Guilt and shame is often synonymous with each other. Both words derive from similar Old English roots, but there is a definite difference between the two.
Did you ever get a speeding ticket and took it to court? If the evidence was presented and you did not have a clear excuse for the reason the speeding law was violated, the judge probably found you guilty. Guilt has everything to do with breaking a law or concerned with doing or lack of doing, sins of commission or omission – failing to do something right or doing something you know to be wrong.
Some sources of guilt include acts of dishonesty, lying, stealing, selfishness, cheating, infidelity, and hurting others. Guilt says to your conscience, "You made a mistake. What you did was bad." Guilt distinguishes us from psychopaths who commit grievous offenses without conscience.
Now, let’s take a look at the word shame which means "to cover up and to envelop" and it is concerned with being rather than doing. Shame says, "You are no good, you are bad, you are inadequate. Shame on you!"
I recall in school hearing a teacher say to any one of the students when they had done something wrong, “Shame on you for doing that.” I recall doing something when I was a child that garnered the rebuke from my grandmother when she said, “Shame on you,” or, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
The Apostle Paul illustrates the difference between guilt and shame when he says, "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice" (Romans 7:19). That is guilt emanating from doing. Then Paul agonizes, "Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). This is a cry of a tormented soul experiencing the shame of being.
Shame really is more than regret, remorse or a feeling of responsibility. It is internalized disgrace, humiliation, and degradation. Psychologist John Bradshaw portrays shame as hopelessness and spiritual bankruptcy and describes it as: "A state of being, a core identity. Shame gives you a sense of worthlessness, a sense of failing and falling short as a human being. Shame is a rupture of the self with the self. It is like internal bleeding... An inner torment, a sickness of the soul. A shame-based person is haunted by a sense of absence and emptiness."
Shame will escort you on a hunting expedition into your past, scrutinizing everything you have done wrong and building a case against you like an aggressive prosecutor in a court of law. Many of you reading this column will readily identify with this description because "court" is in session daily in your own mind. The prosecutor raises the issues of, Your failed marriage, That aborted or abandoned child, Past criminal or sinful actions, A lost opportunity, a word spoken in anger, or an affirmation withheld in bitterness.
Shame originated with the first humans God created. Adam and Eve were given a great place to live and the only rule given to them was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for if they did they would die.
The shame developed when they realized they were naked and attempted to cover themselves so God would not see their nudity. Adam and Eve realized that God would then know that they had disobeyed.
So, what do we take from this story? Do not put yourself in a position where shame will become a part of your daily history. I will be discussing more on this topic.
I invite you to join with me at either 6 p.m. July 11 or 10 a.m. July 12 at FaithPoints Church. We will discuss Shattering the Shackles of Shame.
Dr. Michael Layne is a Certified Pastoral Counselor and pastor of FaithPoints Church. He can be reached at 812-614-2160 or, http://www.faithpoints.org.