Friday, July 16, 2010
GUILT, SHAME AND DEPRESSION
Depression often results from the unresolved crippling feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy. John Bradshaw warns about the depressing effect of these feelings, especially shame, which he defines as,
• The internalized feeling of being flawed and defective as a human being…shame, which should be a healthy signal of limits, becomes an overwhelming state of being, an identity if you will. Once toxically shamed, a person loses contact with his authentic self. What follows is a chronic mourning for the lost self.
Bradshaw then explains how shame, the “master emotion,” begins to tragically numb the rest of the emotions through denial, repression, and dissociation. Where did this life-controlling shame come from? According to Bradshaw, it is a product of not being loved unconditionally. If this is the problem, then the answer is matter of providing unconditional love. One way this is achieved, according to Bradshaw, is through loving affirmations:
• Repeated positive messages are emotional nutrients…Here are the loving words you can say to your inner infant: “Welcome to the world, I’ve been waiting for you. I’m glad you are here. I’ve prepared a special place for you to live. I like you just the way you are. I will not leave you, no matter what...”
There are several problems with Bradshaw’s approach:
1. Bradshaw unjustifiably assumes that toxic shame is the result of a lack of love. Indeed, love might decrease our sensitivity to guilt, but this doesn’t mean that an increased sensitivity is pathological. Instead, it might have a beneficial effect. Likewise, it is better to live with our uncomfortable inhibitions, than to go “wilding” with friends, whose association decreases these inhibitions. Guilt and shame demand self-examination. If we have transgressed, the appropriate action is confession and repentance (1 John 1:8-9) and not soothing self-talk! If sin is the problem, then Bradshaw’s suggestion is merely a professional form of denial.
2. It’s not believable. If positive affirmations are going to work, they must be believed, but they should only be believed if they are in harmony with reality! However, it’s hard to take seriously Bradshaw’s proposed affirmations: “I’ve prepared a special place for you to live. I like you just the way you are...”
3. Believing something silly can only provide minimal and temporary relief.
On the other hand, if Bradshaw’s affirmations can work to alleviate depression, how much more God’s affirmations! If it helps me to assure myself that “I will not leave you,” how much more God’s assurance that He will never leave me (Rom 8:38-39; Heb. 13:5)! If I am reassured by, “I like you just the way you are,” I will find God’s promise, that He loves me with a love that surpasses anything I can understand, even more reassuring (Eph 3:17-20)! I may be able to forgive myself, but God’s forgiveness (Heb. 8:12) will penetrate so much more intimately and persuasively and will eventually secure self-forgiveness.
Bradshaw’s self-affirmations are to God’s affirmations as masturbation is to true relationship--a substitute for the real thing. Even worse, self-affirmations must be believed if they are to have any impact. However, Bradshaw promotes these affirmations apart from any consideration of their truth-content. The mind and reality are thus compromised for the sake of emotional relief. If we stoop to unreality, we will pay a hefty price further down the road.
In contrast to this, the Bible doesn’t admonish us to believe that Christ died for our sins simply because we’ll derive a sense of relief, but primarily because it is true, as many reliable witnesses have attested. God’s solution never requires us to compromise our intellectual integrity or reality.