Feelings and Emotions in the Context of Shame

Feelings and Emotions and Moods, Oh My!
Is there a difference, or can we use whichever word we want?
Well, of course you can do what you like, but there are differences between these words.

The Effect of Affect

It all begins with affect. Nope, not effect…affect. Now, you may have some bad grammar experiences being called to mind right now. There’s a place for that, but I’m not talking about the difference between effect and affect. I’m talking about a biological response to a situation that results in an emotional state. An affect, according to Donald Nathanson, is the biological side of a feeling. It’s a feeling before you realize that it’s a feeling.

Feelings…Nothing More Than Feelings

When you become aware of an affect, that’s when we start talking about feelings versus affects. Awareness is the key. So, wait, does that mean we are always experiencing affects even is we’re not aware of them? Bingo! Just because we aren’t aware doesn’t mean that we aren’t “emotional.” We are always adjusting to our emotional states. We are either aware or unaware of these changes.”

In the Mood

So, if a feeling is simply awareness of an affect, what’s an emotion? When we become aware of an affect, we’re crossing the border from biology to psychology. Then, it’s a short trip from awareness to our personal history with this feeling. Sometimes, our history with the feeling is short lived. Sometimes, we free-fall into a long history with the emotion. The time it takes for us to travel through our personal history = mood. When the emotional history is unpleasant or distressing, we might say that we’re “in a funk” or “we’re in a bad mood.” When the emotional journey is pleasant, we’re more likely to say that we’re in “a good mood.” 


A Cryin’ Shame

Whenever I talk about shame as a persisting reality, most people recoil at the thought. The idea that we are constantly navigating shame, vulnerability, human limitation, etc. is not a popular idea. Most of us do not realize that this is happening. Why? Because this navigation is taking place at the level of affect. Shame is persistent and pervasive but, we usually fight against awareness. We all have a history with it. It is a terribly distressing feeling. 
For most of us, an awareness of shame summons monsters. I’ll never forget telling a counselor that I was going to practice awareness. I wanted to become more aware of my neediness and “messiness.” I wanted to be aware of the presence of shame in my and be present with people. He looked right at me and said, “Man, how are you going to do that? That’s the Devil you’re talking about going against!”
He was right. But when he said that, two things happened. First, I felt even more shame – not the toxic kind that says, “there’s something WRONG with you.” I felt the kind of shame that says, “You’re human. You’re going to need help. And God made you that way.” Second, my mind drifted to James 4.

Awareness is the Key

James 4: 6 – 10 gives us an antidote to toxic shame. With it we can become more aware to God-Given shame and become more aware to feelings and needs. 

6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

First, God gives grace. Before you take a step toward the awareness of shame and those distressing experiences, there is grace. Grace is the power of God that comes through the presence of God. 
Second, God calls us to accept how we are made. He made us to be needy, dependent, creatures. We are made in the image of God but NOT God. He made us to need Him to need other people and to need the created order to survive. When we reject how we’re made (“I don’t need anybody or anything!”), we’re walking away from the grace of God-Given shame. Walking away from humility leads to the path of pride.
Third, when we walk in God’s grace, and accept how we’re made in humility, we resist the devil, and we win. Why does verse 7 sound great but verses 8b – 9 sound awful? “8b Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? But that’s what Chip Dodd calls “life on life’s terms.”

Need Help?

Living how we are made means accepting that we are needy, powerless, creatures. We all have dignity and a special purpose in this world, but we are not in control. We will have to “do life on purpose.” We will have to admit mistakes. We will have to say, “I’m sorry.” We will have to feel sad and hurt and guilt and shame. We will have to feel lonely for God and run to Him.
I don’t like this AT. ALL. But this is how we walk in grace, accept how we’re made, receive the gift of humility and resist the devil. But there’s one last thing. It’s implied in James but you can’t see it. You see, James isn’t writing his letter to you or to me. He was writing this letter to a community. In a sense he was writing to US. The antidote to toxic shame is designed to be taken in the context of community. You can’t walk this walk alone. 
If you’re ready to start walking in this direction, I hope you’ll reach out to someone. If you know a pastor or a counselor who will help, reach out. If you don’t know anyone, and you feel like you need someone, two things: 1.) You can reach out to me. 2.) You’re already on the path to accepting how God made you.

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