Is What You’re Feeling Guilt or Shame?

We expect to feel guilt when we sin, since we know that godly sorrow is essential to true repentance. But is it possible that we mistake shame for guilt?

Guilt is a universal emotion. But for religious people, feelings of guilt can escalate because we believe that we have not only wronged another person but that we have also offended God. Wendy Ulrich points out the difference between guilt, which lets us know we have done something bad, and shame, which tells us that we are bad.

God is so disappointed in me. He won’t love me until I repent. If I can just get over this, then I’ll be all right with God again and he can bless me. These are shameful ideas that Satan feeds us. It is easy to confuse them with guilty feelings, which spring from a desire to be open and close to God. Both may lead us to repent; however, shameful feelings can continue to weigh down our self-worth even after we have sincerely repented.

Hales, Ulrich, Shame, Article 5, Spring 2015, PQ

Shameful thoughts run contrary to the true character of God and the attitude we should take toward sin and repentance. We know that God’s love is unchanging, his patience infinite, and his confidence in us eternal. We know that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, sin can be forgiven and abandoned.

Our loving Father in Heaven does not condition his love on our good behavior. He knows we will not be perfect in this life, and he gives us weaknesses to teach us humility and dependence on him. As we turn our hearts to him and trust our own goodness—trust that we are truly striving to become more like Jesus Christ—our minds can be cleared. We will begin to see the difference between devil-driven shame and God-given sorrow, and we will come to know that God’s love has accompanied us all along (see 1 John 4:8, 16).

Read “It Isn’t a Sin to Be Weak” in the Liahona or in the Ensign.

Sources: Liahona and Ensign
—Mark T. Hales, Mormon Insights

Find more insights

Read President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s thoughts on the love of God.

Listen to a hymn about becoming like God.

Photo courtesy of (c) Jean-David Lafontaine

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5 Comments

  1. This is a very good topic to highlight. Guilt is difficult to endure sometimes, but is also such a great blessing from the spirit, that we know we are not living up to our full potential: this helps us to realize our weaknesses so that we can progress.

  2. Thank you for this article! this has helped me find peace with questions I’ve had about my own life and how to move forward instead of looking back.

  3. This is such an important distinction that can be so hard to make. I love the point that was made about God’s patience being infinite. It brings such comfort to know that someone with perfect judgement can see us in our imperfect state and love us infinitely.

  4. A well-written article on a much-needed distinction!! I think one of the great blessings of having a bishop to help with the repentance process is that he can help you let go of guilt and feel confident that you’re forgiven. The Savior wants to forgive, and repentance works.

  5. This article reminded me of a segment from Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s last conference talk: “In a ‘guilt culture’ you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. . . . [In the shame culture,] moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion. . . . . Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along. . . .The guilt culture could be harsh, but at least you could hate the sin and still love the sinner. The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance, but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in.” His reference is: “David Brooks, “The Shame Culture,” New York Times, Mar. 15, 2016, A29

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