘I’m a counselor, for crying out loud! People come see me because their parents said emotionally abusive things like this to them! How dare she say that to MY daughter!’

Now, my wife can read me very well and needless to say, my judgmental attitude did not go over well with her. The whole thing was rapidly going somewhere in a hand basket when God stepped in. Somewhere deep inside my wife’s heart she knew God was saying, ‘I’ve taken your punishment for you. And I’ve taken your judgmental husband’s punishment too. Neither of you need to suffer for your sin because I already have.’ And then my wife spoke to me, ‘It’s ok if you judge me, Jesus took my penalty. And he’s taken yours as well.’

The truly amazing thing is that she said this without any hint of defensiveness. It wasn’t one of those Christianized versions of ‘sticks and stones can break my bones.’ Instead she related a calming, strengthening, life-giving reality. The effect on me was marvelous. Instantly I knew she was right and that I could let go of my desire to get justice by being angry at and demanding punishment of my wife.

The truth of the matter is that I did not readily offer my wife grace because I so rarely accept God’s grace. Again, I am trusting Christ alone to save me from my SIN. It’s just that so often I don’t accept God’s grace to save me from my individual, practical, all-too-often-occurring sins. You know the ones like my judgmental heart, my arrogant spirit, my lustful eyes.

If I get convicted of those kind of things I usually think, ‘Okay. I slipped up again. That was bad, though not as bad as some people I know. I won’t do it again. I’ll try harder from now on. It won’t happen again.’ Or if the situation fits I try to handle my sin is by shifting the blame to someone else. ‘It did that because she deserved it.’

But Jesus’ offer is that I shift the blame to him. The really good news of the gospel is that God doesn’t whitewash my sin. He sees it for the filth that it is and he says, ‘You don’t have to suffer for it because I already have. Go ahead, walk in freedom.’

I think that for many of us on the path to sexual purity we forget our desperate need for the gospel to impact us in the rubber-meets-the-road ordinary arenas of life. What do you suppose would be the fruit in terms of sexual purity if our hearts were more and more captivated by the gospel? I pray that would be more and more of a reality for both you and me.

For more help in the battle for purity see Every Man’s Battle.