My Life

You and Shame

We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.” St. Pope John Paul II

After 365 days of victory, I blew it. Again. A few summers ago, I broke my yearlong streak of freedom and viewed pornography. I was crushed. Feelings of guilt overwhelmed me, I was right back where I was a year ago. As I sat there thinking of what I had done, I remembered I was dating someone. “How on earth am I going to tell him? How will he see me?” My guilt quickly turned into shame. I had wronged someone I loved. I felt frozen. I wanted to hide forever. I couldn’t see myself as a person who did something bad, but a person who was bad. I just couldn’t see a way out of this feeling, despite knowing I had found a way before.
A few days later, I felt most shame-free I had ever been thanks to the graces of an amazing God and the fellowship and love of those around me.

See, the difference between guilt and shame is in our identity. It’s the distinction between what we’ve done and who we are. If you have a healthy grasp on the Father’s love for you, running to Him for forgiveness is a no-brainer. But so often our sin is shoved right in our noses by the accuser. Satan twists our perception of the wrong done and guilt quickly turns in to shame. The new identity we take on that keeps us from love.

Guilt is a healthy feeling. You should feel a bit icky when you do something wrong. Shame is like a soul-swamp, a place we go when we know we have failed and fallen short. Instead of coming forward, we wander alone. We feel stuck in our sinful ways. It distorts reality and takes our sin and the guilt that follows and turns it into an unhealthy pattern of insecurity. We recognize the wrong we do, and instead of coming forward we hide. We clothe ourselves like Adam and Eve, afraid that God can’t possibly love us. Shame attaches itself to our identity and we no longer hear Christ cherishing us, but Satan accusing us. If you live long enough in shame, it can feel almost impossible to bring yourself in front of the cross.

Even shame is not big enough for God’s mercy. If you are tired of letting shame run the show, I’m happy to share some insight and heal with you.

For me, the source of my shame was a longtime relationship with pornography. I could go to Confession, seek absolution, and even appear to be doing well. But inside I was broken. There was always a part of me that “wasn’t good enough” because of what I had done. A Catholic girl with sexual sin in her past? No way was I good enough. No way was I good enough for the Eucharist to be placed on my tongue. No way was I even good! After a while, it was almost impossible to escape hearing those negative instructions to hide my heart away from His love.

If we find ourselves in a cycle of shame, there is usually a deeper wound — a wound Christ is so willing to address. For me, that was pornography. For you, that could be anything from addiction to negative body image. It could have been a one-time event that still leaves you shattered. Maybe shame for you is that voice that says you aren’t “Catholic enough,” “man enough,” or “woman enough” because of what you’ve done. No matter the sin or the place we find ourselves, we need to understand some non-negotiable truths. Shame is not your identity. You are…

Loved. Worthy. Wonderfully made. Cherished! Treasured and sought after. You do not fall short of these attributes and you do not exceed them. God is totally crazy about you! He sees past your actions. He sees past all of this shame. He knows you fully and wants to have a relationship with you. You were made in the image and likeness of a perfect and loving Creator. You were made for the light, not for darkness.

Seek Forgiveness

As Catholics, we have the wonderful ability to confess our sins and have them removed from our very soul. For some of us, hopping back in the confessional is the scariest thing out there. Be brave, have courage, and choose that healing. Pray before to make a good confession and pray for your priest. Don’t let shame hold you back from forgiveness. For others, confession has become a regular duty because of the nature of our sin. Going regularly is such a beautiful devotion, but sometimes it can become frustrating to go back again and again. If the sacrament of reconciliation feels like a chore, try challenging yourself. Sit face to face with your priest and engage in fruitful conversation. Expose the sin and be proactive, you might even want to try sticking with the same priest! Wherever you are in your battle with shame, one of the best things you can do is come out of hiding. Reveal yourself, He wants to see you!

Be Vulnerable with a Friend

Shame grows in the dark. Vulnerabilty allows us to be proactive about our guilt so we can live wholeheartedly without shame. When we share our struggles with friends, it’s no longer a controlling fear of failure, but a a failure we can grow from. Let Christ love you through the people in your life.

After falling back into my old sin that summer, I made a phone call that changed my life. Having someone remind me of my identity in Christ was essential to me rooting myself in vulnerable love and not shame.

If shame is something you’ve been struggling with long term, talk to a priest or your youth minister. They are willing to help and are excellent aids when we feel this way. Plus they are human too! They’ve been there.

Forgive Yourself

Now this, this is hard. He has forgiven you. It’s time to forgive yourself. Approach yourself with compassion. We are a church of sinners, a collection of people who are hurting and healing. Your sin is still a sin, but you don’t lose your right to joy. Something that stopped me from forgiving myself is that I realized I was afraid of joy. I had been clinging to this shame like a security blanket. That voice that shouts “You can’t do it! Who do you think you are! Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” is sometimes easier to listen to than the voice that says “You are loved”. Because if we forgive ourselves, what’s to stop us from living freely? That’s kind of scary! As Christians, this is the life we are called to live. Don’t let shame hold you hostage. You are allowed to forgive yourself. Are you willing to let go of your burden? Part of forgiving yourself is knowing your identity. Be sure to root yourself in who God says you are.

Negative messages may cycle through your head, so be sure to fill your heart with truth. That may look like reading scripture. Start with Psalm 139. It helped me understand exactly who I am. Christ has a beautiful way of speaking to us through our Bible. Give Him time and listen to what He says. Another way I have found healing from repetitive thoughts of shame is through music. Out of Hiding Steffany Gretzinger and Who You Say I Am by Hillsong Worship were two songs that were so good for me to hear. Dive into prayer, dive into who you were born to be. Live knowing you are loved.

If the cause of your shame is a damaging incident (I want to speak to the men and women in abusive situations), If you are going through a mentally or physically damaging situation,
see someone you trust and don’t be afraid to get the help you deserve. Your Heavenly Father wants to see you healthy and fully alive. Priests, youth ministers and therapists can help you expose shame and guide you towards authentic peace.

You are not alone in your daily struggle. Shame is an awful feeling, but have hope! We are called to joy. Nothing you’ve done is too great for the Prince of Peace.

About the Author

Helen Maier

Bad at prayer but good at returning. Just a midwesterner with an unbridled love for cheese, trees, and a good hug. Big fan of God's creation and the human journey. Still not over the sunset I saw yesterday. I love doodling, my big family, and walking with the Saints! Catch me on the Twitter.com @Talithakoum9, Pax!