Question: How should we view the concept of shame?

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Question: How should we view the concept of shame?

Introduction to Question

The topic of shame has been one of the most discussed in recent years. What is the value of shame? What is shame?

These questions are explored in this article.

Response to Question

Distinguishing Shame From Guilt?

The primary concern of many when dealing with shame is that shame is associated in people’s minds with feelings of self-loathing rather than hope and change. Popular psychological researcher Brené Brown speaks about how shame is thinking “I am bad” whereas guilt is more like “I have done something bad.” Brown’s distinction has become quite popular in others’ consciousness and it is indeed useful.

In the author’s view, Brown’s distinction does run at least one risk: that we forget that shame and guilt are qualitatively very similar feelings. When we associate any bad feeling that is similar to shame (guilt, embarrassment, remorse, etc.) with the label of shame—and we view all shame as entirely bad—we can start to reject moral norms that are placed on us by the Gospel and the Lord's servants as merely conduits to self-loathing. It is not that Brown's distinction is wrong or bad; but that it can have adverse, unintended affects on our psyches/spirits and moral thinking if we do not monitor our thoughts and feelings carefully.

Is Shame Useful?

It is important to remember that not all shame is bad. Shame that only produces self-loathing is indeed bad, but shame also has other functions like instilling moral wrongs into people. Whenever we do something we feel is morally wrong, we may feel a degree of shame. That isn’t bad. Even in the scriptures the Lord tells us that there may be a time for others to feel shame. Doctrine and Covenants 42:74-93 lays out procedures for performing Church discipline for when a member offends another member:

88 And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.
89 And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world.
90 And if thy brother or sister offend many, he or she shall be chastened before many.
91 And if any one offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly, that he or she may be ashamed. And if he or she confess not, he or she shall be delivered up unto the law of God (emphasis added).

Thus, there should be a function for shame to some degree. Not self-loathing, but godly sorrow and the change it inspires within us.


Hopefully this article will serve as a point of insight for those seeking to understand this vital concept. Continued reflection is surely to reveal more on this. Readers are encouraged to seek it.