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Guilt, Shame and Happiness in Religion and Spirituality

By HERWriter
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I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with religion, and I’ve never felt truly spiritual. Religion always made me crave a connection I never really felt (the same with spirituality), no matter how hard I tried. There was also the depression that never went away, and later on my identity and morals and values took a hit that made me only feel guilt and shame by going to church.

I still feel this conflict today, though I do desire to return to church to see if that is somehow a key to my diminished happiness, though I have a feeling it’s more about solidifying my identity and returning fully to my original morals and values (or just accepting that over the years my needs and wants have changed). Or it’s the simple matter of fully treating my depression, which might encompass guilt, shame and my conflict with morals, values and religion.

Thinking through all of this, I figured it would be insightful to gain the perspectives of a few psychologists who had some opinions in the area of religion, spirituality, guilt, shame, happiness and the self.

Joseph Ferrari, a psychology professor at DePaul University and a deacon candidate, said that if people are feeling guilt and shame in religion and spirituality, they might be missing the whole meaning, since God is about forgiveness.

He said in the last 60 years, at least in Catholicism, there has been a change in focus from a condemning, punishing God to a loving and forgiving God.

“We celebrate the beauty of humanness and being people,” Ferrari said. “Yes, we make mistakes but that’s why we have a forgiving God, a God of second chances.”

He said in spirituality, it is important to understand your relationship with God and how to enhance it, including if you’ve turned away by sinning.

There are some people struggling with guilt and shame because they sin and are in conflict with their religion, but he said he tells those people to look at God in a different view.

“The view of a shameful, punishing, punitive God…is really not the image that spiritual leaders follow today,” Ferrari said, and that view was mainly held years ago.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.