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Monday, 24 March 2014

Guilt, Shame and Responsibility

When I first started hearing about and realising the need for the healing journey, I had to get over some quite strong reservations. For a start, I worried that it meant selling out to modern psychology rather than holding on to a biblical worldview. Isn't a lot of this stuff about 'inner healing' just a load of secular psychobabble? And doesn't it just keep us focused on, and even obsessed with, ourselves rather than on God and others? I was also influenced by my own tradition of conservative Christianity which often considered it to involve going 'soft on sin'. Painfully aware of my own faults and failures, I was concerned that it might lead me into a victim mindset rather than to appropriate guilt, repentance and taking personal responsibility to change my behavior. Instead I would focus on my own pain and brokenness and use them as an excuse for my behaviour.

Slowly I realised that although guilt may be the appropriate response at times, it easily and often gets wrapped up with shame and self-loathing. These emotions do nothing to change our behaviour and actually only erode the soul. In fact, shame is the cause of a lot of addictive and dysfunctional behaviour. Far from making us more other-centred, self-hatred actually keeps us focused on the self and seriously distorts our love for God and others. And I have to admit that, frankly, lots of heavy duty guilt and earnest attempts at repentance in the past had not secured much change in me - or many others I knew! I am now finding that a deeper appreciation of the truths of grace that I have preached for years, but which are now slowly seeping more deeply into my inner being than ever before, can offer real hope. A grace that doesn't shame us into change (or more likely into more hiding) but that enables us to take responsibility for our behaviour in the context of total acceptance and unconditional love. It is only such love that can enable us to have the vulnerability to be honest and the courage to take responsibility.

I recently read this article by Derek Flood which has really helped me to think through these things and summarizes the issues beautifully. It also shows that it's possible to value the insights that psychology can bring to understanding the dynamics of the spiritual life.

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