Jarrad sat quietly with me sharing how his wife of 10 years had left because of ongoing patterns of deception. This was his second marriage, having been rejected by his first wife for similar issues.
“I don’t know why I don’t learn,” he lamented. “I love Pamela so much, but you wouldn’t know it by the way I treat her.”
Jarrad dabbed at his tears as he buried his head in his hands.
“I’ve really blown it this time,” he continued. “She has warned me so many times and I always made excuses for my behavior. I actually did worse than that. I blamed her for getting upset with me. I feel very ashamed of myself.”
At first I was tempted to console Jarrad. I was tempted to tell him things like, “It can’t be that bad,” and “She must have contributed to the problems too.” It is so tempting to commiserate when someone is suffering, when what might be best is let them feel the full impact of their actions which includes feeling healthy shame.
“You have really hurt her, Jarrad with your deception and then blame-shifting,” I said. “You left your wife very few choices when you refused to take responsibility for your actions and making changes,” I said.
“Yes,” he said slowly. “I know. I’m ready to change now though.”
“That’s good,” I said. “That’s all you can do. The rest is up to her.”
Much has been written in recent years on the negative impact of shame. What is typically written about, however, is what we call toxic shame or unhealthy shame. This is where we feel bad to the core; we sense that nothing we do is of value. This is to be contrasted with healthy shame which is akin to feeling remorse.
Scripture offers many examples of people who violated God’s laws and felt shame afterward. The Psalmist is a foremost example, when after acts of sin he proclaimed, “Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” (Psalm 51:1-3)
I resisted temptations to soothe Jarrad’s troubled feelings for his deception with his wife. I did help him see that feeling healthy shame and taking full responsibility for his actions could lead to reconciliation with her. As God worked on his heart, bringing about repentance and change, God would also work in his wife’s life as well.
What are the steps of healthy shame and how might it help in your situation?
First, allow yourself to feel healthy shame. Avoidance of feeling shame will only lead to defensive actions, perpetuating and amplifying the problems. Allow yourself to feel bad for what you have done. Sit with the shame and remorse and use it as a motivator for change.
Second, allow the shame to lead to repentance. Allow the shame to lead to feelings and actions of repentance—turning away from the harm you caused. Allow the shame to work as a motivator for change. Humble yourself before your mate and before the Lord.
Third, take responsibility for your actions. Stop avoiding the shame and take full responsibility for the harm you have done. Look deeply into yourself to determine why you have continued patterns of harm. What is the source of your actions, how are they reinforced, and own the impact your actions have had on those you love.
Fourth, make a plan for change. Feeling healthy shame, remorse and repentance, make a clear plan for change. Don’t use any shortcuts. Simple plans lead to simple solutions, bound for failure. Own fully your actions and make a comprehensive plan for change and restoration for harm done.
Finally, ask God to help you follow through with change. You cannot change on your own strength. You need a “heart transplant,” and this is the work of God with our permission. Not only must you own your actions, but must humble yourself in seeking support and counsel for depth change.
Do you allow yourself to feel bad for what you have done? Do you feel healthy shame and remorse that leads to acts of repentance and then restitution? If you would like further help, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: February 21, 2017