Understanding the Difference between Guilt and Shame.
We are glad that you are here and are willing to begin your journey with us at G4, as you pursue overcoming your specific struggle.
When life is difficult and we’re caught in the midst of a struggle we feel a range of emotions. Often because life moves so fast and we are experiencing different emotions at different times of the day it becomes difficult to track which emotion we are feeling.
Often we think that we are feeling justifiable guilt when we are actually feeling shame. Or perhaps we’re feeling shame when we should be feeling guilt. Sometimes we even feel both of them at once for different things happening simultaneously. Emotions can quickly become a jumbled mess that is difficult to sort out.
When a wrong is committed either by you or against you one of two emotions is generally felt: guilt or shame. Which of these two emotions have you felt lately because of the wrongs that have been committed by you and against you? Can you tell the difference in the two emotions?
This post will seek to help you differentiate between the two and how the scriptures respond to each. This can be an important part of the process as you begin to understand your story as you begin a journey of healing.
First, lets talk about guilt. Guilt is the legitimate feeling of wrong doing when you have committed a sinful act or done something that you view as being wrong. For example, when you lie, you may feel guilt. This can be a very healthy response that calls us to right repentance for sins that we commit.
The gospel provides forgiveness for those that feel guilt. If we have committed sins against God or others, it is possible through true repentance to be forgiven by God for those sins. Through the blood of Christ we can be cleansed of our sins, and beyond being cleansed, we are able to take on the identity of Christ. Because of our identity in Christ, we are able not only to be forgiven, but also to take on the righteousness of Christ before God.
Shame is an emotion that we express when we feel defined by the actions of another or things that are beyond our control. For example, those that are abused do not feel guilt they feel shame because what is happening is beyond their control. For so long you may have been told that you are worthless, incapable, and that you’re not good enough to warrant respect, that you begin to believe these lies.
If you begin to believe that the feelings of worthlessness, uselessness, or insignificance are earned and begin to internalize those feelings, it is easy to feel undeserved condemnation. That condemnation is for an act that is being committed against you and not for ones that you have yourself committed. This undeserved condemnation leads to a place that can feel impossible to overcome since there is no way for you to seek forgiveness or correct a behavior that will allow for change.
Feeling shame is not what God intended for us. We are not able to repent for feelings of shame. We are incapable of seeking forgiveness for shame because the source of that emotion is beyond our control. We cannot be forgiven but we can be freed from the sins that have been committed against us and we ourselves have not committed.
But if the scriptures do not provide forgiveness for shame, then what do they provide?
If you feel shame, the gospel can provide comfort. We can feel the loving embrace of Christ as He is telling us the truths that combat the lies that we believe. We are able to be fully known and fully loved without feeling lesser or marred. As we become wrapped in shame, we have allowed the lies of others to tell us who we are and define us by those lies. The scriptures tell us the truth of who Christ is and who He declares us to be as His children.
As guilt and shame have been defined above it seems easy to look at our lives and point out the difference. But when we are feeling our way through our emotions it can be anything but easy to sort out the differences.
If guilt and shame sound similar that’s because as we experience these emotions, they often feel similar. Don’t be discouraged as you look at the clearly drawn distinctions above and think that you should have seen this difference before. Often times this difference can only be spotted by others in community.
Throughout the course of your struggle, have you confused guilt and shame? If so, we at G4, want to be a safe place for you to sort out the emotions of guilt and shame helping you to find the freedom that God has to offer for both, in the context of understanding and supportive relationships. Keep coming. Keep talking. Keep seeking to be known. Allow yourself to be loved.