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Conviction v. Shame: Why a Sense of Shame Isn’t a Bad Thing

As we continue discussing identity, we’re going to look into how a sense of shame isn’t a bad thing. Shame can be toxic, but conviction is a good thing. Today we’re going to discuss conviction v. shame…the differences between them.

conviction v. shame

I lived with a toxic form of shame for a long time. It started at a young age. I come from a family of overachievers and learned the best way to get attention is to achieve.

But when I didn’t reach that top tier, I didn’t feel good enough. Eventually, no matter what I won, in my mind, I felt inadequate. This is the definition of a shame-based identity.

“You are enough”…words I couldn’t accept. I never felt peace or rest. Besides, achievers don’t rest, right? This toxic shame provided the fuel I thought I needed to continuously progress, only I didn’t progress as a true man.

Shame’s a hot topic nowadays thanks to Brene Brown, and we’ve read about how destructive it can be. But I’ve seen people equate feeling bad or even restless to shame. While shame disappears as we grow to love our unique identity, guilt and conviction do not and should not.

Everyone needs a sense of shame, but no one needs to feel ashamed.” Frederick Nietzsche

Counselor and author John Bradshaw compares shame to cholesterol. Two types of cholesterol exist: healthy HDL and the bad kind, LDL. He describes innate shame (which we’ll refer to as “conviction” in this article) and toxic/life-destroying shame. It’s important to distinguish this concept of shame because English only has one word for it, while other languages have two.

Conviction v. Shame

Conviction can aid in growth, maturity, and identity.

Conviction is productive, but toxic shame binds us in immaturity and adolescence. It hinders us from becoming who we are supposed to be. Usually shame zeroes in the part of your identity you secretly desire most.

YOU WILL NEVER GET MARRIED!

YOU WILL NEVER HAVE CHILDREN!

NO ONE WILL EVER ACCEPT YOU!

And when you believe the root issue is simply you, hiding behind an act becomes easy.

But conviction is a form of self realization. It provides the humility needed to submit to going from step 1 to step 2. As Brene Brown says, “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.”

Conviction happens when your actions don’t line up with your values.

This concept comes from Merle Fossum and Marilyn Mason’s book, Facing Shame: Families in Recovery.

A person with guilt might say, ‘I feel awful seeing that I did something which violated my values’…In so doing the person’s values are reaffirmed. The possibility of repair exists and learning and growth are promoted.”

On the other hand, with shame, you’re always wrong even if you did something right. It’s the “painful feeling about oneself as a person.”

Conviction leads to bravery

Shame leads to hiddenness. In John Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame that Binds You, he describes how Annibale Pocaterra may have been one of the first authors on shame. He describes how shame can cause us to want to run and hide. On the other hand, a sense of conviction can cause us have a “fear of infamy.” When this evil is recognized, we can fight with more fervor and passion.

Conviction acknowledges you did something wrong and want to make reparations.

Shame is being a mistake. You can hear toxic form of shame echoed when someone says, “I wish I had never been born!” On the flip side, Bradshaw notes how Pocaterra described blushing in children and “believed that blushing was both the recognition of having made a mistake as well as the desire to make amends.”

Conviction humbles us.

Toxic shame can result from our buy-in of the belief  “we are limitless,” especially when you run into those limitations. But Bradshaw writes, ‘We humans are finite, ‘perfectly imperfect.’ Limitation is our essential nature. Grave problems result from refusing to accept our limits.”

The truth is, we are not perfect, we are not God, and we need help. Conviction moves us to ask for help. We aren’t created to run alone. We are made for community. Our identity is formed within community.

Conviction keeps us from doing dumb things.

Conviction keeps you from engaging in premarital sex, pornography, or even something as simple as lying. But shame pushes us towards unhealthy addictions. “You’ve failed before. What makes you think you will succeed this time? Just do it!”

Conviction is the source of a spiritual life, it’s the recognition and retort of your wrong actions, it’s a beneficial feeling, a picture of what you can be…it’s the small whisper that says, “You can do better than this.”

What additions would you make?

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