Finding Your Spiritual Path Part 2: Forgiveness, Blame, and Shame

Blog: Finding your Spiritual Path Part 2: Forgiveness, Blame, and Shame

By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.

My previous post began to address the spiritual crisis that many people experience when a spiritual or religious leader has harmed people and broken their trust. Those who don’t abandon their spiritual paths entirely are faced with the challenge of trying to incorporate the experience of betrayal into the way that they hold their faith or their trust. One challenge people face in this situation is that the spiritual authorities that harmed others are not always willing to take responsibility for their actions. They feel they cannot move on until the issue is resolved through those who have generated the betrayal taking responsibility and asking for forgiveness. Fortunately, even when spiritual authorities refuse to take responsibility, it is possible for the spiritual seeker to engage in an internal process of forgiveness.

It is surprisingly common in this context for someone who has observed the lack of integrity on the part of a person or an organization they have trusted to feel that they themselves need to be forgiven for questioning that person or organization. This is, in part, because of the messaging of those who do not want to be held accountable, but it can also be because the person believes that it is wrong to question their faith, whether it is in a religion or in a secular authority.

This is where the play of guilt and shame intersects with the issues of forgiveness. Shame can only exist in the context of blame. We cannot feel shame unless we have been made to feel wrong. When the process of blame arises outside of ourselves we feel guilt. When this process of blame arises from within ourselves we feel shame.

If someone is trying to make us wrong for questioning our faith, we can only feel shame if we agree with the person or organization who is making us wrong. This is why we must seek to understand the relationship between guilt and shame when we are trying to explore our experience of wrongness in questioning authorities that have proven themselves to be unworthy of our trust.

In any situation where a person has been betrayed, it is imperative that they advocate for themselves in the process of exploring and questioning the situation. The task is to explore the roots and causes of that unhappiness not to become shut down in that exploration.

The issue of self-blame is an important one that needs to be recognized and addressed in order to hold the truth of a betrayal. In my book Coming To Peace, I offer some pointers about bringing resolution to the act of self-blame. This is where the true process of forgiveness begins. It is important to remember that, in any case, true forgiveness of the outside parties cannot occur until this internal process is complete.

Editors’ note: Isa is doing a Bay Area book tour this fall for her Amazon bestseller Coming to Peace. Join her at one of her readings.