A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
Guilt, Shame, and Healing from Pornography
June 16, 2020
This post is part of an ongoing series on healing from pornography addiction. Read more posts in this series here. One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome for both the pornography user and his/her spouse is shame. In order to understand shame, we need to distinguish it from guilt:
Guilt: An emotion that focuses on actions. This is an emotion that convicts a person when he/she has done something wrong and compels them to apologize and make amends. In 2 Samuel 12 Nathan confronts King David about his guilt over killing Uriah. This leads King David to repent and be reconciled with God and the people of Israel.
Shame: An emotion that focuses on the worth of a person. It leads a person to believe that because of what they’ve done, or what has been done to them, they are terrible, worthless persons. They feel they need to hide their actions and not let anyone truly know them. They believe if others knew the truth about them, they would be rejected, humiliated, ridiculed and ostracized. This leads a person to hide behind a façade that makes it appear that everything is fine in their life. Really, it forces them to live in isolation where the addiction can fester and grow. Genesis 3 describes how Adam and Eve covered themselves and his because they were naked. The shame they experienced because of their sin led them to doubt their worth and to hide for fear of being discovered by God.
As you can see, guilt is actually a good emotion. It leads people to take ownership of their words and actions and to make corrections where needed. This can lead to reconciliation and stronger, healthier relationships. It can also strengthen a person’s self-worth. Shame is a negative emotion. It leads people to hide, thus preventing them from making amends and restoring relationships. It can result in deeply wounded relationships and lowered self-worth. Because of their need to hide, they never let anyone truly know them. This prevents true intimacy from developing and fosters loneliness (Parker & Thomas, 2009).
When dealing with pornography addiction and sexual infidelity, the addict, the spouse, and the couple experience shame in unique ways. The addicted person feels shameful because of his/her sexual sins. There is the belief that because of their sins they are bad people who could never be loved by anyone, including God. Spouses feel shame because of the hurt, betrayal and rejection they feel as a result of the pornography use and sexual infidelity. They may blame themselves for it believing they are bad spouses. The couple may feel shame because of the deep wounds that have been inflicted upon their marriage. This can be especially difficult if they hold positions of esteem in their church or community. They may feel they need to present the image of having the perfect marriage when in reality their marriage has been torn apart. For the addicted person, the spouse, and the couple there is the constant fear of what others might think of them if their wounds were made public.
To overcome shame of any kind, one must reach out for help. Because of the fears associated with shame, many individuals and couples find it very difficult to reach out. Many will spend months unsuccessfully trying to resolve this issue on their own. Unable to succeed some will simply give up and live in shame, trapped in their addiction. Others will recognize their powerlessness and reach out for help. Those are the ones who are more likely to find freedom from this affliction.
If you are struggling with shame because of pornography use, I encourage you to reach out for help. There are many trained professionals, including counselors, coaches, and clergy who can help you with the healing process which includes letting go of shame.
Parker, Stephen and Rebecca Thomas. “Psychological differences in shame vs. guilt:
Implications for mental health counselors.” Journal of mental health counseling, July 31,
Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D., SATP-C is a Licensed Clinical Therapist and Assistant Director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in Conshohocken, PA. Dr. Kleponis has over 18 years of professional experience working with individuals, couples, families and organizations. He specializes in marriage & family therapy, pastoral counseling, and pornography/sexual addiction recovery. He works with individuals and couples from around the United States and internationally in-person, by phone, and by Skype. For more information see his website, www.peterkleponis.com
Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D., SATP, CSAT
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