Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!
-Ezekiel 18:31-32, NIV
How does the “toxic shame” excuse work?
It is actually rather simple:
It generally operates a means to distract from the real task–i.e. repenting of adultery. The excuse–e.g. “I can’t talk about my cheating on him because I’m going into that shame-place again (Woe is me!)”–plays on the sympathy and pity of pastors and counselors. It is counting on them to make the cheater’s pain or distress of experiencing “shame” more important than the distress the cheater inflicted or continues to inflict on his or her victim. This is problematic from a pastoral stand point because the cheater is using this excuse to avoid doing what is required to find spiritual life–i.e. repent of the sin.
Please, do not fall for this trick and certainly do not tolerate its implementation!
The godly priority is upon repentance. And it is actually the antidote to shame. By repentance, we demonstrate through the power of the Holy Spirit that the sin is no longer who we are (e.g. I Corinthians 6:11, Titus 3:3, etc.). God cleanses us from our sins.
However, this process does not happen if we refuse to repent.
Someone choosing to use the “toxic shame” excuse is refusing to repent. He or she is choosing to characterize his or her sin as inevitable as opposed to something he or she could have chosen otherwise.
“It is just what a wretched soul like myself does. I can’t help myself. I am such a slut. Woe is me!” That is the idea.
That is a lie. A cheater could have chosen otherwise. But they did not. Instead, they made bad, sinful choices that harmed their spouses greatly. Those choices and actions are on them and not anyone else (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:10).
The sinful choices and actions were not inevitable. They were made by a person with agency. So, the question becomes whether or not the cheater will choose repentance and turn from making those choices.
Will he or she make amends for what was destroyed by his or her sinful choices and destructive agency? Is the cheater willing to reject a set of values or narrative that in anyway says such actions are acceptable or were unavoidable (when they actually were)?
Good News: A cheater does not have to remain in “toxic shame.”
Bad News: A cheater only escapes “toxic shame” by facing and owning his/her sins and truly repenting.
For without repentance, we remain in our sins with spiritual death being the final outcome (e.g. Hebrews 10:26-27). So, it does neither the cheater nor the adultery victim any good to give into the “toxic shame” excuse of shutting down the repentance work. That is precisely what Satan wants to happen.