“Blame and Shame”

Throughout this blog, I often refer to four basic emotions:  feeling bad (fearful or guilty), mad, sad, and glad.  But, of course, there are many nuances of each and even combinations of emotions.  Shame is both sadness directed toward ourselves and fear of how others may respond.  Blaming others may be out of anger at their actions or fear to divert their attention from our part or both.  As you might imagine, shame and blame are often related.

Today’s article considers some concerning impacts of a popular series on Netflix that frequently addresses blame and shame.  I wouldn’t say that the show espouses biblical views, though.  Consider some of the following prompts and related Scriptures on these emotions and real guilt.

  • At what specific points and ways do we see shame and blame manifest in Genesis 3-4?
  • Shame often prompts us to hide.  In 2 Samuel 6:20, we see one of David’s wives ashamed that her husband was unashamed to dance to the Lord in his pajamas in from of his people.  How does our love for God because of His grace change our view of self and transparency (with discretion) before others?
  • Feeling guilty (shame) may be completely separate from being guilty (morally wrong).  Discuss the difference in the seemingly in the seemingly contradictory statements of 1 Corinthians 4:4 and 1 John 3:19-20.
  • Feeling no shame can be a bad thing (1 Timothy 4:2, 2 Timothy 3:1-7) or a good thing (Romans 10:11, 1 Peter 2:6).  And even feeling proper shame can be a good beginning toward repentance (1 Corinthians 6:5, 15:34, Titus 2:8).  Discuss the difference according to the context of those Scriptures.

Now consider this week’s article.


13 Reasons Why’s Controversial Depiction of Teen Suicide has School Counselors Picking up the Pieces   

“Blame and Shame” by Chaplain Jeff Dillard (2 May 2017)


Few topics are more difficult to discuss than suicide, maybe especially among minors.  Many mental health professionals see the Netflix series as a hindrance, not a help.  The show might not be such a focus of concern except of its commercial success and was renewed for a second season.  “It places the responsibility for a person’s suicide on the survivors of suicide loss, creates a false illusion that a suicidal person can be in control after her death, and offers up no alternatives for Hannah besides killing herself. Paired with a graphic depiction of the act itself and the show’s wild popularity, 13 Reasons Why now has mental health advocates and suicide prevention organizations doing damage control.” (http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2017/05/01/school_counselors_talk_netflix_s_controversial_teen_suicide_drama_13_reasons.html)  One of the questions is shame and blame: “which comes first?”

As important as the topic of suicide is, let’s consider our more common experiences with shame and blame.  For, if we can remember some basic dynamics of shame and blame, we may be better equipped for suicide intervention, after-the-fact crisis response, and more daily concerns in our lives.

First, each of us is born and remains inherently needy, which implies eventual copious failures.  We lack strength, wisdom, love, resources, etc. and are in relationships with equally incomplete people.

Second, the more our groups (family, school, work team, region, ethnicity, religion, etc.) values an image of zero-defect, the more its members will struggle under their shame and others’ blame.  Some will hide; some will freeze; others will lash out; and others will obsessively pursue that perfect image.

Third, the overall culture will focus on the extremes:  the models of “success” and the poster children of pitiful failure (or rebellion).  Everyone else is implicitly encouraged to keep swimming upstream.

True success is such cultures require a two-fold rebellion:  1) a change of goal from zero-defect to best function and 2) a change of means from protection and promotion of self to our relationships.

To a large degree, it’s a moot point whether blame or shame came first.  What does matter is how we relate to each other now.  When we make it easier to confess our failings to each other, we gain mutual trust and more time to help each other.  Zero-defect results in little trust and even less help.


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