How Do I Deal With The Shame Of Being A Bad Person?

Hi Mme Anna, please make a post about how to heal deep core shame of being a bad or faulty individual. I tried through counseling but I feel it is still there eating me. As a child my caretakers never made the distinction of doing good versus being bad. I feel so many of my doings in my adult life are meant to compensate that. It would be so appreciated and God bless you and this platform!

I’m so glad you asked! This is a struggle that many people have, and it’s one of my favorite subjects to help people with. While the guilt you’re dealing with is very miserable to experience, this is also one of the easier problems to recover from because the steps to healing are very straightforward. You basically just need to understand certain principles, then get into a habit of reviewing them whenever you start feeling stressed. I can tell by how you phrased your question that you’ve already figured out some key parts of the solution on your own. With just a few more pieces added, you’ll have what you need to start getting some soul peace, so let’s get started!

Understanding the Problem

First, let’s discuss exactly what we’re dealing with. Getting a good understanding of the problem is always the first step in finding a real solution. What’s making you feel so miserable right now is ongoing moral guilt over things you did or didn’t do in the past. Your mind does not care about the subject of morality. So what we’re dealing with here is a soul issue. It’s very important to identify which internal element (mind vs. soul) is upset, because these two elements need different kinds of help to fix their problems.

If you saw a counselor who specializes in psychological problems, then it’s not surprising you didn’t feel very helped by therapy. Counselors who are trained to focus on mind stresses usually don’t know how to recognize or handle soul stresses. But since I specialize in both areas, you’ve come to the right place for help. Treating this kind of issue requires focusing specifically on your soul, listening to it’s concerns, and helping it form a more positive view of you. While your mind is certainly going to feel upset by sensing how unhappy your soul is right now, your mind’s stress is a reaction to your soul, which means your mind will feel better once it senses that your soul is in a better place.

Now when you were a child, you didn’t feel the guilt that you do now. So what has changed between then and now? What you’ve experienced is a significant change in your soul beliefs. This is actually a good thing because your beliefs are supposed to change as you grow up. Now of course not all changes are good. Some souls actually make harmful changes to their beliefs in response to things they experience. But in your case, it sounds like the changes your soul is making are very positive. You started out with role models who didn’t provide you with any helpful instruction on how to form a positive moral code. Now as an adult, you’re suddenly being exposed to new information that is inspiring your soul to make big changes to how it defines right and wrong. This is excellent–you’re really moving in the right direction. It sounds like you are also trying to adjust your current behaviors to live according to your new set of soul beliefs. But notice how you are so focused on the past. Instead of being able to enjoy all of the positive growth you’ve made as an adult, you’re criticizing yourself for not being born this way. Is this fair? No. Your soul is being quite harsh and unreasonable to scold you for not living up to standards that you didn’t even know existed. That’s like punishing a young child for not being able to do adult level math.

To fix this problem, we need to help your soul understand how to be a better judge. Again, this is a very common problem for humans. Human souls aren’t born knowing how to be good judges, so they look for authority figures that they can imitate. The more powerful and confident an authority figure seems, the more effort souls will put into trying imitate the system of judging that those authority figures use.

Now when you were a child, your caretakers didn’t show you how to make beneficial moral assessments. Since you felt dependent on your caretakers and viewed them as having a lot of power over you, your soul naturally decided to imitate their style of moral judgment, which meant ignoring the issue of morals all together. As you behaved in different ways as a child, your soul didn’t feel a need to protest when you were doing “bad,” because it didn’t view anything you did as bad.

Now as an adult, we find your soul suddenly assessing your past behavior very differently. Today it’s expressing strong disapproval of things that it didn’t used to care about. So what has changed? Clearly your soul has found a new set of authority figures to imitate–ones that it feels are better choices than your childhood guardians. These new figures obviously have strong views about how to define right and wrong which they have taught your soul. But these new authorities have done more than just introduce you to new moral rules. They have also encouraged you to believe that you are currently being punished for things you’ve done in the past. Notice how you say:

I feel so many of my doings in my adult life are meant to compensate [for being bad in the past].

So on the one hand, we can see that you’re being positively affected by these new authorities in your life, because today you have a better moral code than you had as a child. But we also see a negative influence happening, because you’re being taught to feel ashamed and deserving of punishment for doing things that you didn’t even know were wrong at the time you did them.

Now the fact that you mentioned God tells me you have established a personal relationship with Him, which is excellent. The fact that you’re so worried about being a bad person proves that you care very much about being a good person. It is God who inspires us to want to mature into better people, and the fact that your soul is trying to align with His priorities shows that your soul really cares about pleasing Him. All of this is extremely positive, and once again demonstrates that your soul is really moving in the right direction. But here’s an important thing to understand about God: He is a very encouraging Teacher (see Spiritual Maturity: Learning From A God Who Loves To Teach). All of this scolding about your past is not coming from Him, nor is He the One telling you that you’re a horrible person who now has to do a bunch of miserable things to try to make up for bad things you’ve done. These very negative and stressful messages are coming from a different kind of supernatural being: demons.

The same God made both demons and humans, along with every other kind of creature that there is. But while you like God and want to be in a good place with Him, demons hate God and intentionally try to sabotage anything that He seems to want. Now can demons really ruin God’s plans? Of course not, because God is far more powerful than the beings He creates. But in a case like yours, demons become actively involved in trying to make you feel like a hopeless failure in God’s eyes. Whenever God teaches you a new concept that will help you mature, demons rush in to try to turn that positive lesson into something negative and discouraging.

Suppose a young girl is trying to learn to read. Naturally she stammers and struggles a lot, but her teacher doesn’t mind. Instead of criticizing, the teacher is very encouraging and keeps telling the girl that she’s doing well. But while the teacher is saying encouraging things, other kids who are sitting in on the lesson keep mocking the girl and calling her mean names. With her peers acting this way, the girl’s confidence gets shaken and soon she stops trying to read altogether. The bully kids have pressured her into giving up on learning just by mocking her. If the girl was to ignore the mean kids and focus on pleasing her teacher, she would become a very good reader. You see, the bullies cannot stop the girl from advancing. The bullies have no power over the girl’s ability to learn new concepts and develop new skills. It’s only by focusing on what the bullies want instead of focusing on her kind teacher that the girl ends up letting the bullies rob her of a wonderful skill.

Today you are like that young girl who is trying to read and God is your kind Teacher who loves explaining new things to you. God is constantly encouraging you and pointing out the progress you’re making as your soul works at grasping the new concepts He is teaching you. But while God is teaching you using a positive, encouraging tone, demons are shouting at you like those mean bully kids. Demons want to get your focus off of God and onto them instead. They want you to get so focused on trying to please them that you’ll stop listening to what God is telling you.

Now suppose I’m a demon and I want to keep you distracted and miserable for a very long time. What would be a good strategy for me to use? Suppose I give you a problem that I know you can’t solve, and then I insist that you solve it. This is the very common demon ploy that you’ve fallen for. Notice how you’re feeling a great burden to make up for things you’ve done in the past. It’s like you’re trying to pay off some kind of huge debt. The problem is that the amount you owe seems endless. How can you ever really make up for doing bad things in the past? History is unchangeable. It’s not like you can go back to being a child and live your life over again. No matter how many good things you do today, those “bad” things you did in the past will still be there, mocking you. Can you see how perfect this is for demons? By conning you into believing that you’re supposed to “make up for the past,” they’ve got you trapped in an impossible situation. No matter what you do, they can always tell you “that’s still not enough.” And now that they’ve deceived you into thinking you have some big moral debt to pay, they can pressure you into doing all kinds of miserable things just by saying that those things will count towards your debt. It’s all just a vicious game, but one that many souls fall for because demons know how to come across as extremely persuasive authority figures.

Now that we understand what’s really going on with you, let’s talk about the solution. Here’s where we come to some very good news, because it turns out that the answer to your problem is much simpler than you think. There is no need for you to cancel out bad deeds from the past with good deeds today. Succeeding with God has nothing to do with trying to erase bad marks on your life’s report card. God’s judgment of you is not based on statistics. He doesn’t just add up your bad deeds, compare it to your number of good deeds, and then give you a final mark. That’s how you get graded in school by human teachers, but God is not a human and He has a totally different way of judging you.

Getting a correct understanding of how God actually judges you is the critical piece that you’re missing right now. The truth is that God is very easy to succeed with. Once you understand this, and once you understand that God’s opinion of you is the only one that really matters, then your soul will be able to breathe a big sigh of relief and you’ll be able to stop doing any activities that you’re currently only doing out of guilt. So now let’s learn about how Divine judgment works, and why God never gives you problems that are impossible to solve.

How God Judges You

There are two key things to understand here. The first is understanding how God determines when you personally did something bad. The second is understanding how God decides if He is pleased with you today.

When it comes to understanding God’s moral code, it’s very important to separate the idea of a general principle from the idea of you personally doing something bad. For example, God would say that it is wrong to try to hurt another human’s feelings because He says that humans should be kind to each other. But then you say something to your friend Natasha, and she bursts into tears, which really surprises you because you really weren’t trying to be unkind. What just happened here? According to Natasha, you just hurt her feelings, and she thinks you did it on purpose. But unlike Natasha, God can see what your soul’s intentions really were. Since God sees that you were not trying to be unkind, He does not accuse you of doing “bad.” While it will probably help your relationship with Natasha to apologize for hurting her feelings, you should not internally accept the blame for doing bad. Instead, you should align with God’s assessment of you, which means realizing that Natasha misjudged you.

In life, humans will often accuse you of doing and being “bad” even when you weren’t. Humans can’t see each other’s true motivations, so they often make false assumptions about each other. Because humans misjudge each other so often, they can be very hard to stay in a good place with. But because God never makes wrong assumptions about you, He is very easy to succeed with.

So what happens if we apply God’s system of judging to your past behaviors? According to God, to qualify as a “bad person” when you were young, your soul would have to not only understand His moral code, but it would also have to be intentionally trying to violate that code. Is that what really happened? No. No one introduced you to God’s moral code as a child, so you had no opportunity to choose to go against it.

Suppose two children take some cookies out of a jar. Before they do, the first child’s mother tells him not to take any cookies, but the second child’s mother doesn’t tell him anything. Which child did a “bad” thing? Only the one who was given a rule. The point is that you have to first be told to do something before you can decide whether you will obey or disobey. In your case, you were never given a bunch of moral rules as a child, yet today you are blaming yourself for being the sort of child who intentionally broke rules. Well, no, that logic doesn’t work. Certainly you might have done bad things according to God’s general moral code, which you’re only just now learning about. But the kind of “bad” you’re punishing yourself for is a willful “I know the rule and I’m intentionally ignoring it” kind of attitude. You simply never committed the crime that you’re trying to make up for today, so it’s time to let yourself out of jail.

Beneficial Repentance

Now in real life, we all do plenty of bad things on purpose, and you will as well. So what happens then? The kind of guilt you’re dealing with right now is due to demons conning you into believing that you have to punish yourself for having motivations that you never actually had. The fact that they are trying so hard to get you to punish yourself for fake crimes indicates they don’t have any better material to work with. Demons would like it a lot better if you really did do all of the nasty things they are accusing you of. For many humans, their pasts are filled with legitimate “sins”–times when they quite intentionally did things that they knew they weren’t supposed to do. So what happens then? It’s guaranteed that you’ll have moments in the future when your soul decides to be a bit rebellious and do something that God says is wrong. How will God respond when that happens? Is He going to yell at you and shame you for years and give you a long list of miserable tasks that you have to do to make amends? No, this isn’t at all how God works. While demons will certainly jump at the chance to make a huge issue about you doing something “bad,” remember this important principle: God is very easy to succeed with.

When you really do God’s definition of a bad thing, you’ll know what you’re doing when you’re doing it. Remember that to really do something “bad” or “sinful” in God’s eyes, you have to be intentionally going against a rule that He has taught you. When you do this sort of thing, God will convict you, which means He will point out exactly what it is He doesn’t like about what you did. But God doesn’t just point out your mistakes, He also shows you how to fix them. Because God cares most about your soul attitude towards Him, the main thing He cares about is you repenting out of your rebellious soul attitude.

Suppose a girl steals her teacher’s fancy pen because she wants it for herself. The girl knows that what she’s done is wrong, but she does it anyway. When the teacher finds out, he sits down with the girl and says, “You disrespected me by doing what I told you not to do. You need to start respecting me again.” The teacher cares more about his relationship with his student than his pen. It’s the lack of respect that is the real problem, not the missing pen. If the girl still has the pen, she could return it. But suppose she lost it or threw it in a river. Is her relationship with her teacher permanently ruined if she can’t return the pen? No. All the teacher wants is for the girl to start treating him with respect again by obeying his instructions. Once the girl fixes her bad attitude, the problem is resolved. Whether or not the teacher gets his pen back, he and the girl will be in a good place again. To the teacher, the relationship is what matters, not the stuff.

When you intentionally do bad things in the future, God will respond to you like the teacher in this story responded to his student. The main thing God will want from you is to improve your attitude towards Him. Your relationship with God is far more important to Him than the specific details of whatever you did wrong.

Let’s now apply these principles to your current situation. If God cares most about your soul’s attitude towards Him, then how does He feel about you right now? Do you sincerely care about pleasing Him? Obviously yes, or you wouldn’t be so upset about the idea about offending Him in the past. Do you respect His Authority? You obviously have a ton of respect for God and what He wants or you wouldn’t be making yourself so miserable trying to fix the past. So given how super concerned you are about being God’s idea of a “good,” is He pleased with you? Of course He is.

When God is pleased with us, He doesn’t harp on our past mistakes. God only brings up the past in order to teach us positive lessons, or to push us to repent out of bad soul attitudes. Since you’re not guilty of bad soul attitudes right now, you don’t need to repent of anything. It turns out that you don’t really have any problem with God, nor are you guilty of being some terrible person. All of the stress you’re feeling is due to your soul falling for some clever demon cons.

Defeating the Con

So how do you break free of the guilt trap that demons currently have you in? There are two things. First, you need to keep reviewing the principles of how God judges you until you really understand them. For help with that, see the posts I recommend at the end of this article. The second thing that will help is for you to get better at recognizing when demons are talking to you.

Whenever possible, demons try to trick you into thinking that their messages are really coming from God. Spiritual discernment is about being able to tell the difference between God’s Voice and the voices of demons. There are many ways to improve your spiritual discernment. In your case, I’ll recommend a specific exercise for you to try.

Discernment Exercise

The next time you find yourself feeling shame, realize that your soul is reacting to something that demons are saying to you. In a case like yours, demons will try to stick close and keep whispering things to you that they know your soul will find upsetting. Remember that all of this attention they are giving you has a simple agenda behind it: to get you to give up on the idea of trying to please God.

Before God introduced Himself and started teaching you, demons probably didn’t feel a need to interact with you very much. Demons are creatures with limited resources and they simply can’t afford to hassle every human on the planet at all times. To compensate for their limited abilities, demons try to be strategic and attack where and when it will do the most good. When they saw your soul suddenly make a drastic change in its focus and priorities, demons felt threatened by what you were doing, so they moved you up on their priority list. If you were to do what they want by giving up on trying to please God and no longer trying to become a better person, demons would stop wasting their resources by hassling you so much. But remember that demons hate you and get pleasure out of seeing you miserable, so these certainly aren’t creatures who you want to take advice from. As upsetting as it is to have them on your case, realize that the very fact that they are spending so much effort on discouraging you proves that you really are making fabulous progress in spiritual maturity.

To help you build up some good defenses against this form of demonic harassment, I’d suggest that you start keeping a record of the specific deceptions that they are trying to use with you. You can keep your list in either a notebook or in a memo app on your phone–whatever is most convenient. Then, to turn this record keeping into a helpful tool, follow these steps:

  • The next time you find yourself feeling ashamed or guilty about things you’ve done (or didn’t do), take the time to write out the specific thought that is upsetting you. When demons use this form of harassment, they often plant very specific phrases in your mind which you mistake for your own thoughts because they sound the same. Demons also use grammar to their advantage, by speaking in the first person so it sounds like you are talking to yourself. For example, you might suddenly find yourself thinking: “It was so bad how I used to steal things from people’s houses when I was a child.” While the wording of this sentence makes it sound like you are talking to yourself, this is actually a demon planting this thought in your mind. When your soul hears this statement, it instantly reacts with shame and distress. This reaction happens so fast, that you often won’t notice that the statement came first unless you really take the time to focus. This is strategy that demons use all the time on humans, because it is so effective. Humans are very responsive creatures, meaning that we spend more time reacting to others than we do initiating.
  • Taking the time to write down thoughts that make you feel bad will really help you learn better spiritual defenses. Demons don’t want you to think–they just want you to react, then wallow in that reaction. If you start taking the time to critically think about what they are saying to you, they will lose a lot of their influence over you. Any effective con relies on the victims not thinking critically, so that’s exactly what you are going to start doing. Every time you add a new upsetting statement to your list, ask yourself “How does this negative thought line up with how God judges me?” For example, beneath the statement “It was so bad how I used to steal things from people’s houses when I was a child,” you could write: “I didn’t know stealing was wrong back then, so God is not holding any of that against me. I have no reason to feel bad about the past, but I have many reasons to feel good about the present because I am learning and growing into a better person.”
  • For every negative statement that you record, write a countering positive statement underneath it which is based on the principles of how God judges you. What you will find is that demons are using the same statements over and over with you, because they’ve identified a few that really upset you. When demons try to repeat a statement that you’ve already put on your list, simply pull up your list and review what your positive counter statement was. By doing this, you’ll end up frequently reviewing truths about how God judges you. In other words, you’ll turn demonic harassment into a prompt to review positive truths. Naturally this is not what demons want you to do, and if you keep it up long enough, they’ll feel forced to come up with a different way of trying to upset you. Demons want you to regress and feel bad. They certainly don’t want to help you grow closer to God, which is what will happen if you keep focusing on His truths.

Since God is so easy to succeed with, really grasping the truth about how He judges you through this kind of frequent rehearsing will end up having a very calming effect on your soul. Whenever your soul gets tricked into believing lies, it doesn’t have to stay stuck forever. There is always a way to learn how to see through the lies and get better at recognizing when demons are trying to lead you astray.

For help in making your positive counter statements, use the charts tag and download the free charts that explain how Divine judgment works.

If you want to learn more about demon cons, see my book A No-Nonsense Guide to Demons.

Given the kind of situation you’re struggling with, I’d also recommend that you read Relating to God: The Trap of Symbolic Pain for important principles about trying to relate to God using self-inflicted pain.

Gaining the right kind of spiritual education is critical to dealing with demons effectively. The following posts explain principles that are essential to understand for anyone struggling with guilt: Your Soul vs. God: Two Different Judges, God vs. Demons: How to Identify False Conviction, How God Judges You: Actions vs. Soul Attitudes, Understanding Divine Judgment: How God Ranks Sin.

This post was written in response to a request.

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