The crushing weight of shame and guilt can be on our shoulders for life. There’s a better way.
“Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea.”
I run into this a lot that people feel very guilty for things they have done and can’t internalize the idea that they have been forgiven by God. They can’t forgive themselves.
It comes out in such ideas as, “My life is filled with painful experiences, so I have bad Karma from something I’ve done or maybe even done a previous life.” Or, “I deserve to be punished for the mean things I have done to others.”
Our prison systems are full of people who are “paying their debt to society” for the things they’ve done. Many appreciate that they should be punished for what they’ve done.
Many people fully expect that in the afterlife they will be punished for things they’ve done.
None of us can take away that guilt. It’s a process that comes through living. It often comes from making whole those we have harmed in some way.
What we have to realize is that God will not let our bad conduct stand in the way of his loving us, or of our becoming people who act out of love. He cares not so much about who we were but about who we are becoming.
As a father I either don’t remember the bad things our children did, or I look back and laugh at them even though they were painful at the time. I understand. They were things they had to grow through to become the wonderful people they are today.
We are all children in God’s eyes. We are all struggling to deal with life and how to react or behave, toward the end result of becoming better people. God cares about us becoming better people.
Life is a battleground in which we prove spiritual ideas to ourselves. We prove that the ways God has shown us work best. We have to fail and that usually comes many times before we succeed.
Overcoming feelings of shame, guilt, unworthiness
These are things that destroy lives. Not just the person’s life but the lives of those around them.
There is no diagnosis or therapy here. All I can do is mention some reasons for these feelings from authoritative sources and recommend seeing a clinical psychologist. These feelings are difficult to overcome without counseling. This often requires “deep therapy” which takes months to help you unravel why you are having these feelings and develop coping mechanisms and devices to dismiss or overcome them.
Some of the major causes are:
Childhood trauma from abuse
Abuse is treating a person (or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly. The law recognizes verbal intimidation that some use to control others – it’s a threat of violence. We need to understand this is different from other behavior. Violence is behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. Hurt means physical injury or harm. These are not light things.
Made to feel worthless or less than others
This can be an outcome of unfair or unequal treatment. One child is always favored. Other families always have while one family is always without. In groups, one person is always recognized as without talent or other qualities. A person is rejected from participating due to economic status, race, gender, and any other type of discrimination. A person is never allowed to achieve the type of employment they want. A person is forced into stereotypical roles. A person never measures up in their family, field, or other endeavor.
These types of treatment can have lifelong negative impact. A psychologist may be able to help. A life-coach or minister may help people see opportunities and
Clinical depression is different from situational depression. A lot of things in life can be depressing, even for long periods of time. Talk therapy is often helpful, and sometimes drugs can be an initial treatment to help get the person out.
Clinical depression is from physiological causes and rarely from situations. This requires treatment by psychologists with psychiatric oversight.
Religion that produces shame and guilt
There is a huge industry of people and organizations helping people who have experienced religious trauma. Generation Z is right to reject all of this.
“For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.” – 2 Corinthians 10:12 (NASB)
“For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
How many people do you know screaming the gospel of bad news, only talking about sin and judging others, or only talking about sending money, boasting about their religious superiority? Or those who seem to be always learning but never arrive at the truth? Never talking about how we are to love others?
There are many who have a measure of religious knowledge, but are not informed by the Spirit of God to understand what God is about. It’s false religion that was talked about in the Book of Revelation. It’s typically self-serving to maintain a financial following or to impose certain requirements they love on people.
For example, Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, for the Jews became a day in which they couldn’t do any work, and that often meant they couldn’t get food if they were hungry or help others in need. Jesus told them they completely misunderstood. The Sabbath was for man, not for God. God initially deemed the Sabbath a day of rest – people distorted it into other things. People need rest and relaxation from work.
For many Christians Sunday became a day to dress up to impress others and attend church, then go home and sit and study the Bible and memorize verses – nothing particularly restful or to re-create (recreational). For many it was simply torture. Not that knowing pertinent Bible verses is a bad thing.
Many distort religion in one of two extremes: They talk about endless self-sacrifice, or they talk about endless gaining. One is totally about denying everything about self and the other is making it entirely about self. Both are false religions. God loves you and through following God’s ways we learn to love others.
Sexual repression is another feature of religious harm
The Apostles taught that we should not be having sex with everyone (promiscuous). Some got carried away. In the puritan era (Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth) women were told that they should only have sex for reproduction, and there were similar prohibitions for men. Both men and women became sexually frustrated. That led to all kinds of aberrant behavior and psychological problems. It gave birth to Freudian psychology which addressed these aberrations.
Since the sexual revolution in the 1960s, attitudes have shifted toward a much healthier attitude with less damage, born of rejection of puritan era beliefs and proven through experience. People tend to agree today that we shouldn’t be having sex with everyone.
But not every religion can adjust. Sex is all they can talk about, and it’s the “Law and Order special victims unit” of their message.
Guilt preaching may seem to some to motivate people but what it actually does is put a very unhealthy emphasis on “sin,” especially things that others don’t want you to do, without understanding what real sin is. When you follow God’s ways, demonstrated to us by Jesus, you understand that wrong behavior is not loving others or causing harm to them.
There are a lot of groups on the Internet helping people slowly and painfully claw their way out of the prison of unhealthy religion.
Jesus said, “… Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” – Mark 13: 24,25 (NASB)
Negative thinking or negative self-talk
We can be our own worst enemy. It may be because we’re around negative people who spout negative things. Sometimes it’s because we had overly critical parents, teachers, peers, or bosses. Possibly it’s because we have always been too self-critical and belittling the good things we do. It’s really difficult to stop because that’s our frame of mind, our point of reference.
When you realize your saying negative things to yourself, you can change your perspective (attitude).
- Is this really true or simply a vestige of negativity you have been indoctrinated with?
- Is this really helpful or does it drag you down?
- Is this a loving comment?
- Say something positive about yourself that’s more realistic and will help you.
Also explore where this type of thinking came from. Was it an overly critical parent or other person? Would you believe everything that person had to say? Why was that person that way – what in their life made them so negative? Should that type of negativity continue?
Inability to forgive yourself
I’ve never forgotten any rotten thing I’ve done. But it doesn’t overshadow my life. God forgives and forgets. We can’t forget. But the ability to forgive yourself is key to climbing out of self-destruction and moving on in a better life.
Part of forgiving ourselves has to do with making whole those we have hurt in some way. That’s Biblical. Make it right.
“Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”” – Luke 19:8 (NASB)
How to Forgive Yourself – WebMd
5 Things to Do If You Are Feeling Worthless – Kendra Cherry on VeryWellMind.
Feeling Unworthy or Undeserving? Let’s Undo That. Tonya Ladipo, LCSW, Relational Psychotherapy on Good therapy
Working With Core Beliefs of “Never Good Enough” – NICABM CE Course.
5 Steps to Let Go of Feeling Unworthy – PsychCentral (Psyd reviewed)
There can be many reasons why we don’t feel deserving. Most of them are bogus. We need to look deeply at them, reject them, then replace them with a better and more realistic picture of ourselves. We are all deserving regardless. If we can’t do this ourselves, then get help from professionals.
Sometimes we need to make things right with others. If we offend someone, then go to that person and apologize and make it right. If we caused harm to someone, apologize and pay restitution to make that person whole again. (Lawyers often prevent you from doing this until a case is settled – do it later.)
Shame and guilt destroy lives. Don’t be their victim, stuck forever in the abyss. Don’t be a bottom feeder continuously grazing on the things you’re done wrong. Feed on love. That’s what God intended so that we become better people.
Our answer is God. God’s answer is us.