Guilt and Shame After Severe Injuries to Others or Ourselves

1. Car accidents with death or injury.

2. Drowning deaths in children.

3. Preventable death or morbidity from illness discovered too late.

4. Wartime killing, both direct and indirect.

5. Lack of information putting one in harm’s way.

6. Suicide survivors.

Anyone who can’t forgive themselves for an error that caused loss or harm:

1. We must recognize what part of the tragedy was our fault (5% or 95%).

2. We need to confess (1 John 1:9) to receive forgiveness.

3. If it is serious or the guilt feeling doesn’t resolve quickly, confess to someone you trust (James 5:16).

4. Spend time asking God why it happened, what else was going on that might need attention, i.e., too busy, in a hurry, lack of concern, economic concerns.

5. You will be tempted to use the pain to punish yourself and to be sure that it NEVER happens again. This doesn’t work and is actually counterproductive. It focuses you on error avoidance in one area, and other errors will likely be made. We are professional “mistake-makers,” that is how our brain learns.

6. Once you have confessed all that you can think of, receive forgiveness, accept it and give thanks for it.

7. Since you have been forgiven by the highest court in the universe, your standard cannot be higher than God’s standard. Not to forgive yourself is pride.

8. Saying things like, “I can’t believe I did that,” is not constructive and only embarrassed pride says things like this. Why can’t you believe it? Have you never done anything like that in the past? Most likely you have, you just didn’t get caught. Perhaps you would never have done it under normal circumstances, but true character is revealed under pressure. The error allows you to see what you are like under pressure, in other words, what you are really like. Your behavior when you are hurt, angry or fearful demonstrates where you are in your maturity. It is an opportunity to grow. Recognize and be honest about whatever God shows you. You will be tested again.

Shame after true guilt has been forgiven is often rooted in pride, i.e., “I can’t believe I did that; how could I have been so stupid.” The truth is often that you knew that it was wrong, but thought you could get away with it or previously had gotten away with it without any consequences.

1. Intoxicated driver involved in vehicular homicide.

2. Woman becomes pregnant by a man she doesn’t love.

3. Marital affairs.

4. Parenting failures.

5. Events surrounding abortion.

6. Child abuse victims and perpetrators.

7. Sexually transmitted disease cases. HIV cases.

8. Issues/events surrounding sexuality in thoughts and actions.

9. Repetitive sin that has cost us dearly and robbed us of joy yet we did it again.

True Guilt = the result of sin against God.

Guilt = I made a mistake. This can be confessed and has a positive result.

Shame = I am a mistake. This is often destructive and unhealthy.

Scripture regarding forgiveness:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) .

“Confess your sins one to another that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

Based on “How to Forgive Ourselves Totally” by RT Kendall. Charisma House Publishers 2007

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