Why is it important to know the difference between guilt and shame? Although many people use the two words “guilt” and “shame” interchangeably, from a psychological perspective they actually refer to different experiences. Guilt and shame sometimes do go hand in hand. The same action may cause feelings of both shame and guilt. And shame and guilt can weigh us down throughout our life, or we can choose to deal with guilt and shame in the light of God’s word and promises. We can find forgiveness and freedom. Read on for more about how to deal with guilt and shame in your life.
Feeling Guilty and Depressed
Are you burdened, cast down, depressed? Do you feel dejected, unable to shake a feeling of worthlessness, rejection, or incompetence? Perhaps you think you are not able to measure up to your own ideals or the expectations of your family and friends?
Perhaps you feel the stigma of guilt and shame. Somehow, there seems always to be that dark and foreboding cloud around you, preventing you from being joyful and able to live a life filled with hope and promise. Perhaps you have identified it as the sin problem – the unforgiven sin problem. The problem with which we all must deal.
Difference Between Guilt and Shame
Guilt and shame are sometimes used interchangeably. However, research points to the belief that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt.
The consensus is that guilt is adaptive and helpful—it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values, resulting in feelings of psychological discomfort.
Shame, on the other hand, may be identified as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. It may be something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do that makes us feel unworthy of connection. If we do not deal with our guilt, we will feel shame.
Or, perhaps more succinctly, we feel guilty for what we do, and shame for who we are.
Shame is neither helpful nor productive. Actually, shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure.
Feelings of shame can be painful and debilitating, affecting one’s core sense of self, and may invoke a self-defeating cycle of negativity.
In comparison, feelings of guilt, though painful, are less disabling than shame and are likely to motivate the individual to move in a positive direction toward repentance, reparation, and change.
Experiencing Guilt and Shame
The woman taken in the act of adultery and dragged to a public street for a public stoning, as recorded in the Bible in John 8:1-ll, experienced guilt and shame. Publicly chastised, thrown into the dirt, guilty and full of shame. But we see that Jesus knelt down to her, touched her, and told her that he did not condemn her. Read her story here.
Can you imagine the relief after thinking she was going to be stoned to death? But Jesus reached down to her, gave her his hand, and lifted her up. And said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Guilt can serve the purpose of “keeping us in line.” We know the feeling that something is not right, we have stepped across a line of demarcation. It serves as an instrument of corralling us, helps us stay the course, and keeps us connected to our basic belief patterns. In its best sense, guilt brings us to apologize, seek forgiveness, and alter our paths.
There is Always Hope for You
If we don’t deal with our guilt, we feel shame. But there is always Hope! The Blessed Hope that is provided only through the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Shame has an enemy – called grace – and through the grace of God, we can be forgiven and live justified – just as if we had never sinned. Jesus takes our guilt and our shame. Because of his great love, we can know victory over shame.
Hebrews 10:17 wipes the slate clean with:“Their sins I will remember no more.”
Grace says no judgment. Grace stands us up on our feet and lifts our heads. Grace says you are forgiven – because Jesus Christ died for your guilt and shame and rose again, victorious over sin and death.
Forgiveness for Guilt and Shame
Wow! Just like the woman whose accusers walked away, dropping their stones, we too are forgiven. Jesus bends down into our dirt, loves us, forgives us, and comes to live within us to give us strength to live the life that was intended for us to live. Read 8 Ways to Forgive Yourself here.
Isaiah 43 continues: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake and remembers your sins no more.”
A beautiful song expresses it like this:
“Shackled by a heavy burden
‘Neath a load of guilt and shame.
Then the hand of Jesus touched me.
And now I am no longer the same.”
Grace, Beautiful Grace
Grace, beautiful grace. No more guilt, no more shame. Power to walk away from the things that made us feel dirty, worthless, unloved, and defeated. Jesus is the answer. You can be a new person today. Please watch the Great News For You video on this page to find out how you can know Jesus today.
Romans 8 – “There is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” v 1-2.
Understanding forgiveness from sin enables us to live a life of resilience and joy.
The same power that forgives will also sustain us and give us strength to go forward after major losses, failures, and disappointments.
That same Jesus will not only forgive, but will walk with us, comfort us, and give us strength to try again. And through that faith in Jesus Christ, we will be welcomed into heaven when our life here on earth is over. What a wonderful Savior! God offers this forgiveness to all who will believe.
Do not delay seeking and finding the truth. The Word of God assures us that the promises are for all who believe. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7-8 assures us that God’s promises are for all. Jesus is the answer.