Dealing With Shame

A phenomenon of mental health recovery is the power of memories of my past. Shame looms large when I think of the things I said and did over the years. Even after living relapse-free since 2010, I still deal with unwelcome reminders of how low I got. So the question is: What do I do with these memories?

No human is born with the skills to effectively manage shame. In my work as a pastor, I constantly work with people who confide in me and admit that they can’t shake the shame of their past. Here are two things that have helped me move beyond the shame of my past.

"I still deal with unwelcome reminders of how low I got..."

In order to face shame, I cannot be alone, isolated, or disconnected. This is why my first piece of advice is to find support from another person. The more people I have on my side, the easier it becomes to sort through shameful memories. Counterintuitive as it may seem, telling people about the burden of shame helps reduce its heavy weight. I get it! You don’t want to tell anyone about the shameful things that cloud your mind. A confidential setting with a counselor, therapist, pastor, elder, spiritual caregiver, psychiatrist, or doctor would be the first place to name the shame you’re carrying around with you. Once you have confided in a credible professional, ask for their guidance on where to turn next. Get help strategically finding trusted friends who can help you walk through the process of shedding your shame.

Tell someone and stop facing shame alone.

Here’s a problem: you won’t always be around people. Friends don’t always answer texts. Medical professionals are even harder to contact. What happens if you can’t reach your support network? This is why I advocate for spiritual growth in mental health recovery. My second piece of advice is to work through your shame using spiritual means. You might already have a spiritual or religious practice to guide you. If you do, great; use it as much as you can. If you don’t have a spiritual practice and are open to trying, my advice is to start with something simple. There is no need to seek out a guru, blindly devote yourself to a faith, go to church every Sunday, or take on an advanced meditation practice that is hard to sustain. All you need to do to spiritually work through feelings of shame is to try one thing. Practice mindfulness meditation for five minutes and see what shame comes up. Try a beginner’s yoga class and breathe your way through that shame. Walk into a public temple, church, or worship space and say one prayer silently and privately. Taking one step spiritually could open a broad dimension of coping skills that could directly address feelings of shame.

Develop spiritual tools...

Shame is a heavy weight. That is why I chose an excerpt from Psalm 32. King David is burdened by his past actions and likens it to God’s heavy hand weighing upon him. Shame is being burdened by something that you have done. However, the power of shame seems to come from how it magnifies and catastrophizes the past. With the help of others and my spiritual practices, I have made steady progress in shifting how I think about how my mental health condition has manifested in the past.

Make sure to comment below and join the conversation!

Seth Perry

Seth Perry

(he/him/his) Pastor- Mental Health Recovery Educator- Blogger


14 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing this some of my actions long ago I cannot change. Some people from my past will not forgive me even when I asked them too. So somehow I need to forgive my self and do better the next time. Thanks so much I learn a lot from you! Thanks for being a blessing!

  2. Thank you for this amazing and sincere insight and wisdom. I will copy and share this with others.

  3. An important topic.

    Another great Psalm for this is 130, particularly vv 3 and 4.

    As you identify as a Christian Pastor, it seems odd that you do not mention the One who takes away the sins of the world. I’m sure you could do it in a non-formulaic way.

    John 6:37 is a wonderful promise of Jesus.

  4. Thank you, Pastor Seth, for your powerful message on shame. My family of origin was shame-based, so I fought with this dynamic for years. Praise be to God for pastoral counselors and mental health therapists to help me through this destructive force that still haunts me from time to time.

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Shame is a heavy burden. Read this devotional to learn about two things that I use to deal with feelings of shame.