Life Notes: Dealing with Types of Shame
by David Wheeler, Ph.D.

A recent event triggered memories of failures at different times in my life and how ashamed I was at those times. I thought about how we often deal with failures and mistakes. Initially, we may simply deny that we did anything wrong or become very defensive and try to find someone else to blame for the problem.

If we are honest with ourselves, we are likely to realize at some point that we are at least partly responsible for the problem. At that point, we may become ashamed. I remember reading a book a number of years ago by John Bradshaw in which he discussed two types of shame. Healthy shame is feeling bad about something that we have done wrong. This type of shame can cause us to apologize, turn away from the behavior that we were doing (repent), and try to make amends if possible. Unhealthy shame focuses not on what we have done, but on who we are. We may think “I am a loser … failure … worthless … ,” which contributes to low self esteem and depression. When this type of thought begins to flood our minds, we need to stop ourselves and put things into perspective. We need to challenge our own faulty thinking and assess the situation more objectively.

If you are not able to do this effectively, you might try to find a friend or counselor who can help you. There are also some good self-help books on the subject (look for the term “Cognitive Therapy”). Some Christian books also address the topic of our false beliefs about ourselves and emphasize learning to accept ourselves as God sees us.

When you have become His child and accepted His gift of forgiveness, you are considered a “new creature” and have a new identity. You are forgiven for your past mistakes and failures. This is one of the mysteries of the Christian faith and one you may want to explore.

The Life Notes articles are written by staff of Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home and are published in The Ruston Daily Leader.

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