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Guilt & Shame – motivating you towards God?

This is Part 2, following on from Faith or Fear: Love of God or saving you from hell?

As we continue to move up Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, the motivating factors become weaker. So, while fear may be the strongest, with guilt and social acceptance being another strong external motivator, when you reach shame (internal), the power it holds over you lessens.

Nonetheless, shame as a learned behaviour is something that carries with you all your life! The effects of the manipulation and emotional abuse are scars carried until healing takes place on a deep level.

Guilt as a Motivator:

While “salvation” might come through Jesus’ dying on the cross – everything after that depended entirely upon me! It was “put upon us” that we had to fight to keep our salvation – and there was a level of perfectionism built into the guilt.

If you imagine the effect of guilt upon a child – when we make someone else feel bad, “I caused this”. If I feel bad, then I must have caused this as well. Psychologically, children are survivors – and in order to cope with guilt, we take on “I am responsible for this”, because it provides a modicum of control over the situation in which we find ourselves. If I have some control, then there are parts of this situation that I have the power to stop or alleviate the pain.

Unfortunately, how were we to know that we were playing with a misconception of right and wrong, and our ability to change a course of action. Guilt is about renewing the feelings of a past moment in the present time. We felt guilt for how we looked and how we were perceived by others, if it was anything less than perfect!

maslow's hierarchy of needs, social needs, guilt as a motivator, using guilt to control another, abuse, guilt for what you've done, guilt for what you didn't do, errors and omissions,

We were warned against being rebellious, because that would have repercussions on our parents. If we were too badly behaved, they might even get thrown out of the mission! And that would be “your fault”.

“If your parents get kicked out of the mission, they won’t be able to preach the gospel to those poor indians that are going to hell, and it will be your fault that all those people went to hell. You don’t really want that on your conscious, do you?”

It’s a lot of guilt for an 8 or 10-year-old to carry on their shoulders! But it wasn’t just me. This was the same guilt-trip that we were all fed.

A few of the “wiser ones” realised it was all brain-washing and mind-fuckery… and they were the “trouble-makers” who were constantly in trouble and who were risking getting their parents expelled!

But, that wasn’t the end of the “us” versus “them” mentality in the social triggers. We were told not to play with those “sinner” neighbour’s kids, because we were “the chosen”, the “elect”, and the “righteous”. As opposed to those “heathens”. Superiority and segregation were the name of the game in our “true faith”. We could preach to them, but we couldn’t play with them.

But if you take duty as a motivator – the social element of guilt – there was a manipulation into compliance, playing on our sense of belonging.

Avoiding guilt is simple self-interest.

Once again, you achieve outward compliance of “Christian behaviour” – but no real change of heart. We talked about God’s love. I certainly didn’t feel or experience it!

Can I tell you how relieved I am that my parents were eventually expelled from the mission, in order to facilitate a cover up? The worst possible thing that could happen, happened. Guess what – I didn’t die! Yes, my world came crashing down. But we survived, and I’m so glad my little brother didn’t go to boarding school!

Shame as a Motivator:

For God so loved the world… “you better be happy God did this for you, otherwise your sorry ass would be in hell”.

Okay, I accept, I might have used more colourful language than what any dorm parent or mission member would have used! But that was basically the message! You are a sinner and should be ashamed of yourself.

Continually ashamed.

You are only saved by grace and will never be good enough to be worthy of this salvation.

Salvation, the way I learnt it, was not about “sonship” or “children of God” – we continued to be sinners all the time, we were just “lucky sinners” that have said the sinners prayer and so saved from the fires of hell.

But we continued to live in shame.

The only thing we could not be ashamed of was the gospel of Christ!

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, shame as a motivator, using shame to motivate, shaming children, self-esteem, crushing a child's self esteem

This meant, at least for me, living with a weakened self-esteem and self-worth. I grew up with an unrealistic measure of self-worth – this dichotomy between who I should be and who I was.

Never enough.

Internalized shame was constant, because we were never allowed to externalise anger, sadness or any other “bad” feelings. We swallowed them down, suppressed them, and by obligation put community and reputation first.

Failure to conform -in any way – was, of course, shameful.

Once again, what kind of motivator is this? Yes, you’ve achieved outward compliance – but where is the true and deep transformation of the soul? Where is the presence of God and the Spirit in each child’s life?

I would guess that more than half of us felt we’d had our spirit’s crushed!

We got really good at pretending!

Hiding any anxiety, anger, depression, or other “unacceptable” ways of being. Of course, all of this waiting to come pouring out once we are released from the confines of that environment.

Knowing God:

The problem with fear, guilt and shame – they cannot produce lasting change. The change only lasts for as long as you are within the confines of that environment where those chains hold you. They may have lasting effects upon your mental and emotional well-being, but once the conditions are altered, the behaviour alters as well!

So, of course, many of those missionary kids – like me – abandoned all ties with the church (any church) the moment our parents left the mission field. So many stories to tell, so many experiences.

But I don’t know how many would say today that they base their decision making upon faith and love of God as a motivating factor!

Did we really “know God” as a result of that upbringing?

Or did we simply pretend to, by external compliance?

How many children in churches today continue to live up to these rules and expectations, motivated by fear, guilt and shame?

I count myself among the lucky ones. I did therapy for a couple of years with a christian psychologist who used regression therapy, hypnotherapy and NLP to help me work through some of the mental, and emotional trauma. She understood the environment I had grown up in and enough to say “was that God or was that men who deigned to say they spoke for God?”. She was perfectly happy for me to abandon the Christian faith in order to find reconciliation with God (although obviously that was not what she wanted)!

Since then, I’ve done more work with another psychologist as well as hundred of hours of personal coaching.

If you are responding from a place of fear, guilt or shame – is that true faith?

Not from where I sit. There might be outward compliance – but that is not actual faith. No change has taken place on the inside!

Therein lies my distain for this system of control through fear!

What kind of prayer life do you have when you believe from a place of fear? How is this different from prayers of faith?

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Finding Love and Faith as Motivators:

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, love as a motivator, motivated by love

I’ve spent the past ten years questioning my belief systems and faith, not just revisiting what I was taught, but daring to ask “do I actually believe this and if I don’t what does that mean for me?”

In the end, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that no matter how well-intentioned any of the teachers or dorm-parents may have been in their concern for saving our souls, they did much more harm than good.

20 A bad motive can’t achieve a good end;
    double-talk brings you double trouble.

Proverbs 17:20 (MSG)

We never reached a level of motivation from love and acceptance.

Unfortunately, as we know from Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs, self-actualization is the least of our needs! It’s much easier to manipulate and control the masses through fear, group membership and acceptance, and even shame, than it is simply to focus on self-actualization, faith and love.

But being transformed by the renewing of our minds – that can’t be done at the levels of safety, social needs or even esteem. It only takes place at the highest level – when we no longer feel we “need” it, and have the freedom to choose it for ourselves.

How many people would simply choose Love of God and faith with that level of freedom? With no obligation?

In my own search for faith and for practicing the presence of the Divine – my personal discovery is that this is the only level on which I am prepared to make that commitment. To choose Divine Love – voluntarily, with no coercion.

Otherwise, it’s meaningless.

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