Have You No Shame?

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Shame – a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. a feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong. : ability to feel guilt, regret, or embarrassment. : dishonor or disgrace. Merriam Webster Dictionary


It has been a very interesting on social media today.

On a Homeschooling site a woman posted about wanting feedback on how to deal with a 12 year old daughter who had been disrespectful. I related how my mom dealt with me when I smarted off (Tabasco sauce on tongue and getting my mouth washed out with soap.) One young lady responded that she was sorry that I had gone through such an ordeal. I replied that my mom was a great mom who loved me and that I was glad she hadn’t put up with my disrespect. The comments kept going back and forth between the two of us with the other girl stressing how it was wrong to “shame a child” and that shame was unbiblical. I responded that there was nothing wrong with good old fashioned shame, that it is a good deterrent to not repeating bad behavior. There is bad shame and then there is biblical shame which is good and beneficial.

I don’t think there is any worse emotion to experience than shame. I remember two distinct incidents in my past when I felt real shame and it made me never want to repeat them:

  1. The first was when I almost (ALMOST) shop lifted a bandanna out of a store at the age of 13. The store manager walked up to me and asked me if I was going to purchase it. I remember the heat of shame washing over me and of course I bought it and never ever did anything like that again. I truly felt ashamed and I should have.
  2. The second time was when I was complaining about someone at camp when I was a kid and didn’t realize she was standing two feet away from me and had heard it all. I felt total shame and I should have. I really hurt her feelings and there was nothing I could say or do to make up for it.

I think there is great value to be had in people feeling genuinely ashamed for behaving in a bad manner. You can see the results in the breakdown of our society everyday. Liberal college students have no shame destroying public property and physically assaulting anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

The LBGT community has no problem flaunting every sort of perverted behavior in gay pride parades (nudity, reenacting sexual acts etc.)

On a message string, there was a holier than thou, sanctimonious pharisee-type person pointing a finger of condemnation at fellow Christians he didn’t know at all and trying to shame them for being hearers of the word and not doers. Mind you the topic that prompted this guy’s tirade was a mom asking for prayer for her Christian son who longs to have a godly relationship with a nice Christian girl. This guy hijacked the entire conversation and has been lambasting everyone on there for being “carnal Christians”. In his case, the attempt to shame us all for imagined transgressions has backfired. He is still pointing the finger at me at this moment and I’m just not going to respond to him anymore. It’s pointless. He thinks he’s the only Christian on earth living his life the way Jesus would approve of.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s right to humiliate a child for the sake of humiliation but if there has been willful disobedience, oppositional defiance and blatant disrespect to one’s loving parents then I’m all for discipline that includes a healthy dose of shaming.

Below is a link to a post from Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s website that expresses more eloquently the value of shame in civilized society than I could ever say it.

The Value of Shame

9 Responses

  1. I have a very different perspective of shame and feel compelled to share. I understand your sentiment, but because of my own experience, I could never do or say anything that I believe would cause someone to feel shame. The definition repeatedly says shame is a feeling: humiliation, guilt, regret. Shame is related to our perception of ourselves, whether that perception is based on truth or lies. I prefer to focus on healthy guilt that is measured by behavior, whether that is breaking God’s commands or rebelling against a parent’s instructions. It is true we may feel ashamed because of actual sin and the need for repentance. But, what if the “wrong or foolish behavior” referenced in the definition is in one’s mind and not evident by actual behavior? I spent decades living with shame because of the feeling that I did something wrong, when in reality I was the victim of an abusive situation. I can handle guilt, when based on truth. I have no reason to be ashamed of who I am as a forgiven child of God. The words in a Big Daddy Weave song are very true for me: “God, I run into your arms. Unashamed because of mercy.” Thanks for listening.

    • Dear Caroline, I can understand what you’re getting at. After all, I had to leave an emotionally abusive situation behind me about ten years ago. It wasn’t easy.

      ‘Sorry’ was never enough. ‘I’ll try harder’ was never enough either.

      That relationship was toxic and had to go! I’ve worked hard to restore and regain a healthier view of myself, spiritually, mentally, emotionally… It hasn’t been easy.

      But there is a big difference between a healthy sense of shame caused by being forced to recognize a boundary between right and wrong that we’ve overstepped, and an abusive, inflicted sense of shame and guilt for not having measured up to someone’s completely unreasonable expectations (especially, our own).

      God uses feelings like guilt and shame to teach us to reach for and value the mercy, grace, and forgiveness He offers us in Jesus Christ. Our shame because of sin is contrasted with not needing to feel ashamed any longer because God’s mercy!

      If we didn’t know shame first, would we be able to understand or properly value the beautiful gift that being unashamed truly is?

      Anyway, just some food for thought…

  2. Carolyn Phillips

    There is an enormous difference between appropriate shame and inappropriate shame. Shame is a healthy response to something you’ve done that your heart tells you is wrong. Appropriate guilt and shame serve to shape and maintain character in us and in our children.

    Shame comes appropriately when we do or say something we believe we shouldn’t have. Its purpose is to MOVE US TO CHANGE the thoughts and behavior that we ourselves believe to be wrong. Beyond that push toward change, shame serves no purpose at all.

    Like every other emotion, we humans have misused shame so often that we’ve now convinced ourselves we’re justified in tossing it onto the ever-growing heap of “obsolete” tools of discipline. We’ve all known people who use guilt and shame like weapons in their effort to subdue and overpower others. They have no intention to offer forgiveness and acceptance, no matter how genuinely sorry their target may be.

    But it is guilt and shame that drive us to the cross to seek forgiveness and acceptance. And once we’ve been blessed with God’s forgiveness He establishes and/or restores our fellowship with Him. We are forgiven and guilt free! We need never ask His forgiveness for that offense again…He not only forgives, He forgets. Once we’re forgiven, feeling the need to ask forgiveness again is an example of inappropriate guilt and shame. To continue feeling guilty or letting someone drive us to guilt again, is not only counterintuitive, it’s just plain wrong!

    Without appropriate guilt, can we even understand what our own wrongs do to others around us? Ever known a Narcissist? Here’s someone who has mastered these pesky feelings of guilt and shame, and eliminated them. They are self-absorbed and unable to empathize with anyone else. They are arrogant, dangerous people. Appropriate guilt is a necessary, God-given tool for discipline that should be used sparingly, wisely, and with an eye to change…for ourselves as well as for our children. What man intends to make evil, God intended for good.

  3. I want to thank all of you who commented above on your very thoughtful and well thought responses to this post. You are all my dear friends.

  4. Mike Giron

    For the Christian, shame is a sure sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives. Without the sorrow of shame, why confess your sins? It certainly is uncomfortable and will make us wince, but a necessary part of our redemption. So don’t loose heart when you feel shame, it is God the Holy Spirit at work in your life.

  5. Wow, lots of great comments! It’s been interesting to read other people’s thoughts. Thank you. Regardless of our personal ideas on this topic, it is obvious we all believe the same thing: it is necessary for us to bow before the cross of Christ in repentance. Only Jesus can take away our guilt and shame. Thanks Marlayne, for getting the discussion started with your post.

    • Thank you for contributing your valuable feedback. I look forward to hearing from you again!

  6. I appreciate Mike’s comment that sometimes the “sorrow of shame” is a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit. That was what I thought of while reading your article, Marlayne. Thank you for articulating that so well!
    and I love the expression “sorrow of shame.”

  7. Linda McCoy

    I too, agree wholeheartedly with Mike’s response! The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin, so there is proper shame in response to our sin. Praise God for His forgiveness when we repent. He takes away our shame.

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