Shame is a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. It is a wound in our soul that, if not healed, will cause us to feel unworthy to be blessed or significant.
When I think of shame, my mind usually goes to big mistakes or sins one has committed (or has been committed against them) that cause great regret, embarrassment, and feeling less than others. Even though this deep shame is something we need to help people with, I want to address some unsuspected sources of shame that practically everyone faces.
I have recently taken an inventory of areas of my life where I have experienced shame. The shame I have felt concerning these was not a major humiliation or distress, but it manifested in embarrassment, feeling inferior to others, and in concluding I was not worthy to be radically blessed or greatly happy. It is this kind of shame I want to discuss today and the sources of it. I have listed some below that most of us will be able to relate to.
Common sources of shame that cause us to feel less than, embarrassed, and unworthy:
Appearance Shame – Almost everyone has things about their appearance they do not like. As we compare ourselves to airbrushed models, we all come up short. Advertisements and the media are unrelenting in their depiction of what beauty is and none of us reach it.
Family Situation Shame – This is another area where few do not have potential shame-inducing situations. Whether it is singleness, divorce, addictions, being childless, abuse, adult children not following Jesus, or other dysfunctions, family dynamics can be a shame producer.
Life Accomplishments Shame – As people get older, many battle shame for not having done more with their lives.
Education Shame – Numerous people feel bad for not going further in school and feel less than those with greater education.
Vocation Shame – Society esteems some vocations highly while it also labels others as lesser jobs to have. If we are employed in a non-esteemed job for our age, we will most likely fight some level of shame for that.
Spiritual Gifts Shame – The church tends to exalt those with public ministry gifts or who have a great anointing to see dramatic things happen. Those called into such things as administration, pastoring, and function in the gifts of helps (1 Corinthians 12:28) can feel inferior for not doing “spectacular” things.
Embarrassing Things We Have Done Shame – We have all done stupid things. Whether it is tripping in front of a group of people, saying something dumb, or something else, we can be tempted to negatively rehearse embarrassing moments over and over.
Possessions Shame – Examples of this are our car, our house, the clothes we wear, jewelry, furniture, phones or gadgets, types of vacations we take, etc.,
Christian Commitmentand Good Works Shame – Many walk in shame because they do not believe they are committed to God enough or not doing enough good works. Shame, condemnation, and guilt are not God’s instruments to bring someone to Him or closer to Him.
What can we do about these low-grade sources of shame?
Cultivate thankfulness for what you have – The vast majority of the people in the world would like to trade places with you.
Recognize everyone has to overcome some level of shame – There is not something uniquely wrong with you.
Know Jesus took your shame on the cross – He hung naked on a cross taking not only your sins, but your shame.
See shame-feeling moments as a growth opportunity – Recognize the moments when you feel inferior and unworthy, and see it as an opportunity to grow in celebrating who you are, praying for those who seem to be better than you.
Understand everyone has issues and you have something to offer every person – “The greatest will be the servant of all” (Matthew 23:11).
God is supernaturally helping us to overcome unsuspected shame in this hour, and we are empowered to help others do so as well.
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Steve Backlund was a senior pastor for seventeen years before joining the team at Bethel Church in Redding, CA in 2008. Steve is a leader developer, joy activist, a revivalist teacher, and as Senior Associate Director, is a key part of the Global Legacy (a ministry of Bethel Church) leadership team. He travels extensively throughout the world encouraging churches and leaders and has authored a number of books.