Shame, Blame, and Guilt


This is the text of the homily I presented at church one week ago.

Shame. Blame. Guilt. These are three of the most debilitating emotions in the human experience. They hold us back from being our best, they rob us of joy, they separate us from the rest of the world, and they rob the world of the gifts we have and are not sharing.


Let’s start with some definitions here, so we can all understand exactly how I am going to be using these words today. According to Wikipedia (bear with me, I will summarize in a moment), “Shame is a painful, social emotion that can be seen as resulting “…from comparison of the self’s action with the self’s standards…” but which may equally stem from comparison of the self’s state of being with the ideal social context’s standard. Thus, shame may stem from volitional action or simply self-regard; no action by the shamed being is required: simply existing is enough.” They define blame as “the act of censuring, holding responsible, making negative statements about an individual or group that their action or actions are socially or morally irresponsible, the opposite of praise. ” Finally shame’s brother guilt is defined as, “Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a universal moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation.”

Now, those definitions are quite the mouthful, so to simplify, Shame is feeling bad about who we are, Guilt is feeling bad about what we’ve done, and Blame is trying to make someone else feel bad. You may have noticed that all three are about feeling bad. More specifically, they are about feeling bad as a means of controlling one’s self or someone else.


Does this tactic work? Well, it seems to work often enough that the practice continues. Why do we want to control other people? And why do we want to do it with these tools? Our base nature and our training often have us believing that other people have to behave in a certain way for us to be happy. That is a false premise, but it is very widely accepted. If we believe someone else’s behavior will affect our happiness, it makes sense that we would want to control them. And the tools of shame, blame, and guilt often get that job done. Just look around, especially in the media.

Our next question is: Is this a useful thing? Trying to control others so that we can feel better is, quite frankly, giving away our power. Other people cannot make us feel better. It is only our own thoughts that can do that. Manipulation is born out of a sense of powerlessness and fear.

My belief is that shame is a completely useless emotion, when defined as feeling bad about who or what we are, our worthiness. We were made exactly as we are by design. Whether you believe we were designed by God and are living a life by his plan, or if you believe that your soul chose this path of your life to explore as an incarnation, or if you believe in no design and that we are just the culmination of circumstances, we are here, and that alone is what makes us worthy. We affirm the inherent worth and dignity of all people. Including ourselves. For some of us, that is the hardest part.


George Bernard Shaw observed, “We live in an atmosphere of shame. We are ashamed of everything that is real about us; ashamed of ourselves, of our relatives, of our incomes, of our accents, of our opinion, of our experience, just as we are ashamed of our naked skins.

When we feel ashamed, we hide ourselves from the world, and this deprives the world of all the amazing qualities, skills, and talents we have. My feeling shame does not REALLY make you feel any better about yourself. Your feeling shame doesn’t make me feel any better abut myself. Gay people being ashamed of their gayness doesn’t make the members of Westboro Baptist Church feel any better about themselves. Overweight people being ashamed of their size doesn’t make anyone feel any better about themselves. Perhaps way back in our evolution, when conformity was required for survival, and not being part of the tribe meant you would literally die, maybe then shame had a function. But that is not the case today. Shame does not increase our chances of survival. Instead it increases our chances of depression, and in extreme cases, suicide – the opposite of survival. It does not make the world a better place. Just the opposite. Shame darkens the world. Blake Edwards in Victor/Victoria cynically wrote, “Shame is an unhappy emotion invented by pietists in order to exploit the human race.”

Guilt, on the other hand, does have some use, but not nearly as much as we give it credit for. Remember, we are using the definition that guilt is feeling bad about something we have done, our behavior. Guilt’s function, therefore, is to repair the damage that was done through our actions, and learn not to do that again. We apologize, we make restitution, we do whatever is required to make things right again. We learn our lesson and then we move on. We just need to remember that last part – we move on. Once the lesson has been learned and reparations made, there is nothing more to be done. When we don’t move on, that guilt can shift over to shame, which as I just showed, does not make the world a better place. I came across a lovely quote by Debra Campbell from a Huffington Post article. She said, “Even when we do wrong, accountability is helpful, compassion is helpful, apology and forgiveness are helpful, but shame is not.”


Speaking of forgiveness, I’d like to take a moment to talk about that, too, since it is so intimately tied up with shame and guilt and blame. We don’t have to wait for the other person to forgive us to let go of guilt and shame. The benefit of forgiveness lies entirely with the forgiver. The forgiven receives no benefit at all. “But what about the fact that the forgiver stops being mean to the forgiven?” you might ask. Well, it isn’t the forgiveness that does that, it is the choice of the forgiver to behave better, which can be done with or without forgiveness. Forgiveness is simply deciding to not harbor ill-will about something anymore. It is accepting that other people’s behavior is not what makes us feel bad.

What?! Other people’s behavior doesn’t make us feel bad? Nope. What makes us feel bad is entirely what we think about their behavior, not the behavior itself. How many times have you gained insight into someone’s motives for doing something hurtful and changed your mind about it? Let’s say someone spoke rudely to you. You would probably think thoughts that bring you pain about it, such as, “I’m not worthy,” or, “I did something to upset her.” Now let’s say that we discover that she was rude because she was really stressed at the time. You might then think, “Oh, it wasn’t about me at all.” Did her behavior change? No. The behavior is still the same. What changed was what we think about it. Our different thoughts make us feel better about it. We can choose to feel bad or not about anything at all. Our power lies in the ability to choose our thoughts, which are the only things that create our emotions. Let me repeat that. Our thoughts are the only things that create our emotions.

When we forgive someone, we are choosing to stop thinking painful thoughts about what they did. We are choosing to feel love and compassion for them instead. Love and compassion are always available to us if we choose them.


When we blame someone, which really is the opposite of forgiveness, we give away all of our power over our own emotions. We choose to make ourselves feel bad by pretending that we aren’t the ones doing it. We pretend that someone else has the ability to create our emotions. We all do it. But with practice and self-awareness we can take back our power. When we take some time to observe our thoughts, we can see the truth of these things.

Blaming others really only serves to make us feel worse, because not only do we feel wronged, but we are also giving away our power to feel better. When we say, “She made me feel this way,” that says that she has power over your thoughts and therefore your emotions. But she doesn’t. Only you do. There is no device that allows us to inject a thought into someone’s mind. Do we really want to even have that power? Do we want others to have that kind of power over us? Other people can offer us thoughts, but ultimately, it is up to us to choose to accept them or not.

To tie this back in with shame, if someone says, “You are so ugly,” they are offering you a thought. You don’t have to accept it. You are perfectly capable of choosing to think instead that you are so fiiiiiine. How you feel about yourself will not change what they think of you. It will change what they think of themselves even less. They offer you a thought, and you choose (either consciously or unconsciously – we have much more practice with doing it unconsciously) to accept it or reject it.


I would like to conclude with an excerpt from one of my favorite podcasts, The Life Coach School with Brooke Castillo. In episode 176, she says, “Here’s what I believe. We are humans who create lives based on what we think. Most of us don’t know how to choose those thoughts consciously. So most of us are living the effects of misguided thinking. Think about it. At our cores, at our soul level, at our humanness, we are the same.

Sometimes humans act rude, inappropriate and violent. These are things we do at the effect of our thinking. This is not who we are. We are humans who are 100% worthy and there’s nothing we can do to change that. You are worthy if you are born rich, and you are equally worthy if you are born poor.

You have the same worthiness if your parents were unspeakably abusive and if your parents loved you every second of your life. There is nothing you can do to become more worthy. There is nothing you can do to become more worthy, and there’s nothing you have ever done that has made you less worthy.

Your worthiness is already at capacity, and nothing you have done or will do will make you less worthy of a human. Lose all your money and become homeless, worthy. Cheat on your husband, worthy. Yell at your children, worthy.

So if you’re still with me and willing to explore this idea that we are all worthy, why even bother doing good and better things? Why not just give in to all of the crazy violent, horrible things? Great question. Because it makes your experience of being alive better. Not because it makes you better.

If you spend your life raping people, you are coming from a horrible place of pain and your life will be excruciatingly painful. If you spend your life loving people, and I mean loving people, even people who rape people, you are going to spend your life in love.

So if we are already good enough humans and nothing we have ever done has made us less or more good enough, how does this affect our lives? We have permission to live from abundance, confidence, and self-love. We are good enough simply because we were born on the planet. Your worthiness has already been decided, and there is nothing you can do about it.

No matter what your parents told you, no matter what the school kids told you, no matter what the teacher told you, no matter what your boss told you, no matter what your first, second or third wife told you, you are and always have been 100% worthy.

Prettier can’t increase it. Skinnier can’t, richer can’t, smarter can’t, more giving can’t, more kind can’t, more generous cannot increase your worthiness. Changing what you do will never make you more good enough than you already are. You are already good enough and there is nothing you can do about it.”

… And that’s okay: Making peace with what is

And that's okay

Today I want to talk about three words that can really make a difference in your life. I’ve been practicing them whenever I remember to (so probably half of the time or so). These three words are “And That’s Okay.” They are the key to acceptance, which is a key to inner peace. When we can accept things as they are, we stop fighting against them. We stop trying to change them. We stop being miserable. Continue reading “… And that’s okay: Making peace with what is”

New Habits for April

new habits

I have been trying to find a focus for this blog, since I know it is really all over the place regarding topics.  Therefore, I am going to try to focus on one topic per month, as I overhaul my life and create Judy 3.0.  I have been listening to A LOT of life coaching podcast hours, and taking up the blog again is one way I am putting into practice the teachings that I am learning.  Being a “jump in and tackle everything at once” kind of person, I tend to get easily overwhelmed. The most recent example of this is these last couple of weeks, when I was inspired by Cait’s post about personal trackers.  I decided to ignore her advice (and that of everyone else), and added several new habits at once.  Most are not huge habits, but I added four or five instead of just one.  So now I am going to try to focus better instead of scattering my energy. Continue reading “New Habits for April”

Name tags as a symbol of belonging

name tags

Little A just adores her name tag at our church.  We have a wonderful woman in our congregation who calligraphs beautiful name tags for anyone who wants one.  They are so much nicer than the type you find at workshops or events, where everyone scribbles their name with a marker onto a sticker.  We do have those available for first time visitors, but then if they put a request in the book, the next week (usually) there will be a calligraphy name tag available for them in a protective sleeve with a string to loop around your neck.  Little A has put a pink chalice sticker on hers to personalize it even more.  She stares at it adoringly when she first puts it on each week.  It brightens my heart to watch.

My two middle daughters both played soccer two years ago when they were in 7th and 8th grades.  One of the other moms arranged to have hoodies made up for all the girls with their last names and their player numbers on them in the school colors.  My girls (since they share a last name) also got their first initials to better differentiate them.  I nearly cried.

Continue reading “Name tags as a symbol of belonging”

My year in review

Year in review

I know it isn’t New Year’s, but this is the time of year when I think a new year begins.  Apparently this was quite common in the past, with March 25 being celebrated as the start of the new year in England and America right up until 1752.  And so, that makes today (the second day of the former new year) the perfect day to consider reviewing the past year.  It also happens to be my birthday, which simply validates my review even more.  Let’s look at several areas of my life and see what kind of progress I have made.  Continue reading “My year in review”

How to use a Personal Tracker

Personal Tracker

Today’s post is a guest post by my daughter Caitlin.  She is so wise that I often wonder that she came from me.  I am so privileged to be able to share some of her wisdom with you today.  To get the trackers that she designed, click here.

Life can be difficult to manage. We have so many obligations from day to day, week to week, month to month – it all seems endless. On top of these obligations (work, college, childcare, friends, family, health) we all have personal habits we’re trying to cultivate and goals we’re trying to meet. These come in all shapes and sizes and range from simple things like keeping the house clean or decluttering the pantry to larger goals like publishing that book, opening your own business, or meditating daily.

No matter how big or small, meeting goals (or building good habits) involve the same basic steps – organizing a plan and following through. The same is true of personal, professional, or health related goals. We need to have a plan to know exactly where we’re going and how we’re going to get there and then we need to follow through with that plan.

Continue reading “How to use a Personal Tracker”

Jonah needs to get his butt to Nineveh

If you grew up in an Abrahamic culture, you’ve probably heard the story of Jonah.  Basically, God said, “Jonah, go to Nineveh and talk to them.”  Jonah didn’t like that idea, so he tried to run away to Tarshish on a ship.  God said, “Uh, Jonah, you’re going the wrong way.  Nineveh is over there.”  Jonah said, “La la la!  I’m not listening!”  God said, “Fine, I guess we’ll have to do this the hard way.  Mr. Fish, please escort Jonah to Nineveh.”  And the Fish swallowed him, spit him up on the shore, and Jonah finally took his butt to Nineveh.  I am starting to really relate to poor Jonah.

Continue reading “Jonah needs to get his butt to Nineveh”

Parenting from a fearful “reality”

Parenting from a fearful reality

The other morning I was cruel to my beloved 6-year-old.  It was stupid, it was unnecessary, and I was completely in the wrong.  When she got home, I apologized to her, and she, being the sweet, loving child that she is, immediately forgave me.  It was another reminder that I am not yet where I want to be in relation to my children, nor am I parenting from a reality of abundance.  So what exactly happened?

Continue reading “Parenting from a fearful “reality””

Human Divinity: My Sunday Service

human divinity

I was invited back to the pulpit yesterday, and it was my great honor to create my second Sunday service.  My first one was in November, 2016, right after election day, and I got great feedback on it.  This time was a bit easier, having gained confidence from the first time around.  I had so many people ask me yesterday to please email them my sermon so they could read it over again, or because they were unable to be in church (the weather made travel very tricky).  I’m afraid I cannot remember everyone who asked for it, so I am publishing it here so anyone can come and read it, and, hopefully, be inspired. Continue reading “Human Divinity: My Sunday Service”

What is my identity?


I fell out of the habit of writing here a year ago.  Almost exactly.  2017 has been a hard year for me, and I have been focusing my energy in other places than this blog.  But I am still trying to post at least once a month.  Last night I listened to a podcast by Shawn Stevenson in which he interviewed Tom Bilyeu.  They discussed self-esteem and how to reprogram your brain.  One tool that I felt I could immediately put into practice is to decide just who I am.  What is my identity? Continue reading “What is my identity?”