False Guilt and Shame

False Guilt and Shame

Psychologists write a lot about guilt and shame. Shame vs. Guilt – Brené Brown (brenebrown.com) False guilt and trauma induced shame are two of the most emotionally destructive experiences felt by clients and challenging for therapists to treat. 

Despite their notoriety, folks often confuse their meaning. Guilt-Tripping and Emotional Manipulation | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)  For example, it is common for people to use the terms interchangeably.  In fact, their meanings are quite different. 

Today, we’ll highlight the differences between guilt and shame and suggest ways to deal with and reduce their impact.

Understainding our False Guilt about Sex

Understainding our False Guilt about Sex

Did You Know:   that most guilt about sex is “false” guilt? Sex and False Guilt Everyone knows what guilt is: that self-conscious feeling of shame and embarrassment.  While there are legitimate reasons for feeling guilty (like when you harm someone or...
Guilt: True and False

Guilt: True and False

Over the past few years, healthcare professionals have consistently pointed to the lack of individual self-care as a serious mental health concern.  Indeed,  many Americans suffer from a self-care deficiency. Lack of self-care reduces our resiliency and ability to...
Religion , Sex and Guilt .

Religion , Sex and Guilt .

October is World Mental Health Month and, as such, I want to address what I regard as a neglected but, nonetheless, a significant obstacle to emotional wellness and overall mental health: erroneous guilt and shame associated with sex.

As a pastoral counselor who has helped folks deal with a wide variety of emotional issues and conflicts over the years, I have witnessed many individuals and couples with this problem. While there are multiple factors which have created this difficult experience, it is indeed ironic that traditional church attitudes and teachings about sex are largely responsible for so much of the unnecessary guilt and emotional pain experienced by so many , especially by Christian believers. To be clear, I believe that much of the problem stems from Christianity’s fundamental discomfort with and ignorance about sex.

Despite the many decades of progress made by our society in the areas of human rights and social justice, our cultural and especially religious attitudes about sex have remained mired in myth and false ideas. It is amazing to me to realize how many folks are influenced by archaic views about sex and are tormented because of them.

Frankly, the way many clerics ignore science and pervert biblical teachings about sex constitutes theological or spiritual malpractice . The extent to which they have condemned as sinful, normal sexual feelings and practices is nothing less than abusive and ethically reprehensible. Instead uplifting and promoting joy, understanding and love, many of the damning attitudes and scowling views have caused spiritual conflict and resulted in personal self-hatred and relational strife.

Fortunately, the damage done by such beliefs is not permanent and can be undone with combination of accurate information and supportive therapy. Today I want to review with you three of the most common , destructive and egregious errors found in traditional church teachings about sex:

Tips for Freeing Yourself from a False Sense of Obligation

Tips for Freeing Yourself from a False Sense of Obligation

Feeling a false sense obligation is a common problem with which many of us struggle.
Sometimes, our obligations are real. At other times , however, we may feel obligated or have a sense of guilt when there is no rational or logical reason. Here are some basic questions to help you detect a false sense of obligation and to help you discover viable options when you feel trapped or guilty:

Guilt-Tripping and Emotional Manipulation

No one likes to be guilt-tripped, yet it happens all the time. Parents do it. Kids do it. Spouses do it. Friends do it. We do it so often we aren’t even aware of it. on the other hand, no none likes to feel emotionally extorted. Today we are going to learn more...
Christianity, Sex & Shame

Christianity, Sex & Shame

Recently, I wrote about the problem of false guilt and shame which can interfere with a person’s ability to think clearly and relate rationally to others.  False Guilt and Shame | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)

Today I want to talk about shame and guilt about sex and the major source of these destructive feelings, i.e.  traditional religious teachings about sex and pleasure.  Over the centuries, traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines have caused of a lot of needless stress.  And, as hard as it is to believe, they continue to be a source of pain for many.

From a psychological point of view, traditional Christian beliefs viewed normal sexual feelings to be in conflict with God’s law and, therefore, sinful.  Thus, lacking positive teachings about sex, natural desires evoked feelings of sinfulness and even self-hatred. 

Those who suffer with this conflict need to know that this antipathy was not always the case.  It is important to understand the evolution of Christian thought and how the delights of sex found in Song of Solomon were squelched and replaced with negative views.

While complex, two major developments are largely responsible for this change:  1) apocalyptic expectations. and 2) The disappointment of those expectations experienced by the delay of the Jesus’ 2nd coming (the Parousia). Let me explain,

What ? Sex Toys ?

What ? Sex Toys ?

Sex toys ? Why would a pastoral counselor want to talk about sex toys ?  Perhaps providing some context would help.
 Being Sex Positive
An important theme throughout my career has been to allay the false guilt and shame engendered by religion and our sexist culture. My goal has been, and continues to be, to promote positive attitudes about sex.  That is, as young folks say, to be sex-positive.
Religious and Cultural Bias

First, it needs to be understood that being sex-positive flies in the face of thousands of years of religious and cultural bias.

To be sex-positive, one must feel free to have sex just for its pleasure.  While this view may seem obvious, for many, it’s not.  For many, especially older folks, enjoying sex is complicated. A cloud hangs over the notion that sex can be enjoyed just for fun.  Hedonistic enjoyment is suspect and guilt ridden.  That’s because religion has often portrayed sex in a quasi-sacred way that confusingly combines erotic experience with the spiritual mystery of procreation. 

Indeed, traditional religious beliefs have negatively influenced our culture’s attitudes toward sex.  Condemning normal practices like masturbation as sinful has created unnecessary guilt and shame for older generations. masturbation | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)

Pernicious Myths Ignore Single People and Older Adults

The indisputable fact is that conservative Christianity is and always has been uncomfortable with sex. (See St. Augustine) It sees it primarily as the means for procreation. (See Thomas Acquinas) In doing so it refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of sex simply for pleasure or outside of the bonds of marriage.

As a result, the church’s outlook toward sex ignores and fails all single folks and seniors who are beyond child-bearing years.  Further, through its silence, the church implicitly promotes false notions about sex and aging.

For example: we are led to believe that sexual interest wanes with age and becomes less and less important the older you get. In fact, barring serious medical limitations, interest and enjoyment of sex is a lifelong entitlement which actually can increase over the years.

That said, aging does change certain things about the way folks can have sex. The loss of flexibility or increased discomfort may require that some things be done differently.  Unfortunately, this general discomfort with sex prevents many couples from even talking about sex much less exploring new, more adaptive and exciting sexual possibilities.

What about Sex Toys ?

All of this brings us to sex toys and a recent article in Slate online.



In trying to keep up with “what’s happening now” in the field of sexuality, I came across  the phrase “sex-as-a-hobby”.   Recently, this way of looking at sex has become popular, especially among those who identify as asexual. They find the perspective useful because it understands sex as something that one does and not as a defining characteristic of who one is. Sex As A Hobby: A Transhumanist’s Perspective – Philosophy, Politics, and Science – Asexual Visibility and Education Network (asexuality.org)

Others, such as sex coach Ruth Ramsay, employ  the sex-as-a-hobby approach to de-mystify the highly emotional topic of sexuality.  She finds the concept useful to help couples learn to discuss and deal with sex-related problems more rationally.   Revamp your sex life in 6 minutes | Ruth Ramsay | TEDxDaltVila – YouTube

At first I laughed at the notion of thinking of sex was like a hobby but, the more I thought  about it, the more I realized that it made sense.,  Although a hobby might not be the best metaphor, we do need to redefine and change how we think about sex. Here’s why:



Recent hospitalization and death statistics related to COVID-19 reveal that the pandemic’s medical threat has dramatically declined. Covid in the U.S.: Latest Maps, Case and Death Counts – The New York Times (nytimes.com) That said, other studies show that the pandemic, together with other factors,  has had a devastating impact on America’s mental health.  Rates of anxiety and depression have risen among all age groups and the number of people seeking counseling is sky-rocketing.
Experts believe that the cause of this  problem is complex and actually pre-dates COVID-19. Such things as the internet and 24/7 on-line and cable news as well as the omni presence of smart phones and social media have over-loaded our ability to process so much distressing information.   Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? – The Atlantic   In other words, it’s not just the alarming content of things like mass shootings or war but the non-stop bombardment of the reports which have created a mental health crisis.

Another crucial element exacerbating the problem is America’s poor level of self-care and trivialized attitude toward leisure.  Studies have shown that  our nation’s traditional hard-work-no time-for play ethic has interfered with our society’s ability to cope with stress. Not giving ourselves sufficient time to recharge has caught many Americans with dead emotional batteries. 

Despite various attempts to educate the public about the importance of self care, disdain for recreation persists. Evidence of this view is seen in Cadillac’s 2014 Super Bowl commercial. In it, a smarmy guy strolls around his pool extoling America’s superior work ethic over European’s who take so many vacations.

His message is that only by working hard can one afford to buy expensive cars.  Ironically, studies have shown that people who push too much and recreate too little are less productive.   Indeed, self-care is not a luxury or waste of time. Leisure is not only important for personal happiness and resilient mental health, it also is necessary for top performance.

In addition to being false, the hard work myth  creates a psychological problem.  The persistence in traditional attitude has caused many to develop a psychological condition that I would call Leisure Deficiency. 

Fortunately, leisure deficiency is treatable. Thus, today, I want to discuss 1) How this false belief arose, 2) How to tell if you suffer from leisure deficiency and 3) Why leisure is important and 4) What can be done to incorporate leisure into your regular routine.