Humiliation is a universal emotion. We know what it feels like, and we all seek to get out of that spot as quickly as we can. There are many places in the Bible where we see humiliation’s powerful effect on the various persons mentioned. The question then arises, how should we consider helping our counselees who are experiencing shame.
Shame May Be A Good Place to Be
There are a number of examples where the writers of scripture think that the appropriate emotional response to a particular situation is shame. Consider Daniel 9:8, “Open shame belongs to us, O Lord.” Or when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “I say this to your shame.” (1 Cor. 6:5). When a counselee has sinned, their conscience may be pricked, and the emotion of shame is driving them to repentance. Emotions, in many ways, serve as a quick summary of the heart of a person. When a person is experiencing the emotion of shame, this tells us a lot about what is going on in their heart.
Our desire may be to help a counselee who is experiencing shame to get out of that emotion as quick as they can, but that may not be the wisest of the most God-honoring path. We may want this emotion to do the work that God is intending before we attempt to provide relief.
Shame Is a Response to Pride
When we think about what shame is, it exits on a spectrum and that spectrum is pride. One the one side is exaltation on the other is shame. When a person, in their pride, has thoughts about how great they are, how right they are, how powerful they are (or any other form of boasting) and they are “proven right” the emotional response (and often outward expression of that) is to exalt in this position. Often when we talk about pride, we ask, “What is the opposite of pride?” and the answer is “humility.” That is not quite true. The opposite (literally on the other end of the spectrum is humiliation, or what I am describing here as shame.
The revel in the glory that is theirs. However, when a person is convinced of those same truths, but not able to achieve their goal or prove how great they are, they experience shame.
Take for example me playing basketball with Michael Jordan (I think that is the sport he plays). If he and I played a game of hoops, he would no doubt scorn my abilities. After talking to me for ten seconds he would be utterly convinced of his superiority. However, if I were to, by some miracle of God, be able to beat MJ in a pickup game, this would lead to shame for him.
The Biblical Response to Shame
Then what is the Biblical response to Shame? Humility. When a person’s views of themselves, their desires, their heart is crushed by someone or something, and they respond with shame, the response is to humble themselves. It is to confess their pride and to take the path of humility.
This counsel flies in the face of what the world will say. The world is convinced that for a person experiencing shame or “low self-esteem” the answer is to boast them up. However, the answer to one’s pride cannot be more pride. Rather, the right response is to look to Christ and see how amazing Christ is. The answer is to look at one’s feeble and broken state and to agree with what God sees.
How This Plays Out in Counseling
One of the most common ways that I see shame in the counseling room is when a young man chose to give in to looking at pornography and masturbation. There are all sorts of situations where shame is present, but for the counseling that I do, this is a common emotional response.
When we begin to explore why their emotions are they way they are, normally they will say things like, “I was doing so well.” Or “I have fought so hard.” Or “I just don’t know why I keep doing it.”
These words may seem innocent enough and they may even be words that you can sympathize with, but in them is danger. When a person says, “I was doing so well” this could mean that in their heart they began to boast in their own strengths and accomplishments. (Gal. 6:3) They may be severely patting themselves on the back in their mind. They may not be taking every thought captive like they used to. They may believe that because they have seen a short-term victory that Satan and their flesh is done. A little leaven does leaven the entire lump (1 Cor. 5:6).
In those moments, we need to gently help the counselee see that their pride is the source of their shame. The solution to that shame is to humble oneself.
How to Walk in Humility Away from Shame
If humility is the answer, then what is it?
C.S. Lewis famously said that “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of your self less.” His point was that humility is not beating yourself up mentally and telling yourself things like, “I’m such an idiot.” Rather, it’s just not thinking of yourself at all. There is even biblical warrant for this type of thinking (1 Cor. 4:2). However, there is a flaw in this, in that, often we do think too highly of ourselves and our ability.
The solution is not the tear ourselves down by insulting our character and abilities, rather the solution is to have the same view of ourselves that God has. God’s word is replete with how He views us. Humility is adopting the view that God has of us.
When you are trying to help your counselees develop a humble mindset, then read what God’s word says about them. Have them confess their own wrong ideas of who they are (no matter where those lies are). Have them work on memorizing those identity verses. Have them work putting to death any argument that they or the enemy may bring to their mind.
Another powerful ay to help a counselee with humiliation is to cultivate a prayer life that is robust and intentional. Many who struggle in this area are not careful about their thoughts and prayers. Having them create “talking points” as they pray is a great way to pray in a manner that is pleasing to God.
While there are more solutions to cultivating humility, let me offer at least one more solution. Encourage your counselee to not hide their weaknesses. Often the things we are most ashamed of are kept in the dark. Encourage them to, in the right way at the right time, to bring this into the light. There are so many struggles that people are ashamed of that is kept in the total darkness. By bringing it into the light, they can feel the warm embrace of the church, and they can begin really working on the problem.