Shame has a deceptive way of convincing us that we need to hide ourselves from the outside world – at all cost – much like the way Adam and Eve hid themselves from God. We go to great lengths to protect our secrets. At its worst, shame will lead us to sacrifice good things in our lives just to preserve and protect the secrets inside. Many a person has sacrificed their marriage, family, career, reputation, and so much more at the altar of shame and secrecy.
By the time we get to the secrecy element of the shame cycle, we’ve pretty much locked in on following through with acting out, whether big or small. Our inhibitions have been drastically lowered by the shame messages we’ve played over and over in our heads, so we have set ourselves up to be vulnerable to nearly any temptation that promises to numb our pain. If God is in the conversation at this point, it’s typically us begging Him to give us the strength to say “no” to ourselves. Then when we cave in to temptation, we’re mad at God for not hearing our prayer.
It’s not our sin that we’re hiding at this point. We’re actually trying to hide ourselves and our internalized shame because we don’t want anyone to witness our vulnerability or try to talk us out of succumbing to our indulgence. Our shame has prevailed over our will, and we’ve reached the “point of no return.”
The Bible tells us that each of us is made by God as a composite of three distinct components: “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NLT).
In a world without sin, we would truly be blameless in these ways. The word blameless means “innocent of wrongdoing.” We would have no wrongdoing in our spirit or soul or body. But unfortunately, that’s not the world we exist in. This characterizes one of the most important reasons Jesus died on the cross – to pay the penalty for the wrong you and I have done (justification), and to satisfy God’s wrath toward us as sinful man (propitiation).
Scripture uniformly traces voluntary, intentional sin to its root cause in sinful human nature. Sinful acts are the fruit of a “depraved” nature (see Proverbs 4:23; Mark 7:20-23), which is simply a nature bent toward impurity or immorality.
It’s Dark Before We Realize It
I recently viewed a TV documentary that chronicled the story of infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. A quote from an interview with this man clearly illustrates the slippery slope of succumbing to the shame within us, no matter how seemingly small it seems at first: “With the clock ticking toward his scheduled execution, Ted Bundy tearfully blamed a growing addiction to pornography for fueling one of the most gruesome killing sprees in recent history… ”Pornography…was the fuel for his fantasies to do all of the things he did.”
If we don’t allow the darkness of our hearts to be exposed to the regenerative light of Jesus Christ, the inclination of our human depravity might lead us into choices we thought we could never make.
Some of you reading this may be thinking to yourself, “Even my worst choices aren’t anywhere near as bad as these examples.” Praise God. I’m certainly glad they’re not. But this information still may be for you. None of us should accept being captive to a repeated cycle of shame and acting out, even if it’s as benign as compulsively reading romance novels or eating too many Oreos. The issue is more than just the nature or extent of the behavior being acted out. It’s the unchecked influence of our internalized shame that is driving us to do the compulsive behavior in the first place. Even seemingly innocuous choices can keep the shame cycle spinning if they lead to greater feelings of guilt and shame, and the desire to conceal our behavior from others.
Your secret may be the compulsion to sneak a package of Oreos out of the cupboard late at night (which I’ve been known to do), hoping to relieve your feelings of rejection and unworthiness through your compulsion to consume your favorite comfort food in excess. This may lead to feelings of guilt, which convince us to keep our behavior a secret. Or maybe going on a shopping spree for things we don’t really even need, in hopes that this will placate the pain of loneliness we feel in the midst of a struggling marriage, all the while keeping the items and the receipt for what we purchased secret from our partner.
A powerful quote by Pastor Ravi Zaccharias very poignantly illustrates the topic of us acting our shame: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”
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