Podcast Episode 82 – Is Shame Necessary?

Jul 3, 2023 | Podcast

I’m Diana Swillinger, and you’re listening to The Renew Your Mind podcast. Episode 82 Is Shame Necessary? 

DIANA: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the renew your Mind podcast. I am, um, not doing question and answer today, but I invited Rianon in here because however long ago it was, I don’t know. I did two podcasts on Shame, so it could be both of them. But one time when we were chatting, I asked her if she had thoughts about shame or heard anything about that podcast. And she’s like, yes. The thing about shame is it’s just a really broad topic. It’s understood in many different ways by many different people. And that’s fine. We’re not going to solve all of the differences about how we think about shame here. But I think it’s such an important topic and it’s at the root of everything that it’s worth a little more discussion. So since Rianon said she had a couple of thoughts or questions, I’m not sure what and she’d heard a couple of things, I’m like, let’s talk about it. I think we ended up hi, Rianon. I think you and I had a discussion once when we were going to record for something else. We ended up talking 15 minutes about shame, and we could have kept going. I’m like, oh, wait, we got to stop and do this for a podcast, right? I think what originally sent me on this journey of doing some episodes on shame was having a Facebook discussion with a stranger about it. And we weren’t arguing, but we were discussing. I mean, I guess that’s argument I always tell my kids, arguing doesn’t mean you’re angry. It just means that you’re each sharing different points back and forth. So I guess we were arguing it, but she was saying, shame is necessary to bring us to the feet of God. Shame is necessary to move us to want to change and become more Christlike. And shame is a part of the Christian experience. And if we sin or do something that wouldn’t be God approved, we should feel shame. We should feel shame. And I was like, I don’t know about that. What do you think? 

Rianon: Well, um, yeah, I really enjoyed listening to that podcast. Um, I felt like I was trying to put myself in your shoes and then also this other lady’s shoes and imagine the scenario and what is going on. And I think my first question would be, what is the definition of shame? Because as I’m listening to this, I’m wondering maybe are there different definitions of shame? Like is it possible that someone has a different perspective of what it is and what it isn’t? 

DIANA: I’m sure, and you know me, I’m a word person, but most of the population doesn’t go look up words. We just take whatever definition we’ve grown accustomed to and we carry it around and we think that’s what it means. So I’m sure we all have lots of different perceptions. And I love I just opened up the Webster Dictionary app, ah, which is front and center on my phone because I use it all the time. But the very first definition that came up for shame is a painful emotion caused by conscientiousness of guilt, shortcoming or impropriety. So it’s just a painful emotion when our conscious is telling us we did something wrong or not good enough. Another definition is a condition of humiliating, disgrace or disrepute. And I think I’m not going to look up disrepute, but disgrace. When we think of feeling disgraced, we’re like, oh my gosh, there is something reprehensible or morally unacceptable about that person or their behavior. Like they should be ashamed of themselves, they should be humiliated, whatever. So I think that’s the definition where and then it makes sense too. The first definition says it’s a painful emotion, it creates physical pain. When we feel shame, if we really stopped and let ourselves sit in the emotion and see what it does in our bodies, it does create physical discomfort. Mhm, so does that match what you think about shame? Rianon and that’s not a religious, uh, perspective, that’s just the dictionary so far, right? 

Rianon: Well, yeah, actually I have another question since you mentioned the religious thing too, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Um, but I guess because you’re in the mental health field and I know that you are a big reader and you’re constantly researching, um, obviously if you’re going to talk about shame, you’re going to talk about Brene Brown. And I know you did another podcast, um, not too long ago and mentioned her, but I feel like the dictionary definition versus Brene Brown’s definition are a little different because the dictionary definition you’re like, okay, painful emotion. When we’re aware of guilt, that would seem like, okay, maybe we should feel shame. But I think when you look into, um, the works of Brene Brown, I think the way she, uh, just her definition, very short and sweet is, um, guilt is I did something wrong and shame is or I did something bad and shame is I am bad. Is that correct? Is that kind of how you would see that? Uh, and I think if you kind of go with her definition, not all. 

DIANA: Theologians and psychologists agree on that, but I have found that differentiation to be extremely helpful to me. Because if I do something that I am not okay with, feeling guilt feels more like I’m being conscientious or I have some conviction, mhm, like, that isn’t how I’d like to show up. That isn’t who I’d like to be. If I could do that again, I’d do it differently in the future. I want to do it differently. I would like to make amends. I would like to apologize. I would like to do what I can to make this right. So that’s kind of how I think of guilt. I did something wrong. And then it leads me to, um, repentance or restoration or I’m moving forward in a positive direction. Shame, when we take it to that deeper level, which is why I think this differentiation that you offered is useful, because it allows us to recognize that shame takes us down deeper into a pit of, um, there’s something wrong with me. How can I be the kind of person that would do that thing? There must be something broken in me. I’m not okay? And a lot of self judgment to the point of and this is why people have heard me say it. I say it all the time, but I know when I’m feeling shame because I want to hide. If I’m in public, I want to go around the corner behind the bathrooms where nobody is, and, uh, nobody can see me. If I’m at home, I want to go in my bedroom or in the closet. 

At other times, my bed is near a wall and there’s like a two foot space where I walk through. I’ve gone in there, grabbed the pillow off my bed, and laid on the floor between the bed and the wall so I could hide. That’s different from guilt. That’s like, I need to get in a shell. I need to go away. There’s something wrong with me. I don’t know if I’m jumping ahead now, but this is where if we just take it back to the experience of emotion, and honestly, if we take it back to, um, the process, I use the Mind shift tool, what you think, what you feel, what you do. If we put guilt and shame or one or the other, not at the same time in, uh, the box about what you feel. Forget whatever thought got you there, but you have the feeling of guilt or shame what you do, which is what comes out of your emotion, what you think, what you feel, what you do, what you do when you feel those emotions is going to be very different. And so I looked through the Bible for verses about shame and what I found primarily, and I don’t have them all in front of me. Um, and I’m not a theologian. So my understanding, as I did, looking through the Bible, is the verses about shame are what is being offered to be cast on evil people. 

The enemies, their consequence will be shame. They should be ashamed. Let shame be put upon them. God will shame them. Okay? So shame is used over and over again as a consequence, put forth onto evil people and enemies. And then the other places where the authors have disclosed their own shame. It’s usually coupled with some admittance of, uh, feeling separated from God in some way or having hidden themselves from God because of their shame. I mean, what did Adam and Eve do when they realized they were naked? They hid. They felt ashamed. That was the first existence of shame. It’s a separator from God. So now if we go all the way back to what started my first podcast on shame, with that person online saying we should feel shame when we sin, I’m like, well, it’s true by definition that sin um, yeah, sin can create the consequence of shame. Consequence meaning, um, in sequence. Once there’s sin in sequence, it can lead to shame, but not that we should feel shame. So shame is now not something I think that we should feel to help us become better people. I think that’s worthless. If we’re trying to feel shame, we’re purposely separating ourselves from God or hiding away. Instead, we can use shame as a beacon or an alarm or a piece of awareness where it’s like, oh, shoot, I feel like hiding in the closet or around the corner or on the floor. I feel like hiding. That means I’m feeling shame. That means I’m going to be trying to turn away from God instead of turning toward Him for healing. Now, what do I want to do with that? 

Rianon: Mhm, well, and I just think about the example with Adam and Eve too. Um, when they felt shame in the garden, their response was not, I’m so sorry, God. I shouldn’t have done this. What can I do? They hid. And so just like you said. So it’s like kind of what you were saying before about guilt versus shame. Their response was to blame each other. Right? I mean, Adam was like, it’s the woman you put here with me. And then Eve is like, no, it was the snake. He deceived me. So when we’re in shame, we’re probably not going to be, uh, taking responsibility for our actions because I feel like it can be this almost unbearable feeling and you’re just trying to kind of put those negative feelings away from yourself. Um, and another thing too, I guess I will kind of go ahead to the question I was thinking about before, but is, um, more so a comment? But sometimes, uh, we feel shame without sin too, right? I mean, would you say that there are some examples that maybe we feel shame and we haven’t actually done anything wrong? 

DIANA: Absolutely. And again, this is why I love the Mind Shift tool so much. It’s basically I’ve said it before too. Look up cognitive behavioral therapy if you want to. It’s just my version of that. But what you think, what you feel, what you do, if you’re going to be feeling shame. It’s not because of what you do that’s after. It’s because of a thought. Now, we have superpower brains. We can think whatever we want. Sometimes our brains offer a bunch of automatic thoughts, and sometimes we decide to grab onto those and believe them. Or we’ll think of one on our own. I mean, I guess we could even, um, think of it on purpose if what we really want to do is hide for some other reason. But feeling shame doesn’t mean something’s been you’ve done something wrong. It only means you’re having a thought that is creating shame. Now, even if, uh, I know people are saying, but if shame is a consequence of sin, then it does come after what you do. Well, cognitive behavioral therapy is a loop. What you think, what you feel, what you do, goes back to what you think, what you feel, what you do. And it keeps going. 

So let’s say I was given a $20 bill for change at the store, and I was supposed to be given a single. And I see it in my hand and I’m like, I’m walking away with this. And I go out to the car. I don’t instantly feel shame. In fact, uh, some people who do that say, it’s not me. Somebody else does it. They’re like, this is my lucky day. And they feel amazing. They feel grateful. They might even think, God blessed me because you can think whatever you want. I am not a saint, but the way I am today, I’m the kind of person who even if I did that, in a moment, I’d get to the car and I would think, oh my gosh, I can’t believe I did that. I’m a terrible person. What kind of person would do that? I didn’t say anything. What’s wrong with me? And then I would feel shame. Mhm or an alternative would be like, that was a mistake. You know better. That’s not the kind of person you want to be. Go back in, fix it. That might be guilt, where I’m like, I’m getting that nudge with my conscience that I didn’t do what I wanted to do. And then I feel guilty, but I haven’t thought, something’s wrong with me anyway. 

It’s still coming from whatever I’m thinking about it. It’s coming from my thoughts. Mhm that’s why Satan so powerful. Father of lies. If he can get in there and he can start a little seed of, there’s something wrong with you, you screwed up again, what kind of person are you? And I don’t think he’s constantly whispering those thoughts. I think he drops one in like a little seed, and then we latch onto it and we continue to think it. And we let that thought grow and we let the shame grow with it. Mhm? 

Rianon: Yeah. So you believe that shame is not necessary for motivating someone to change. Is that correct? 

DIANA: Yeah. Why would it be? Especially if shame is the kind of emotion that leads us to behavior where we want to go hide, not look at God, not face people we’d rather pass blame off on them than feel the shame. How is that helping us? Mhm how is that motivating us to better behavior? 

Rianon: It’s not exactly different. 

DIANA: Emotions motivate us to the kind of behavior we want. They might not be comfortable emotions, but I mean, for me, when I really want to change something about me, I’m usually going to something like commitment or determined or another emotion like that. And, um, I don’t necessarily find those to be comfortable emotions, but they’re very useful. Those motivate me to change. Those motivate me to become the kind of person I want. And as Christians, when we want to become more Christ like, I would argue that love for God and love for Christ is a much bigger motivation for spiritual growth and spiritual reformation than shame will ever be. Shame has us hiding our face. Love has us leaning in. Where are we going to get more from God to help us grow? 

Rianon: Absolutely. Yes. That’s so true. And, um, a little digression, but something I feel like I’ve really learned from you is like focusing on what you do want. I feel like I have been the kind of person for a lot of my life who is always focusing on the problem. And focusing on the problem is helpful, right? So you can identify what it is and that’s where it ends. When you’re just focusing on the problem over and over and over again, you’re attracting more negative thoughts and you’re not happy. And I feel like you’re always like, what do you want? And just through the coaching. So, um, I think that’s so true. And to focus on who God is like, God is love. So I’m just curious if shame is not necessary for motivating change, what fears do you think Christians might have in not using shame as a tool to get someone to change? I’m just thinking of this moderator on this Facebook conversation. What do you think the fears are there of Christians to go, oh, we don’t need to shame people, uh, or we don’t need to just wallow in our shames? What are the fears? 

DIANA: Well, I, uh, think as much as shame is a natural consequence of sin, the fear is what if we remove the consequence? Like if, if we are no longer punishing ourselves with a painful emotion, will we ever want to do anything good? I don’t know if that’s cultural or if that’s just humanity, but we tend to think if somebody does something wrong, you think of parenting or teaching or um, in a work situation, we’re like, oh, there needs to be a consequence, otherwise they’ll never learn. But I don’t think that’s true. I mean, have you ever learned anything without there being a negative consequence? 

Rianon: I’m sure that I have, yeah. 

DIANA: I mean, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head either. Maybe I will, as we’re talking. But, uh, I think we just think that’s the way it’s supposed to work. If we do something wrong, if we sin, well, there’s got to be a consequence. But then what was Christ doing on the cross if we’re supposed to bear the consequence of our sin? I’ve learned that he’s come to bear the consequence of our sin. 

Rianon: Well, yes, and taking away the shame, um, is probably the biggest thing. Right. Because sin did separate us from God, but that’s the connector right there is through Jesus. And so I don’t see that it’s necessary to purposefully feel shame. I think it’s going to happen, but it’s not exactly it’s not necessary. And I wonder, too, sometimes if Christians are, um, afraid that, um, if we’re not using shame as a tool, that we’re somehow not taking sin seriously. That was another thought that came up in my mind of, is it like, if you don’t feel shame, then we’re not, um, taking sin seriously, um, or that we maybe don’t need God. Maybe that is another thing that people are afraid of, that people might not feel the need for God. 

DIANA: I don’t know. 

Rianon: What are your thoughts on that? 

DIANA: Yeah, well, maybe that’s why we have such a huge punitive legal system in our country and all over the world, because people think we need all of these consequences. What? I can speak from best. I mean, I’ve already talked about the process of working through what you think, what you feel, what you do, and that practical sense of, um, that. But for me, when I have felt even guilty, where I haven’t resolved it, where it’s just been hanging there, or I have felt shame and I haven’t resolved it, it hasn’t helped me grow. I think when I was deep in allowing those emotions to just hang out with me, like, oh, I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve what God has for me. I mean, I accept it, but, uh, I don’t really deserve it. So, God, I just want you to know, I know I don’t deserve it. I’m such a wretch. I’m such a terrible sinner. I was stunting my growth in so many ways. Uh, again, that would be focusing on the problem, like you were saying. Randon right. Like, I’m the problem. I’m a sinner. I need to focus on being the problem and being a sinner. That’s how we’ll fix it. But I was spinning my wheels and I was stuck. And my greatest freedom in growing, the more love I feel, the more compassion I feel, the more grace I feel for myself, the more I’m able to go outward with it. And what I’ve found is this loop of love and compassion and joy from God to me, to others, and back to me and back to God. And like this continuous flow, no condemnation required, which, by the way, um, I don’t know if it’s first or second, corinthians there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. I don’t need to condemn me. And when I stop condemning me, it does not mean I don’t care about being more Christlike.

Instead, it frees me up to be more Christlike. I’m not shackling myself with these painful emotions that pull me down in the pit. I am now free. And, uh, that’s why I say love is a motivator, because I love God. I love him. There’s nothing more I want in my life than to love and serve Him. And he’s taught me, as I love Him, to love myself and break those chains of bondage I was putting on myself and be free to be me in that freedom. All I want to do is respond to God. What do you have for me? I’m here. You know, it’s like a little kid who just loves her dad or her or her mom or her grandpa or whoever that person is, if we remember who it was for us when we were little. 

For me, my dad, and he wasn’t a perfect man, but anytime he’s like, do you want to come do this with me? Do you want me to teach you this? Can I tell you a story? Do you want to play a game? Uh, whatever. Do you want to go to work with me? He was a dentist. He had to do an emergency procedure on a Saturday. Every single time. I’m like, yes, dad. Yes. I want to come. Show me what you’re doing. I want more. That’s what I do with God now, because I don’t have shame. I mean, shame creeps up, but then I’m like, all right, God, I’m feeling shame. Let’s shine a light on it. Let’s deal with it. Let’s not hide. And I just want more of him. And I want to serve him more. And I want to do my part in his kingdom to get love and compassion out there and serve other people. Did I answer your question? 

Rianon: Yeah, absolutely. Um, and just kind of on your shame being a consequence, but it doesn’t mean we have to stay there. It’s kind of like there’s going to be, um, a lot of brokenness and, um, wars and fighting and lots of stuff in the world, but that doesn’t mean we just embrace it in the sense that we go, yep, this is a consequence of sin. Let’s just do this. I think that kind of what you’re saying, is God and his love. That’s the answer. Focus on that. Um, even just when I first started working with you as a client, I think I had a lot I mean, I’ve dealt with a lot of shame in my life, too, for various reasons, and not necessarily because of things I’ve done. I mean, I feel like shame can come from things like physical appearance. And I’m not saying that that’s me. 

But I’m just saying there’s lots of different things that could come from your financial, um, situation or something that doesn’t even have to do with sin. Um, but I think one of the things that drew me to you is that I did feel like, okay, I can tell her how I really feel. And that is when you do feel this freedom like you were just saying, is when you feel like you can be open and honest and be yourself. So kind of what I hear you saying, too, is that’s what you’re focusing on with that relationship with God? You don’t have to hide. And that’s definitely going to be more transformational than pretending and hiding and trying to stay away from God or turn to other things that are going to temporarily make you feel better. 

DIANA: All right, well, people have probably heard the, uh, whole reason I drank alcohol was because of the pain of shame and grief. But those two deep pains, I was ashamed of my life and what was happening in my marriage, and I was grieving the loss of my sister. And I didn’t want to feel either pain. And we’ll do it in other ways. Like my mom says, we turn our shame to blame or when we are deeply disappointed in ourselves and think we’re a bad person, we, uh, try to alleviate the pain in some way. And if we’re not going to turn to God for his healing of that shame by being like, here I am, well, I’m kind of bouncing over here, but let me go here. When we turn to God and we’re, um, like, let’s put a light on it. Here I am. Here’s what’s wrong with me? If we do that, in all sincerity, he’s going to reveal I love you just as you are. 

The secret is I don’t expect anybody on Earth to go sin free. You know what? It’s not possible. And I don’t conditionally love you guys. All of you. Each of you. Whether you sin or don’t sin, I just love you as you are. You don’t need to hide. You don’t need to hide. Once again, I lost my train of thought. If I even answered your question. 

Rianon: No, I’m like, yes, that’s wonderful. How do you feel after hearing that? Let’s, um, end there. 

DIANA: You know what? Let’s end there. So this is my third podcast on shame as of late, and I am going to let this one rest for a little while. But of course, if anyone has any questions about this, just go to my website, find me, send me a message, or go to Facebook and Instagram. Wherever you are, find me, send me a message. I love having conversations. I’m here. Um, I’m available. I will answer your questions at any time. And if you have a question you want answered on the podcast, which is not we were doing today, but that’s how you guys know Rhiannon. You go chat with Rhiannon in the Facebook group, the Renew Your Mind Community on Facebook, and, uh, we’ll have a dialogue there and get your questions answered on the podcast if you’d like to do that. So I guess that’s it for today. Anything you want to leave us with, Rianon? 

Rianon: No, just thank you. I always appreciate your insight and bringing the biblical truth with, uh, the psychology life coach part. Um, that’s wonderful. Thank you. 

DIANA: You’re welcome. I’m a person trying to figure it out. 

Rianon: Aren’t we all? 

DIANA: Yeah. And in the process, finding more joy, more hope, more peace. So it’s worth the journey. All right, well, thanks for being with us today, Rianon. And thank you all for joining us again. That’s it for today. I’ll talk to you next week. Until then, take care of you.

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