Breaking the Guilt-Shame Cycle


It’s the poisonous thought followed by the feeling of self-loathing.  It’s remembering the wrong choice from a month ago, a week ago, or even from yesterday, followed by the sinking feeling in your gut that you’re just no good, that you’re stuck, that as hard as you try you won’t be able to break the cycle and live a positive, spiritual life.  It’s the guilt-shame cycle.  And it’s common to all who are striving to live a holy life, but seem to keep falling.

But there’s hope.  There’s always hope.  Here are three thoughts that you can consciously cultivate to help you break the  guilt-shame cycle in your life.

Deeply ponder and remind yourself: God is outside of time

Scripture tells us that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8).  Thinking about our negative behaviors inevitably pulls us into the guilt-shame cycle.  However, it’s essential for us to remember God’s perspective: God is outside of time.  We may feel trapped in thoughts about the past, but there is no past for God.  There is only the eternal present.  Through prayer and meditation we insert ourselves into the eternal present moment and simply begin again.  As you meditate, let this thought permeate your prayer:

Yesterday is gone; tomorrow is not here; in this present moment I accept myself as God accepts me.

Deeply ponder and remind yourself: God is love and forgiveness

God loves us, unconditionally, at every moment.  His forgiveness is ever-new.  Regardless of what we’ve done, his love is unceasing.  Nevertheless, we can believe this and still be stuck in guilt and shame.  And so God desires that we love and forgive ourselves.  He doesn’t ask us to love the wrong we’ve done; he invites us to love ourselves because he has created us, and God loathes nothing that he has created.  As you meditate, let this thought permeate your prayer:

Lord, you love and forgive me.  In this moment, I choose to love and forgive myself because it’s what you want me to do.

Deeply ponder and remind yourself: God offers new life…every day

St. Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).  Jesus doesn’t let us go when we sin; he doesn’t distance himself from us.  He simply waits with open arms ready to embrace us once again.  At every moment, each and every day, he offers new life.  Your new life begins now.  It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past.  He wants to give you new life now.  As you meditate, let this thought permeate your prayer:

Lord, with you each moment is new.  I accept the new life that you give to me in this moment and I begin again.

The guilt-shame cycle is vicious indeed: Feeling negatively about ourselves can lead to self-defeating behaviors which lead to deeper self-loathing which leads to feeling negatively about ourselves.  And then the cycle begins again…

But there is tremendous hope.  By intentionally pondering and putting into practice these spiritual thoughts, you can break the guilt-shame cycle and begin to experience the freedom that God desires for you.

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10 Responses to “Breaking the Guilt-Shame Cycle”

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  1. Bill P. says:

    Fr. Najim: Thanks much for this. It came the perfect time!

    May God bless and keep you safe in 2013.

    Bill P.

  2. Terry says:

    Spiritually the lowest point in my life~ living my faith day by day. Thank-you after a lonely advent season , and couldn’t wait to leave 2012 behind. Through my faith and great community in my church (which welcomed me back unconditionally), I am still waking and making the most of each day ~ I am so broken!! Thank-you for this post I vow to read each moment my mind fails to let the past go.


    • Michael Najim says:

      I’m praying for you Terry! Keep going. One day at a time. Jesus loves you. It’s a new moment. Keep beginning again.

  3. Joni says:

    This is just what I needed to read and embrace. Another example of God working through people I do not even know! Thank you Father.

  4. Cathy says:

    God bless you,Father. This was much needed,and I am so grateful to the Lord for putting this in my path today. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

  5. Ken says:

    So proud that you are a Catholic priest in RI. You inspire all with your words.
    Thank you for your spirituality and example!

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