I have found a very common problem that causes a lot of difficulties in relationships. It is the difficulty some people have in admitting their wrongs.

There are several reasons people have this problem, but I find that most often it is because they have not thought through the difference between shame and humiliation.

Shame is good. Humiliation is bad.

Yet both shame and humiliation hurt. Shame is good in that it is a proper response to having done something wrong. Most of our mothers have told us, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” — teaching us that we should feel badly because we did something wrong. Shame is an important part of repentance. We talk about the difference between someone being sorry they got caught and being sorry that they did a bad thing. Shame is the difference. When I have sinned, I should ask God to give me a sense of shame and sorrow so that I will not want to do that thing again.

Shame is the awareness that my own choices have made me worthy of punishment. Shame is good because it agrees with God’s Word. Shame hurts because it points out my wrong and my responsibility for it.

Humiliation is different; it is always bad. Humiliation is something others do to us. It is to be ridiculed or disgraced. The kid who strikes out in baseball and is made fun of for it knows what humiliation is. He did not do anything wrong, but he is treated like he did.  His hand/eye coordination is not as good as some others, but there is no wrong in that.  The kid with a speech impediment or a birth mark knows all about humiliation.

Humiliation is not just a feeling; it is a devaluing of our being created in the image of God. We all have tasted of it, and it is so bitter that we never want to have to taste it again.

The problem is that humiliation and shame tend to feel much alike. Many people have not learned to make the distinction between shame and humiliation. Therefore, when it is time for them to admit a wrong, they become very defensive or pull away and refuse to even talk. From their perspective, we are asking them to humiliate themselves and they refuse to go there. In fact, they become upset with us because we are trying to humiliate them. We become upset with them because they refuse to take responsibility for their actions. An argument takes place, and everyone says things they should not. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Are you somebody who has a hard time admitting when you’re wrong? If you aren’t sure, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you often slow to say you are sorry?
  2. Do others normally take the lead in fixing relationship problems when they arise?
  3. When told that you have done something wrong, do you tend to get defensive?
  4. When was the last time you went first in saying you were sorry?
  5. Do problems get avoided instead of addressed because trying to address them only leads to arguments?

Answering yes to these questions or not being able to remember the last time you went first in saying you were sorry would tend to indicate that you are confusing shame and humiliation.

Whenever you feel as though you are being humiliated or wronged, pause to reflect on whether you are being humiliated or called out on something you ought to take responsibility for.

  • Remember, shame and humiliation feel very much alike. It is wise and good for us to feel shame when we have sinned or hurt another person.
  • Remember, we do not have to have intended to do wrong in order to actually do wrong.  When we hurt someone by an oversight, we have still been wrong and when it is brought to our attention it should matter to us.

How to walk this out:

  • Talk to your spouse or children. Explain that you are not trying to humiliate them, but you are asking them to take responsibility for their actions.
  • Show respect when you bring up a wrong. If you are presenting wrongs out of frustration or anger, it will seem like you are just trying to humiliate.
  • Pray and ask God for help in learning how to accept shame and how to find comfort in the grace of Jesus Christ.