Tag Archives: guilt

Everyone’s Guilty?

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

We have been taught to feel guilty. We have been told that we are bad people and we do bad things. We accept guilt and shame as we do old friends. They are familiar and comfortable to us. This is one of the reasons I put out this blog, to show that so much of the condemnation Christians carry around does not come from the heart of God.

For narcissists and legalists, guilt and shame are effective tools to keep others quiet and in line. The condemnation we bring with us into the relationship or the church gives them the opening they need to begin to manipulate us. They build on the foundation we already have and further weaken us by their insinuations and accusations. The best follower is a quiet one, one who won’t challenge the teacher. Guilt, intimidation, uncertainty—these are all tools in the narcissist’s toolbox.

So we had some fun last week (wonderful comments, btw!) and along comes a reminder that we are all guilty of these things, that we are not better than others. Now, please understand, I am not scolding or judging whoever made the comments. I just want to point out why that happens. And I want to show why it is an error.

Let’s start by establishing the fact that we simply do not do what some people do. When you hear about a murder or a rape, do you stop to remind yourself that you are a sinner also? Probably not. You want the person to be caught and brought to justice. You have no hesitation in thinking that the perpetrator is accountable—and that he is different from you. You could be with children all day and not molest any of them. You could look at a pretty girl in a secluded place and not attempt to rape her. You could probably be in charge of a friend’s finances and not steal anything. Many of you have told your stories here and I know that you have lived in relationship with some of the most difficult people in the world—and you have not committed murder. The truth is that there is a difference between you and many others.

Now, just what is that difference? You see, most of us were taught in church that all sin is the same and that any of us could do anything. I agree with that to a point. I believe any of us could commit any sin—but we don’t. I believe all sin is the same when the need for a Savior is proclaimed—but not all sin is the same in the practice of daily life. Some sin hurts others more seriously than other sin. Some is more cruel, more insidious, and, perhaps, more evil. Yes, there is sin on all our accounts and we all need the Savior’s love, but there are distinctions that are real and important. Otherwise, we can’t ever judge any cruel act.

When Jesus said that lust was the same as adultery and depersonalization was the same as murder, He meant that guilt was guilt in the eyes of God, and all sin creates a need for forgiveness and salvation. He was chastising the self-righteous leaders for judging some people as less valuable in the eyes of God. The sins of the leaders, while acceptable within the community perhaps, were still not acceptable to God. Jesus is not saying that the person who calls his brother a fool should be treated like a murderer. He is simply saying that we all sin.

We all agree that there are things on the list from last week that could apply to our behavior and attitudes at times. There is no question that I can be argumentative and critical and belligerent sometimes (I will spare you the rest of me that’s on that list). But that doesn’t make me a narcissist. When we list adjectives like that, we are just describing characteristics. For example, I could say that an apple is red, round, hard, sweet, edible, and falls from a tree. That doesn’t mean that every red thing is an apple. Nor does it mean that every hard thing that falls from a tree is an apple. These are just a list of an apple’s attributes. If all of them are true, I will begin to think of an apple, of course. And if many or all of the things on our lists from last week are true of a certain person, I will begin to wonder if that person is a narcissist.

There is another notable difference between most of us and the narcissist. When I do these things and I realize that I have done them, I experience regret. Not just regret for getting caught, but genuine regret for hurting someone and for being less than I could be. I often remember those things long after I did them because I wish I had never done them. Now, I believe there is no guilt on my account with God for those things because of what Jesus did for me and I have, when appropriate, apologized to the person, but I still remember and feel bad. I know I am not guilty, but I still beat myself with those things. Almost everyone reading this will understand… except for the narcissist.

You see, the narcissist only regrets getting caught or burning a useful bridge, he/she does not regret saying what was said. If he called you a name that cut deep, he has probably forgotten it, or he did it purposely to manipulate you in some way. For example, narcissists attack when they feel threatened. That’s when they use your secrets against you. Do they regret doing it? Of course not, no more than they would regret picking up a stick to chase away a threatening dog. You are not a person and your secrets are tools to be used.

But you don’t think that way and it is just fine for you to acknowledge that. You are different from the narcissist. Many have noted the existence of a kind of narcissistic spectrum. This concept may or may not be helpful. If we say that anyone on the spectrum is a narcissist, then it isn’t helpful. If we say that there is a point at which this behavior defines a person, that the person consistently acts in these negative ways, and is therefore a narcissist; then the spectrum is being used correctly. Not all vain people are narcissists, but vain people who also use others and have no empathy and regularly say and do inappropriate things might be.

My point is that the guilt we bring into these relationships is a weapon they will use against us. The narcissist and the legalist will heap more guilt on you and use that guilt to beat you into submission. The moment you try to defend yourself, they will pounce and accuse you of the same thing. They will gaslight you into thinking that it is really all your problem as they project their own behavior on you. As long as you let them present the axioms, set the agenda, provide the criteria—you will lose.

So, don’t bring the guilt for them to use. No, you are not perfect. No one is. Yes, you sometimes do wrong things. We all do. But you are not like the narcissist. And listen: you can disagree. When the narcissist begins to say that you are the one with the problem and that you do the same thing you are accusing him/her of doing, you can stop and say no.

“No, I am not like you.” If you can’t say it, at least let yourself think it.

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Guilt and Shame

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

One of the more subtle and unexplored connections between narcissism and legalism is the use of guilt and shame as motivation and control tools. So prevalent are these tools in the message of both legalism and narcissism that the connection can hardly be ignored. From the pulpit and the bedroom, from the family home to the service organization, guilt and shame are readily available and liberally applied.

Guilt and shame are usually found together, especially among Christians. The church has done a poor job of helping believers to release guilt, in spite of a message that proclaims the forgiveness of sins. Instead, the church has used guilt in a mixed message that never quite allows believers to feel forgiven.

The feeling associated with guilt, especially in the church, is shame. Shame moves church members to conformity and obedience; or, at least, compliance. Those who are intimidated by shame find it much more difficult to stand up against injustice, particularly to themselves.

Over the years I have suggested that guilt is a very inefficient motivator. It drains the accused of energy, energy that could benefit the one doing the accusing. In other words, using guilt and shame to motivate your kids to clean their rooms may work, but it costs them in both enthusiasm and creativity. Workers shamed into cooperation are still unwilling and without passion for the work. Employers and leaders who use guilt and shame will receive a lower quality of performance.

However, if you see the people in your care as somehow less than equal and less than valuable, you may be content with mediocre work and reluctant cooperation. If your members or workers are not real people in your mind and their greatest contributions are unworthy in your estimation, you may not care whether they perform with enthusiasm.

Enter the narcissist.

The narcissist has serious difficulty in valuing others or even in seeing others as real. Therefore the contributions of others have no real value to him. Slaves, servants, peons, sycophants, and moochers surround him. He expects them to serve him, but he also expects them to serve him poorly. So he uses whatever motivation will work.

I suspect that one reason a narcissist will attach to a believer is because the believer is often easier to manipulate with guilt and shame. Believers are usually pre-conditioned to accept this type of motivation. We have learned throughout our lives that most things are our fault. We have been told for years that we are inadequate and unworthy. So we accept the narcissist’s judgment as both true and normal.

But there’s more.

Guilt and shame may be very familiar to the narcissist. If we accept the typical version of a narcissist’s childhood, where parents are absent or conflicted and love is withheld except when it serves the parent, then guilt and shame are the primary motivations for the narcissist to hide and project an image. Rejection was his/her fault. He/she was to blame for the difficult childhood. If he/she had been a more worthy son/daughter the parent might have loved more.

The narcissist knows the power of guilt and shame. So it shouldn’t surprise us when narcissists seek victims who are already conditioned to that motivation. Nor should it surprise us when the compromised legalist uses it from the pulpit to control his parishioners or move them to conformity. When the narcissist tells his wife that their marriage problems are her fault, he is probably projecting the guilt and shame he has felt all his life and using it as a primary tool to control. When the legalist preacher condemns his people for the clothes they wear or the television they watch, he may well be projecting the guilt and shame he feels for the compromises of his own life.

So the answer to this control is to know the truth of God’s love and acceptance. Shame makes us feel less as persons. We relinquish our rights and our value when we live in shame. We accept the abuse of others and add to it ourselves, because we own the guilt. But that is not the message God has for us.

There is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus, according to the Scriptures. No more guilt or shame, because Jesus came to take that away from us. Yes, our actions may cause pain and our attitudes may be wrong, but that does not lessen our value to Him. We should be quick to confess injury to others and seek reconciliation, but from a position that is both secure and strong. We are loved by the greatest Judge of all and that will never change.

In other words, believers are healthy when they accept the acceptance God has toward them. We are strong when we acknowledge that nothing can remove us from His protection. We are confident when we understand that guilt and shame have been completely overcome in us by the One who sacrificed Himself for us.

Neither the narcissist nor the legalist preacher has the right to pronounce guilt on us. They have no power over us to place us under shame. We are free to simply shrug off their condemnation and manipulation. Understanding that is health and peace . . . and victory.

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Guilt

Grace 101

Ever feel guilty for doing something and then realize that you are already forgiven?  And then you feel guilty for not remembering that truth before?  We are creatures of guilt.  We are so familiar with guilt that we don’t recognize it as it creeps into our hearts and destroys our days.  It feels so right because it fit so well in our lives for so long.

But guilt and shame can distract you from the joy of grace.  They come when we forget that we are no longer under law, but they also come when we chastise ourselves under grace.  Many of us were taught to think of ourselves as stupid or weak or foolish.  Remembering the message of grace in a world (or in a church) that does not support that message can be hard work.

Some people who have had limbs amputated struggle with what is called, “phantom pain.”  Phantom pain is more than a memory that can simply be blocked out with effort.  Phantom pain, pain in a hand that is no longer there, for example, can be very real.  Something like 80% of amputees report some kind of phantom pain.  It hurts.  No one knows exactly what is happening, but almost all theories center on the continued functioning of nerves that used to extend to the absent limb.

Well, I don’t want to push the analogy too far, but you and I have nerves that are very used to experiencing shame and guilt.  In fact, most of us would worry about ourselves if we didn’t feel guilty for doing something wrong.  And we kind of want to have a reminder or a nudge when we do something wrong, don’t we?  But then, when we do feel guilty, we fall back into the self-condemnation and the oppression we experienced under the law.

So let me suggest a new tactic.  I think the nudge from the Holy Spirit is good.  There are things that we do that are hurtful to ourselves and others.  We don’t want to do them.  If we do them, we want to be nudged.  But we don’t have to feel shame and guilt.  That is something different.

If we could interpret the nudge from the Spirit as a blessing, as something good, then we could win.  Instead of the pain of shame, we could feel the attention of the Lord and the influence of His Spirit.  That’s not a bad thing at all.  In fact, we could go so far as to rejoice at our renewed awareness of His presence.

The next time the Holy Spirit nudges you with the mindfulness of your wrong action, just say, “Thanks!”  Believe that His only purpose is to help you and His only motive toward you is love.  There is no condemnation in His nudge, no shame, and you carry no guilt.  But He simply is telling you that this is not going to be profitable and He loves you enough to make His presence known.

Now, I know that someone will say that people will just sin more then so they can feel good about their interaction with the Spirit.  Listen: that’s dumb.  No one who wants to walk with Jesus will sin more so that they get more attention from Him.  What will happen is that the distraction that comes with the earthly consequences of sin and the false guilt will end and their hearts will be even more at peace in their relationship with Him.

You see, we no longer need guilt to guide us.  We have love.  God’s love for us is active and involved.  He speaks to us and leads us.  That is a very good thing.

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When Receiving Doesn’t Make Sense

Grace 101

 

Is receiving enough for you?  Do you feel you should do more to be “really” saved?  Do you feel like just receiving is being too passive?  Do you struggle with letting God give what you need when there are so many commands for right living in Scripture?  Does it make more sense that we should be working hard to keep favor with God?

There are often reasons people feel this way.  Let’s look at a few:

  1.  You feel guilty for your past.  It is one thing to hear that you are forgiven and quite another to feel forgiven.  But there is no truth contrary to God’s truth.  Whether you feel like it or not, all your sins have been forgiven in Christ.  You did nothing to earn or deserve that forgiveness.  It was a gift of His love.  That’s the truth and you can go through life denying it and missing the peace or you can accept it and be grateful. 
  2. You feel guilty for your present.  Your life doesn’t measure up to the standards you have learned.  You should be able to stop doing some of the things you do.  You feel that you don’t deserve to be saved.  Well, let’s establish right from the beginning that you didn’t deserve to be saved and you don’t deserve to stay saved.  But it wasn’t about your behavior then and it isn’t now.  There are certainly dangers in sinful behavior, but losing your salvation is not one of them.  Let the Lord lead you to right living, but trust in His love.
  3. You are getting bad teaching.  Many churches and preachers know nothing except the law and performance spirituality.  Sunday after Sunday they call Christians to repentance and salvation.  They take the gospel of works to people who are already saved.  Make a distinction in your mind between the message to the lost and the message to the saved so that you can discern which you are hearing.  If you are constantly hearing the message to the lost in the context of the saved, you may want to find another church.
  4. The evil one is whispering his lies.  You may not be able to do much about his whispers, but you can learn to ignore them.  They are lies, after all.  You don’t even have to argue with him.  Just tell yourself the truth.  If the evil one whispers that your secret might not be forgiven, just tell yourself that God knows all the hidden things and has forgiven all your sins.  The love of God is our strong weapon against the lies.  If the lies of the evil one consistently draw you to the truth of God’s love, the evil one loses.

These are just a few reasons that come to mind when I ask why some people would have trouble receiving God’s grace.  Jesus said that the truth will set us free—free to receive the wonderful grace of God’s love!

What are your thoughts?

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No Sin, No Shame

The other day I attended a seminar where the speaker talked about the value of shame.  He lamented the loss of shame in our culture as a way of guiding people to right behavior.  To be fair, there was a context to his statement, but I still didn’t like it.  It’s like spelling a word wrong for a long time; then, when you finally learn how to spell it correctly, you misspell it once in a while just to remind yourself.  I just don’t see any value in shame in the life of a believer.

I have believed for years that guilt and shame are similar in purpose to pain.  Pain is good, right?  You don’t want to be alerted to the fact that your hand is on the burner by the smell.  Pain tells you instantly that something is wrong.  It would be nice to be able to turn off that message when your brain gets the point, but pain continues as long as something is wrong.  If you do burn yourself, you may have pain until the healing is nearly complete and then have sensitivity after.

Sometimes the pain doesn’t go away when it should.  Phantom pain and chronic pain don’t necessarily signal that something is wrong.  Pain may be the result of something like crossed wiring in the brain.  The cause of the pain is gone, but the brain doesn’t understand that.

Guilt and shame point out to the lost person that something is wrong.  They are given by the Lord of love as a way of moving people to Him.  When we are in pain, it is hard to think of other things until that pain is removed.  When we feel shame, we find ourselves driven to healing.  When Jesus told the “heavily burdened” to come to Him, what burden do you think they were carrying?  They were carrying the shame of their inability to please God and their sins against Him.  We understand that.

But, when they came to Jesus, He took away their burden.  He told them that His burden was light.  In other words, they didn’t need to carry around their shame any longer.  They were forgiven.

When you came to Jesus and He washed away your sins, did He leave the shame?  Why would He do that?  No, the shame washed away as well.  No more sin, no more shame.  If the shame remains, it doesn’t come from the sin.  It comes from wrong thinking.  It comes from a lie that tells you that you are still responsible for the sins that have been washed away.

But, you say, what about the sins we do today?  Shouldn’t we feel shame because of them?  First, I have never seen shame bring a believer to victory, nor do I think it is possible.  Victory comes when we understand who we are in Christ, not when we continually focus on what we have done or are doing.  Truth brings victory.  When I see myself, who I really am, as free from that sin and no longer needing what I think it will provide, then I will have victory.

Also, I like to ask this question a lot: How much sin is on your account right now?  If you are a believer, the answer must be—none!  Jesus has washed it all away.  Even the sins of the present and the future.  Nothing is on your account, holding you back from full communion with the Lord who loves you.  And, remember: no sin, no shame.

Two more thoughts: I have written a couple of posts about 1 John 1:9 and whether we must confess our sins in order for them to be forgiven.  We do not.  I believe that is a statement of simple fact.  When you came to Christ, you confessed and He forgave you.  The need for continued confession seems to be very similar to the feedback loop in the brain that makes you feel pain when you shouldn’t.

Nothing of this minimizes the risk and consequence sin brings.  There is nothing good in sin for the believer and we should avoid doing the things God calls sin.  There are many earthly consequences to sin.  God did take care of the spiritual consequences, but you still hurt yourself and others through sin.

The only reason shame clings to you as a believer is because you don’t let it go.  Take it to Jesus.  Lay it at His feet.  Don’t pick it up again.  Then hear His voice of love and acceptance.

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