I Do What I Do Not Want To Do

“All compulsivity is a consequence of unresolved toxic shame within us.” John Bradshaw

I wish I had come up with this quote: “The definition of insanity is doing the very same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”  Why do we do that?  What is it within us humans that takes us back to the same painful choices again and again?

In the year 700 BC, Solomon, Son of David, King of Israel wrote what the Bible refers to as the Proverbs.  This collection of Solomon’s writings simply compiles numerous short instructions for living an effective life on earth.  Listen to this interesting proverb: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness” (Proverbs 26:11 NLT).  Yuck!

There is an enormous amount of strong metaphorical language in this thirteen-word sentence.  As is common in Solomon’s proverbs, he utilizes simile to make a comparison between a natural event and a moral principle. Similes are identified by their use of “like” or “as.”  In this way, Solomon makes very clear the “foolishness” of us living in a repetitive cycle of sin and shame.  Even if we don’t have a spouse or children to be the recipients of our shame, we can still do substantial soul damage merely by perpetuating it (continuing it indefinitely) in our own lives.

We’re Not the Only Ones

The apostle Paul, one of the most prolific leaders of the early Christian church, battled the very same inner nature you and I do.  In Paul’s letter recorded in Chapter 17 of his letter to Christians in Rome, he is super honest in revealing his struggle within:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.   And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.   For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 17:15-20 NIV).

Regret for doing what I don't want to doNotice a fundamental shift in what Paul is saying about himself within this passage.  At the beginning, Paul speaks of his outward struggle – unable to do “right.”  But later in the text, he confesses, “It is sin living in me” that continues the cycle of sin and shame in his life.

You and I must get to the same place Paul did – taking full responsibility for the sin and shame within ourselves.  No excuses.  No blaming.  No justifying.  It’s ours now, regardless how it got there.

No matter how shaming or toxic or rejecting or abandoning our childhood may have been, it is still our responsibility as adults to deal with the sin within us, and to do whatever it takes to not duplicate it into the lives of others, especially our own children.  Rest assured, God provides us the only way out:  His son, Jesus Christ.

The Shame Cycle

The more deeply shame-based an individual is, the harder it becomes to break the cycle of shame.  In many instances, this cycle has become a “normal” part of life.  But for others, this seemingly endless battle devolves into what seems more like a shame “spiral,” where toxic shame leads to even more shame, and the individual’s sense of identity, self-worth, and inner power concurrently spiral further and further down, to the point of self-deprecation, or even self-destruction.

Through the remainder of this chapter, I’ll be introducing you to each element of my perspective of the shame cycle in hopes you’ll better understand how we can literally get trapped in our own sin and shame.  In thinking about what the most effective way might be to illustrate this, I’ve chosen to share an honest glimpse into my own personal story that I battled from adolescence into young adulthood.

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Life Training offers convenient sessions at our office in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as online counseling via Zoom or FaceTime.  Our non-profit counseling practice has an outstanding track record for over a decade helping men and women, individuals and couples who are ready to move beyond anxiety, depression, and conflicts in marriage or other relationships find hope and healing in their lives.  Contact us today at 502-717-5433, or by email at drdave@lifetrainingcounseling.org