Insidious. Destructive. Powerful.
These words describe one of the most commonly used tools of the adversary. Known as shame, this tool was one of the very first used by the great beguiler to try and alter the relationship between man and God forever. Sadly, it is a very effective tool. But what is shame and how was it introduced? More importantly, how can we overcome it?
What Is Shame?
Shame is a painful emotion that stems from the comparison of how we view ourselves and what we believe we should be. People who experience shame generally don’t just think they have done or do bad things; they believe they are bad or worthless. Shame often causes a desire to figuratively cover oneself up or withdraw. We try to hide our perceived inadequacies or failures. Shame can create such strong feelings of imperfection that it prevents people from moving forward in any direction.
In a gospel context, shame can cause us to ask why we should bother trying to live a righteous life and can place a brick wall between ourselves and God. Shame directly attacks the fundamental truth that we are children of God. Without a confidence in a loving God, a merciful Savior, and our own potential, progression becomes nearly impossible.
How Was Shame Introduced?
Through the restored teachings of the gospel and the temple, we learn that Adam and Eve enjoyed the physical presence of God in the Garden of Eden. We also learn that it was Satan who suggests the couple hide themselves from God because of their nakedness. Thus, shame was born. Never before had man even considered they should hide from God, even after they had transgressed.
Out of necessity for the plan, Adam and Eve were cast from the Garden and entered into the lone and dreary wilderness. They could no longer enjoy the physical presence of God. However, it seems unlikely God ever intended for Adam and Eve to feel ashamed. There were consequences for their actions, but were they now supposed to feel so unworthy that they hid themselves from the God they loved and walked with?
In similar fashion, we all transgress the laws of God. Are we supposed to hide from God because of our sin and mistakes? If we believe the scriptures and words of modern-day prophets, the answer is no.
5 Ways to Combat Shame
It is likely we will all experience shame in our lives. What can we do about it? Here are some things to think about.
Recognize the difference between shame and guilt.
Guilt has a purpose, especially in a gospel sense. Guilt lets us know when when we have done something wrong and urges us to repent. We are not off the hook when we make mistakes. We must face consequences and endure the pain or trial that comes with sin. However, God has taught that as many times as we turn to him, we can progress and be forgiven. We need to disassociate our weakness and sins with the love of God. Satan prevents the glory of repentance by heaping so much shame upon us we don’t even try.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”
Focus on your relationship with God, not Church culture.
Much of shame comes because we do not live up to perceived expectations, whether they are from our own minds or outside influences. Even if no one means to, there can be a lot of pressure created by the culture of the Church. We often feel we need to be perfect. Gospel principles become endless laundry lists of things to do. It is no wonder we get overwhelmed.
God knows where you are. He has a plan to propel you forward. Focus on building a relationship with Christ and changing your heart, rather than fitting into any mold or meeting any expectations others may put on you. What you may need to do to draw closer to Christ will likely be different from someone else.
Avoid comparisons, especially on social media.
Speaking of someone else, we all know comparison is the thief to joy. But do we realize how deep into our psyche comparison has become? Every day on social media we witness great performances: only the perfect selfies, the best foods, the most fantastic moments. We may not realize it, but reality has been turned into anything but.
Avoid comparisons by focusing on your own progression and serving others. Both will open up your eyes to how Christ truly sees things. Don’t rely on social media and the world to tell you how you should look, how you should act, or how you should live your life.
Find what you love about yourself.
When you experience shame, we are often desperate for things to make us feel loved or worthy. Instead of doing what will truly bring us joy and fulfillment, we do what will elicit compliments or approval from others. This is never enough and never lasts.
Figure out what gifts and talents you have been blessed with that you enjoy. Independent of anyone else, why do you love you? What brings you joy? It is good to search your motives and ask why you’re doing something.
Move forward in faith.
People going through trials don’t want to hear that simply trying to be happy will fix things. And it’s true. When someone feels so ashamed the pain of it seems unbearable, ‘just loving yourself’ isn’t going to work. However, there is a true principle behind all of this that can help. The only way to truly get rid of darkness is to add light. We need to keep trying, keep moving forward, and keep doing our best to add light into our life.
Elder Holland in his most recent General Conference talk said, “The great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed…Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.”