Recognize and Overcome One of the Enemy’s Greatest Weapons: Shame

I’ve spent over three decades having the privilege of listening to patients share their deepest pain and darkest secrets that have held them captive in an unhealthy cycle of shame, fear, guilt, regret, dread, and isolation. At this point in my career, nothing surprises me anymore, but patients all too frequently share with trepidation, afraid I will be shocked by what they have experienced. And yet, I can have great compassion knowing how tormented we become when secrets are kept in the dark. Once they are shared, they lose their power and healing can begin. That is what God longs for each of us, knowing He has already forgiven everything we have ever or will ever do, when Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for all of our sins past, present, or future.

Have you ever made a mistake and been so embarrassed by it, that it made you feel humiliated, unacceptable, unworthy, unlovely, or even unlovable? Or did it, perhaps, make you feel like a mistake? In this life, we all make decisions we live to regret. Or we experience something at the hands of another that leaves us feeling less than others, and ashamed of ourselves. For many of us, the voice of our inner critic is deafening, and quickly demeans our value or worth because of the pain we carry around from our past because of what we’ve done or what has been done to us.

I’ve talked with hundreds of individuals who have become convinced that their painful past disqualifies them either from God’s blessings and/or from being used by Him. That’s exactly what the enemy wants us to think. He wants to stop us quickly in our tracks and convince us that the wounds from what we’ve done or experienced leave us doubting our value, worth, and even purpose in life. Fortunately, the Bible is full of broken, messed up people who have made humiliating mistakes but have gone through a transformation and ended up being used by God in such mighty ways that we know about it thousands of years later. 

Shame looks like: 

  • wearing a mask because we fear the rejection of others if they knew the “real” us; 
  • being afraid of sharing our true opinions out of fear of being judged;
  • criticizing and/or rejecting others before they have the opportunity to criticize or reject us;
  • accepting the labels others give us, rather than accepting what God declares to be true;
  • isolating ourselves and feeling we have to go it alone;
  • living in guilt, regret, and/or remorse because of something we’ve done or said, or haven’t done or haven’t said;
  • being unable or unwilling to extend the same mercy, grace, and forgiveness to ourselves that we would extend to others.

Sometimes we have the misfortune of hearing the dreaded words, “Shame on you!” Those words can pierce our heart and prevent us from receiving the unconditional love and acceptance offered by the very One who declares we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). That condemning voice never comes from our Heavenly Father. Instead, He declares, “There is therefore, now, no condemnation (another word for shame) for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 NIV).

The enemy is not very creative. Since the start of mankind, he has used fear as a weapon to tempt us into making decisions contrary to God’s Word, and then punishes us through shame after we’ve taken his bait. In the Garden of Eden, the enemy twisted God’s words, tempted Eve to do as God had commanded them not to do, and then once Adam and Eve took the bait and sinned, they immediately became fearful and ashamed, causing them to hide from God. Shame is the precipitant of fear, and hiding and isolation are the consequences. That’s exactly what the enemy wants: he wants us to hide and isolate from others and from God, because then we are open prey to more of his arrows. If left unchecked, shame can lead to guilt and regret. God is never the author of guilt and regret, instead, the Holy Spirit is gentle in his conviction and correction for the sake of restoring our relationship with God, rather than tempting us to isolate in fear. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

Rather than hiding from God, He offers us the key to refuting the shame arrows slung at us: “Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you” (Psalm 25:20). Rather than hiding in our fear and shame, isolating ourselves from the One who knows all things and still loves us, God desires that our refuge comes from the One who created us, knows our every thought and action, and yet despite our mistakes, welcomes us like the prodigal son coming home to his father in humility. While the enemy uses shame to denigrate us, if we will allow it, shame can lead to humility and humility to surrender. God can do His best work in a surrendered heart. When we do that, we can live with shame OFF us!

Shame causes us to readily adopt the labels of all that we are not: weak, unlovable, broken, rejected, abandoned, useless, worthless, sinner, and failure. In contrast, God so loves us, despite our messes and mistakes, that He continually sees us through the lens of all that we are: forever loved, whole, accepted, adopted, created for a purpose, worthy, forgiven, and victorious in Christ Jesus! 

Shame tempts us to shrink back from our calling and our purpose, instead living in our past mistakes and believing life can be no better. Yet God declares, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV).

The next time shame comes knocking on your heart, tempting you to feeling guilt, regret, and remorse, and tempting you to isolate and withdraw, remind yourself that Christ died for your freedom, and that it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4) so that we can live free from shame as the fully adored, accepted, forgiven, and loved Child of God that we are!

“Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:7 NLT).

Michelle Bengtson
Michelle Bengtson

Michelle Bengtson is a a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist, host of the award-winning podcast Your Hope Filled Perspective, and the author of several award-winning books including Hope Prevails, Breaking Anxiety’s Grip, and The Hem of His Garment. Her newest release is Sacred Scars: Resting in God’s Promise That Your Past is Not Wasted.