Shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.In Chapter One of her book, Unashamed, Heather Davis Nelson makes an important distinction: “Guilt is associated with actions while shame taints your entire identity.” She quotes Brené Brown to explain that “the majority of shame researchers and clinicians agree that the difference between shame and guilt is best understood as the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad’.”
Guilt is as simple as a natural response to wrongdoing, where you know what you have done is wrong. On the other hand, shame is better described as:
“The feeling that we have missed the mark according to our own standard or our perception of someone else’s standard for us. Shame keeps us from being honest about our struggles, sins, and less-than-perfect moments. Fear of shame drives us to perfectionism in all areas of our life, so that there would be no imperfection to be noticed and judged. Shame is what we heap on others when they fail us.” (p.20)Shame burrows into your very being and instills in you this sense that everything you do and say – your very existence – deserves punishment. It is a waking purgatory for every wrong you have ever committed. Realizing this, we must therefore come to the conclusion that shame is wrong, and this is what Nelson wants to instill: shame is wrong, and damaging, and rooted in brokenness. The only true way to curing this disease is through the hope of Jesus Christ, who covers our shame like God covered Adam and Eve in the garden. Nelson returns to this image several times throughout her book as a beautiful picture of what Christ can do for our brokenness.
Unashamed is a message of hope, of finding "healing [for] our brokenness and freedom from shame". The book is organized into nine sections, aside from the introduction on what shame is and the conclusion that ties together the shame-free destiny available to all of us. The sections she addresses include body shame, performance shame, and shame in marriage, parenting, and the church. Each section features discussion and reflection questions at the end, in order to ease the reader into response. Aside from blaring fundamental truth from the loud speakers, Unashamed invites the reader into the beginnings of healing - this being, first of all, the realization that everybody struggles with shame in one way or another.
I am in no way shame-free as a result of reading Unashamed, but I am more acutely aware than ever of what differentiates shame from guilt, and what areas of my life might be tainted by the former. Nelson helps the reader identify in their own life the kinds of things that they struggle with in shame, and identifying those elements is one of the keys to healing.
For more information on Unashamed by Heather Davis Nelson, visit our website here.