Overcoming the Stress of Guilt and Shame
Guilt and shame are two of the greatest obstacles to the experience of life to the fullest. In the
Bible, the book of Psalms records these words from King David,
“When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity…” Psalm 32: 3, 5a
This verse was written at a time after David had committed adultery and murder. It wasn’t the
actual sins that plagued him, it was the cover-up. David found that life was painful and a
struggle when he kept things hidden and tried to pretend that nothing was wrong. He even
alludes to the fact that it affected him physically. Many psychosomatic illnesses can be traced
to suppressed feelings of guilt and shame over wrongs. Ulcers, heartdisease, high blood pressure, even cancer have been linked to this kind of stress.
How can we get past this kind of guilt and shame? As with any recovery program, including the well-known 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is to admit that you have a problem, to choose honesty. It is more than just acknowledging that you have problems in a general way. It is about owning the specific wrongs, hurts and wounds that are affecting your life. These things are holding you in bondage. This concept is Biblical and is actually a major tenet of Christianity. The Bible says, “If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just and will forgive us for our sins and will cleanse us from all impurities” (I John 1:9). This forgiveness and cleansing is the only way to be totally released from guilt and shame. If we go back to the example of King David, later, after he confessed his sin he declares, “…and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Ps 32: 5).
In my book, 10 Life Choices, choosing honesty is the first choice. Other choices that will lead to experiencing and celebrating life to the fullest will not be as powerful if we are living in the guilt and shame of hidden sins and wounds. Maybe it will help if you identify the things in your life that have hindered you from really experiencing and celebrating the life that God has given you.
Guilt – Is there some sin you haven’t confessed or that you continue to wallow in?
Bitterness – Are you building a grudge against someone?
Shame – Are you punishing yourself for a past mistake?
Hypocrisy – Are you pretending to be someone you are not?
Performance – Are you trying to prove something to yourself or others?
Striving – Are you trying hard to be accepted or acceptable?
Hurt – Are you covering up a deep hurt by isolation or anger?
Addiction – Are you obsessed with some form of self-medication?
The answers to these questions will reveal those hidden things that are plaguing you and keeping you from experiencing life to the fullest! Now, choose honesty. Choosing honesty involves being willing to own these things as real problems in your life; things that are standing in the way of your relationships, your success and your ability to move forward. Confess these things to God and accept His complete forgiveness and release! The truth is that the only obstacles that keep you from life are the ones that you keep hidden! Open up! Choose honesty!