Set Free From Shame

by Tim Tracy

What Is Shame?

Shame is a difficult emotion to express. You may experience it as a feeling of not being good enough, a worry that there’s something wrong with you, or an overwhelming feeling that you’re bad, dirty, or inferior. 

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, social researcher Brene Brown explains, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

Psychologist William Gaultiere notes, “Shame is the most painful and destructive of all emotional states.  To feel ashamed is to believe yourself to be bad and rejected for your badness.  You think you are worthless and unloveable.  You reject yourself and expect others, including God, to reject you.  You look at what is wrong with you (or what seems wrong) and say, “That’s me and I’m bad!”  In other words, when you’re ashamed you’re identifying yourself with a bad part of you or a bad thing that was done to you.”

I can relate to what these authors are saying, because a large part of my life was overshadowed by deep, crippling shame.  In a previous article I wrote about having what the apostle Paul called “a thorn in the flesh” (you can read that post here).  Whenever that thorn was triggered, I was overwhelmed with feelings of shame.  I went through extensive counseling because of this.  It took many years to find release and healing.

Back in 2013 I found a test for shame online (you can find it here.)  The test was to determine if shame is an issue in your life.  When I took the test then, I identified with 14 out of 28 statements– that’s half!  (That certainly qualifies me as an expert in writing on this topic).  By the way, I’m happy to say that when I took the test again eleven years later, my score had dropped to only 3– proof that healing from shame is possible!

Some people confuse shame with guilt, but they are not the same thing. Guilt is a healthy emotion you experience when you do or say something that fails to live up to your moral code or when you don’t meet society’s expectations.  Guilt is helpful in that it often prompts us to correct our poor behavior.

On the other hand, shame is not a healthy emotion.  Shame is the result of a faulty self perception.  Guilt is the feeling you have when you’ve done something wrong.  Shame is the feeling that you are something wrong, that you are inferior or broken.

What Causes Shame?

According to the Christian website, several factors contribute to the development of shame.  These include:

  • Sin and mistakes.  We have all sinned and made mistakes.  But some sins carry with them shame that tries to attach itself and alter your life.  If you don’t let God not only forgive you but remove the shame, you will continue to struggle.
  • Pain and abuse.  Some people struggle with shame not because of their choices but because of what was done to them.  No one can answer why God allowed those things to happen to you, but God can heal your heart and help you overcome that shame.
  • Awkward and uncomfortable experiences.  Sometimes false guilt is heaped upon us by others (“bad boy”, “naughty, naughty”, “Shame on you!”)  Intense feelings of insecurity in social settings can also trigger shame.

In my case, all three of these were present.  I experienced frequent verbal and emotional abuse, bullying, and rejection in my childhood.  This made me feel abnormal and different, which heightened my social anxiety.  Then, in an effort to numb the pain, I made poor choices and engaged in sinful activity.  This only reinforced the shame and led to an addictive cycle which took years to break.

What Are The Effects Of Shame?

Shame is one of Satan’s favorite tactics, because so often it leads to a sense of hopelessness and despair.  He knows that emotionally crippled Christians are seldom effective or fruitful.  Shame often holds them back from even trying.

Here are some of the effects of shame:

  • Shame distorts your self perception—  It causes you to believe that you’re ugly, unworthy, damaged, worthless.  Those are all lies, though.  The truth is that you are a unique and dearly loved creation of God.  When He looks at you, He sees a masterpiece, not a mess.  (And if you have trouble believing that, shame is speaking to you.)
  • Shame makes you wear masks—  Sometimes shame will drive you to workaholism, perfectionism, or people-pleasing in an attempt to hide your shame and compensate for your insecurities.  This will often lead you to burnout, another problem you don’t need.
  • Shame handcuffs you to past pain— It causes you to relive the trauma you’ve experienced, bringing past pain into the present.  Satan uses this tactic to prevent you from receiving the healing God offers.  God can help you to forgive those who hurt you.  He can repair all the damage and heal your broken heart.
  • Shame prevents you from receiving love—  When you believe you are “damaged goods,” it’s difficult to receive love from God and others.  You feel you don’t deserve it.  But real love is never earned.  Love is a gift, and God says you’re worth it.
  • Shame steals your joy—  People suffering from shame have a poor self image and low self esteem, and often battle depression because of this.  But Psalm 3:3 says, “But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory and the One who lifts my head high.”  God is more than able to replace your sadness with gladness.
  • Shame drives you to destructive behaviors—  It is all too easy to try to numb the pain with alcohol, drugs, sex or pornography.  And it works– for awhile.  But then you’re left with guilt on top of the recurring pain.  Self-medicating won’t bring true relief.  You need to let the Holy Spirit move in your life.

Does any of this sound familiar?  If you are struggling with shame, the good news is that there is hope!

You Can Be Set Free From Shame!

If you want to live free, you’ll need to unpack your shame, to examine it and discover its source. You need to understand what’s causing these feelings and how they developed.  Once you know that, you can begin to release shame and other negative emotions so you can experience healing and peace.

This process has two steps:

 The first step to freedom from shame is to bring it out of the darkness and into the light.

When most people experience shame, they want to hide. It’s normal to want to isolate yourself when you’re feeling shame. But although the feeling is common, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. 

A better option is to share your story with someone who won’t judge you.  This could be a counselor, pastor, or a trusted close friend.  You have been carrying this burden alone for too long.  But you don’t have to deal with that pain alone. 

Choose the person you disclose your shame to carefully. You want a kind listener who is compassionate, someone you trust not to tell your secrets to others and who won’t treat you any differently afterwards.

When you’re ready to have the conversation with your friend, find a comfortable space. You want to pick a location that makes you feel safe.

If you’re struggling with how to put it in words, it might be helpful to think about some of these questions:

  • What event or conversation caused you to feel shame?
  • How did that moment make you feel?
  • How does it make you feel now?
  • What message have you carried around because of that moment?
  • How does this message affect your life?

You may want to ask your friend to let you tell your story without interruption. This can give you the space you need to be vulnerable and process what happened.

When you’re done, give your friend a chance to talk without interrupting. Listen to what they are really saying and allow their compassion to become your compassion.

Sharing your shame isn’t easy.  Being vulnerable can be frightening but it’s also freeing. When someone else knows about your pain, you no longer have to carry it alone. Now, you have a friend to walk with you on your journey toward healing.

 The second step to freedom from shame is to get control of your thoughts.

When you’re living with shame, it can be easy to let it dominate your thoughts. You may find yourself thinking unkind thoughts about yourself or others. When things go wrong, you might say, “Of course this happened. I don’t deserve anything good.” Or “Why would anyone like me? I’m a pathetic loser!”

If thoughts like these continually play in your mind, you don’t have to despair. There are two things you should know about your thoughts.

1. Your Thoughts Aren’t Always True

Some people make the mistake of believing every thought they have.  But not every thought is true.   Consider this: for centuries, most people believed the earth was flat. It was an untrue thought that had been passed around for generations. And they believed it.

You may have thought patterns that were passed from generation to generation, too. Maybe you think thoughts like, “I’m destined to be a loser. Everyone in my family is.” Or “Good things don’t happen to people like us.”

Take some time to observe your thoughts. You don’t have to call them out as right or wrong. Just listen to them and pay attention to the ones that bring you shame or make you feel poorly about yourself. 

2. You Can Change Your Thoughts

The Bible has a lot to say about our thoughts.  One of my favorite verses is Romans 12:2,  “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Ask yourself:  Is it God’s will for me to suffer in shame?  In case you’re not sure, the answer is No!  And the way out of shame is to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  This means finding out what God says about you, not what shame says.

This is why it is so important for believers to understand their identity in Christ.  I was a Christian for decades before I discovered this truth.  When I finally began to see and believe who I was in Christ, my shame dramatically decreased.

Understand that not all of your thoughts are yours.  Some are, but some thoughts come from the Holy Spirit speaking to your spirit.  And some thoughts are from your enemy, the devil.  Satan will plant thoughts in your mind.  But remember, the devil is a liar– nothing he tells you is true.  So any thoughts from Satan are lies.  You need to stop listening to him and stop believing what he says about you.

God’s words, in contrast, are always true.  You can always believe what God says about you.  So in order to transform your mind, you need to get into God’s Word, find out what He says about you, and start declaring it over your life!

An easy way to do this is to use the list by Dr. Neil Anderson, “Who I Am In Christ” (you can find it here).  Print the list out and recite it daily.  I did this for several years.  At first when I read the statements I’d have thoughts like, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”  I knew this was Satan, though, so I persevered.  And after awhile I found I did start believing what I was reading!  I was renewing my mind with the truth of God’s Word, and tossing out the lies of the enemy! 

For additional reinforcement, get a journal and copy the statements (in cursive if possible– studies have founded that information written in cursive is more readily retained by the brain).  If you’re the artistic type, you can even use colored markers and draw fancy borders.  Have some fun with it!

Changing your thoughts isn’t easy and it usually takes a long time before you feel like you’re making any progress. But stick with it and you will see results.

I have found significant release from shame by following these steps.  But I would like to add a few notes.  If your shame was the result of trauma, it may be necessary to get professional psychological counseling.  Be sure to find out if the therapist is accepting of your Christian beliefs; if not, that therapist may not be the right fit for you.

Also, in order to be truthful and transparent, I need to admit that there are times in my life when shame still rears its ugly head.  I still have that “thorn in the flesh” I mentioned earlier, and when it is triggered I still feel some shame.  But it is nowhere near as debilitating as it once was, and now that I know my true identity in Christ, I am better equipped to deal with it.  A good scripture to remember in those moments is Romans 10:11, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”  And that’s the truth!

(For further reading on this topic, I recommend -the ebook A Pilgrim’s Guide to Overcoming Shame by Robert Weston, published by


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Related Posts:

“A Thorn In My Flesh

“What You Need To Believe About God And You”

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