Shame vs. True Conviction: Knowing the Difference at the Heart of the Battle

Jim Grimes

Shame and true conviction are very difficult concepts to grasp for shame can easily masquerade itself as true conviction. In addition, both produce very strong emotional reactions that result in changed behavior. So what are the definitions of shame and conviction? Shame is a negative emotion that combines feelings of dishonor, unworthiness, and embarrassment, while true conviction is a firmly held belief or opinion. Knowing the difference is at the heart of the battle in dealing successfully with sexual addiction. Let’s take a look at where the resulting behaviors that come out of shame and true conviction lead.

On a recent visit to the discovery science center with my family, we spent some time at the sand and water exhibit learning about the effects of erosion. In reflection, this exhibit is a visual picture of destruction that shame can cause, and the devastating effects of shame on the spiritual health of men.

To begin with, the interactive exhibit allows you to construct a dam using sand, thereby backing up the water behind. Once the water accumulates, it literally tears away the walls of the dam, creating a small canyon for the water to escape through. Observing this phenomenon I was struck with how it reflects the effects of shame when dealing with addiction, and was reminded of Matthew 7:26 where the foolish man built his house on the sand.

Shame is sand when it comes to building relationships with ourselves and others. When the storms of life such as stress, problems at work, or conflict with your spouse arise, the coping abilities you possess can crumble because addiction provides you with a false sense of mastery. This is sinking sand because it produces shame. These strong negative emotions can lead to isolation, hiding, denial, division of the self, depression, decreased self-esteem, and feelings of anger towards oneself and others.

In Philippians 3:18-19 Paul speaks of people who are ‘enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.’

Shame focuses on the here and now, just like in the sand and water analogy of the exhibit. Once a breech was created, we had to focus our attention towards that one area, and we found that considerable effort was required in order for us to seal the breech and restore the dam.

Having seen that shame erodes away the very fabric of relationships with self and others, what are the results of true conviction? First off, a person receives numerous blessings from living out a life based on true conviction. Where shame led to the destruction of relationships, true conviction leads to strengthened relationships and community, openness, acceptance, union of the self, joy/happiness, healing, and increased self-esteem.

Living through true conviction is like building your house upon the rock. The storms of life will come and rage against you, but you will stand because you have built wisely. Proverbs 28:13 states, ‘he who conceals his transgression will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.’ 1 John 1:9 says that ‘if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ Within a humble man, true conviction leads to confession. In confession, you find compassion, and in compassion, healing and restoration.

This week, I challenge you to spend some time engaging in an object lesson: create a dam in your backyard using dirt and a garden hose, and observe the devastation that transpires when a small break is formed in the dam you built. As you do this, train your mind to listen to and respond to true conviction rather than to shame. Shame works to destroy your inner life and your sense of self, just like water quickly erodes away a dam once it’s broken. Instead, stop the break and erosion. Rebuild your life and character by responding to the true conviction of the Holy Spirit through confession, openly taking responsibility for your actions, and choosing to build your house upon the Rock.

For more help on this subject, see Every Man’s Battle.

Trigger Mechanisms

Bob Damrau

INTRODUCTION
Trigger mechanisms are painful emotions that are not adequately identified and which lead to compulsive thinking and addictive behaviors (or tension reducers).
All people look for ways to reduce the stresses of life. Some chill out in a whirl pool while others cozy up with the latest novel. Some drop in at Starbucks and others drop dead from exercise. These tension reducers are, for the most part, legitimate. It must be said, however, that any good thing when taken to an extreme can become unhealthy.
We, as people with a bent toward sexual compulsivity, should pay attention to the trigger mechanisms that serve as stimulants to our addictive cycles. We need to find alternative ways of responding to our feelings.

THE ESCAPE ROUTE
Emotions are tricky for compulsive people because most of us have not developed our feeling skills.

When we can’t tolerate feeling depressed, we tend to seek relief (fantasy thinking)

When we can’t tolerate feeling isolated, we tend to seek stimulation (unhealthy relationships)

‘ When we can’t tolerate feeling like a failure, we tend to seek control (entitlement thinking)

‘ When we can’t tolerate feeling anxious, we tend to seek tranquility (masturbation)
‘ When we can’t tolerate feeling criticized, we tend to seek self-mastery (perfectionism)

STAYING WITH THE FEELING
When a sex addict experiences a negative emotion he generally fixes it by taking a drink of lust in order to medicate the feeling. Most addicts have not had any experience from their family of origin in the area of how to have and share feelings.

Dealing with feelings is a skill that you can develop and acquire levels of mastery over, once you have practiced it. It’s kind of like growing up and not learning how to maintain a car. It doesn’t mean that you are less intelligent or worthwhile because you can’t fix a car. You’re simply untrained. If you were to take a class on car maintenance, you would probably be a good mechanic. The difference is that the skills you are exposed to and have learned will dictate how you handle your emotions.

Now, expressing feelings in recovery is very important for several reasons.

In your acting-out days, if you had a feeling, you probably would not know what it was. But if you acted out in some way, the feeling would go away. In this process, you may not have learned to identify feelings and hence can not meet your own real needs.

In your early recovery, between usually the third to sixth week of abstinence from your acting out behaviors, you may begin to start recognizing feelings. This can seem almost like a thawing out of emotions. It is best to have already begun to identify your feelings so that they don’t confuse or overwhelm you and activate the cycle (unidentified feeling -> act out -> feeling disappears). In recovery, you get to feel without acting-out.

As relapse prevention, if you can identify your feelings, you may better know how to handle or manage these feelings in order to prevent relapses.

If a slip or relapse occurs, you may be able to track down what emotion(s) preceded this and move forward in your recovery process (identified feeling -> corresponding need -> needs met).

TALK ABOUT IT
It is important that you begin to communicate your feelings to a safe person. A safe person is one in your recovery group or a person to whom you are accountable. The person’s role is simply to listen, not really give feedback.

When sharing your feelings, it is important to maintain eye contact with the person you are sharing them with. This eye contact with a person may feel uncomfortable at first, but will eventually be comfortable to you. This is part of the benefit of this exercise.

TRY IT

1. Identify a feeling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . lonely

2. Generate the need present in that feeling . . . . connect with a safe person

3. Act to legitimately meet that need . . . . . . . . . . call a group member

Need some help? See Every Man’s Battle.