Many of us wear a mask. We don’t let anyone see behind that mask. We think that what is under it is too hard for anyone else to bear. It is the mask of Shame and Guilt. Many of us survivors carry around a load of shame that we don’t deserve to bear.
What Exactly Is Shame?
The shame most of us are familiar with is called toxic shame. That is when someone sins against you (like a rape, for example), but you carry the guilt you are not responsible for. You can carry this for a very long time. If you don’t deal with it and heal from it, it can cause some other problems in your life.
Shame is very powerful and it is a tool that many abusers use against the victim to get their way:
“If you resist, I will post nude pictures of you on the internet.”
“You wore that sexy outfit. You were asking for it.”
“You didn’t have sex with me enough, so you’re the reason I cheated on you.”
“You didn’t have dinner ready on time. It’s your fault I hit you. You made me angry.”
“You’re nothing but a whore. That’s the only thing you’re good for.”
“If you would only do what I ask during sex, I wouldn’t need to resort to porn.”
“You’re not a virgin, you’re dirty, so no man will ever want you again.”
These are all lies. But most abuse survivors have a hard time believing the truth about themselves. They feel eternally worthless. No matter how great their life seems, the shame seems to follow them around. It destroys relationships with those they love. Survivors sometimes destroy themselves with eating disorders, drugs, empty sex, and cutting themselves. Shame always seems to show up at the most inconvenient times, like during sex or even just getting turned on. The truth is, it was never their fault. Shame distorts how we see God and ourselves.
Examples Of Toxic Shame in the Bible
Have you ever heard a sermon about Tamar in the Bible? Most people have not. It is not one of those feel good messages preachers prefer to deliver. But it is an important story that needs to be told. Tamar was King David’s daughter, who was a virgin. Her brother Amnon had this evil lust for her. He pretended to be sick and summoned her (from a protected place under palace guards) to “nurse him back to health”. Their cousin Jonadab was also in on it. That was when he forced himself on her and raped her. She begged him not to do it, but she was overpowered by him. Then he threw her out of the palace. In those days if you were raped, society blamed it on the woman. It sounds like some things never change! Her father, King David, didn’t even do anything about it! She surely carried a lot of toxic shame that she shouldn’t have had to bear! It was not her fault. The one justice she received was that Amnon was assassinated by Absalom, his half brother, to avenge the rape of his sister. Hats off to Absalom!
Most people are more familiar with Hagar’s story. She was the handmaiden of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. In other words, she was a slave. She did not have many rights or choices in life. Now Abraham and Sarah were told by God that they were going to have a son. Well, they got real impatient in waiting for God’s promises to come to pass (Don’t we all!) Sarah decided to take matters into her own hands and told Abraham to have sex with Hagar so they would have a child. How terrible it must have been for Hagar to be taken against her will to be used only as a baby incubator! After the dirty deed was done and Hagar gave birth, Sarah hated Hagar. 13 years later, Isaac was born(the son that God promised), so Sarah threw Hagar out of the house into the desert with her son Ishmael. Of course, she felt despair, hopelessness, and toxic shame! Shame that she had no business being burdened with. Abraham and Sarah sinned against Hagar. She suffered because of it, even though it was not her fault! But God assured her that her son Ishmael would raise up a great nation of his own(The Muslim people).
One of the well known disciples, Judas, had toxic shame. He did a horrible thing when he turned Jesus over to the Sanhedrin to be tried as a criminal for 30 pieces of silver. But the difference between what Judas did and what the other disciples did, is that Judas didn’t believe he was worthy of forgiveness. He had so much shame that he hung himself. It was tragic that he didn’t go straight to God for forgiveness. Would Jesus have forgiven him if he asked? Yes, God, in his mercy would have forgiven Judas, taken away his guilt and shame, and restored him.
There Is A Healthy Legitimate Guilt
All of us were born with a sin nature. Sin separates us from God. But Jesus came to die on the cross for our sins, so there is no longer any more penalty(spiritual death) or guilt in this life. Because of Jesus, we have forgiveness and righteousness before God.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
All you have to do is ask for it!
God gives us all a conscience, which alerts us that we have done something wrong, that it is taking us down the wrong path. The real purpose of the feelings we get when we have legitimately sinned against God or someone else, is to drive us towards repentance and restoration. The guilt we receive from God is done out of love and care for us. Its purpose is not designed to make us feel bad about ourselves! So if God has forgiven your sin, don’t go carrying around the guilt or that he has already taken away from you!
As you can see, there were lots of people in the Bible that messed up pretty badly! The apostle Paul was one of them. He murdered Christians! The apostle Peter denied Jesus 3 times. Abraham lied about his wife being his sister and sexually abused his slave. Moses killed an Egyptian.
God greatly used the people in the Bible despite their short comings and sins. The resurrected Jesus met Paul on the Road to Damascus and turned a murder into one of the greatest missionary evangelists who ever lived. Peter did feel badly about denying Jesus, but Jesus came to him after His resurrection, assured Peter of His love, mercy, and forgiveness. He made him into one of the greatest leaders of the early church. Abraham became the patriarch of the people of Israel. God promised he would have so many descendants that he wouldn’t be able to count them. Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery from Egypt. Rahab was a prostitute spoken of in the book of Joshua. God used her to help the Israelites in capturing the city of Jericho by hiding two of the spies. She was also in the lineage of Jesus through her son Boaz, and great grandchild Jesse.
The thief on the cross, who was crucified next to Jesus, certainly had some guilt for the crimes he committed. He knew he was receiving the just punishments for his crimes, but Jesus was innocent. He believed that Jesus was the Messiah. He asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into paradise. Jesus promised the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise!”
There are countless others in the Bible. That is why we have to be in God’s Word and read these truths for ourselves. We can see for ourselves that God loves us, his mercy is great, and his forgiveness is never ending. In our brokenness, our weakness, and our messed up life, He still has a plan for YOU! He can still use us for His Kingdom. We are accepted by God. No shame necessary. We can share our story to encourage others.
How Will I know The Difference Between Toxic Shame and Guilt From God?
That’s a very important question.
Toxic shame tells you:
I am worthless.
No one will ever forgive me.
There is no hope for me.
I have gone too far.
I am too bad to ever be good again.
I deserve to be treated badly.
There’s nothing I can do to get rid of the shame.
Legitimate Guilt says:
There is always hope with God.
There is no sin that God won’t forgive.
I’ve made a mistake, but I can be restored to fellowship and joy.
God can still use me to help others.
I can learn from my mistakes.
God loves me no matter what.
What Are The Consequences Of Living With Toxic Shame?
Do any of these sound familiar in your life?
Unrealistic standards for yourself or your loved ones.
Overly critical of others for no reason.
Insecure or jealous of others’ accomplishments or talents.
You can’t relate to others or lack basic social skills.
You only have shallow relationships with people or you won’t get close to anyone.
You won’t accept that you are worthy of God’s love just as you are.
You don’t admit to your own mistakes.
Blame shifting or avoiding taking personal responsibility.
Using drugs or other unhealthy vices to numb your pain.
Chronic depression or anxiety.
Overly sensitive about your faults.
Since Satan can’t create anything, all he has left is counterfeiting, distorting, deceiving and destroying what God has intended for us. Shame is not part of God’s design for our lives. Joy and peace is! We seem to see ourselves as ugly, when God sees his children as beautiful!
To Experience Freedom
The path to freedom is facing your failures, your fears, your past, your future, with the truth. You can’t run from the truth or hide from it. Denying what happened to you will only make the pain go away temporarily, but the shame will fester like a bad infection without antibiotics.
Whatever is in your past, whatever was done to you, and whatever it is you suffered, leave all that shame behind. Jesus took that all away for you. Rest in his love for you and look towards your new future!
We cover shame more thoroughly in my Mending The Soul small groups. If you are interested in joining a group, visit www.mendingthesoul.org to find a group in your area.