On Shame

November 21, 2009

We’re studying shame in CPE right now. Apparently, shame is only now being studied even in the mental health field.

From CPE materials this week: “You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behavior.” And what a realization for me to understand that guilt and shame are two different things. Shame: “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Shame is the belief that we are not worth “good”; guilt is the belief that “the bad” is inconsistent with who we are in our core. If I feel guilt for eating a doughnut, I believe I am worth eating something more healthy. If I feel shame for eating a doughnut, I don’t feel I am worth eating anything more healthy, perhaps because I am worried that my spouse will not love me for being fat, or will not want to have sex with me.

Guilt can motivate long-term change; shame cannot. I’m not far enough into the cirriculum to understand how guilt might be effectively used, but my guess is that the Church and other cultural influences use shame far more than we use guilt.

“You aren’t worthy of God’s grace, therefore repent sinner.”

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