Healthy vs Unhealthy Shame – The Shame Project

Scale. Law scales on table. Symbol of justice. Vintage sepia photo

Yesterday’s post – Autopsy of Shame

A person with excessive shame is an unhealthy person, a person with zero shame is a sociopath.  Our motivation is to land in the healthy part of this spectrum.

Healthy Shame

Healthy Shame is a balance between knowing what is morally right or wrong and having remorse for our actions and taking responsibilities for our mistakes. 

If we blow up at someone in a rage, we scale ourselves back and apologize for our overreaction, taking full responsibility, and telling ourself that we need to keep our temper in check. In this example we have committed the crime, recognized it as inappropriate, talked to ourself about doing better next time, and then move on. A person with unhealthy shame will take this incident and label themselves as a worthless, raging person who doesn’t deserve the forgiveness of the person they offended.


To be able to love and live in freedom means to be able to make godly decisions. To make godly decisions we have to surrender our egos and all the falsity and shame that goes with it. James McGreevey


Healthy shame tells you that what you did was wrong, where as unhealthy shame tells you who you are is wrong



When you make a mistake, how do you respond to yourself?



Unhealthy Shame

Losing our temper is one example of making a bad decision, but sometimes unhealthy shame can be so ingrained in us that even the smallest mistakes, like losing our keys, or forgetting to pay a bill, can turn into an internal assault.


“I am so stupid, how am I ever going to succeed in my business if I can’t even remember where I put my keys?”


“My dad was right, I am irresponsible. He never missed a payment in his life. I will never be as good as him”


The majority of us fall into the excessive shame side and to our core we believe that we are flawed and our mistakes flow out of our sense of unworthiness. 


Once we realize that imperfect understanding is the human condition there is no shame in being wrong, only in failing to correct our mistakes. George Soros



No Shame

Read Genesis 4 :3 -13 (NIV) 

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn ofhis flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”



Did Cain show any remorse for his actions?



How did Cain respond when God confronted him on his crime?




Self-centered indulgence, pride and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle. Billy Graham


Cain was so filled with jealousy and rage that he murdered his brother Abel, with zero remorse. God had even given him a chance to acknowledge that his anger, un dealt with would lead to great sin, but Cain refused to heed. After he murdered Abel, Cain had zero shame. Sure, he was in distress that he got caught, but not sorry for what he had done.



Where do you see yourself on this scale?










Understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy shame, will help us to measure whether or not our feelings of guilt and shame are appropriate and there to guide us to better choices, or self-destructive, or worse non-existent.


Next Topic : Where Our Shame Began


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