Let's Get Psyched: Shame - The Thin Line Between Sin and Psychopathology
by Randy Kiel | May 20, 2021
By Deacon Randy Kiel
“But why can’t I have my phone back now? I said I was sorry!”
Consequences are so hard to face. This is quite often due to the never-successful proclamation that all have made at times, “That’s not fair!”
Just as there are both positive and negative consequences, for behaviors and decisions; there are consequences on our mental health as a result from sin. While we pursue forgiveness for our sins, the path of recovery from the sin rarely ends there. The soul is temporarily cleansed from the eternal consequence of sin, but the mental health of the individual may have still suffered. The purpose of this article is not to debate the cause-and-effect relationship between sin and mental health, rather it is to discuss the thin line of understanding between sin and psychopathology.
Let’s look at the definitions of these two words, sin and psychopathology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. In other words, sin is the desire and choice to perform a distorted good with the idea that the distorted good is better than the true good. For instance, when a person tells a lie about themselves to a friend, this person has then substituted the true good of honesty and integrity for a false perceived good, that being image or attention. This would be a form of greed, otherwise known as covetousness.
There are two meanings that I most often use as a mental health counselor for the word psychopathology. It is any cognitive, emotional, interpersonal or intrapersonal distress which causes some sort of significant impairment in a person’s daily life. Linguistically, the word psychopathology means: the distorted patterns of thoughts and feelings that are woven into our very soul. Whew that’s heavy!
How then does sin influence a person’s psychopathology? To answer this, we must focus on sin’s effects on human solidarity. When a person commits a sin, that sin affects both the one in the sin and those around him.
Here’s an example to make this concept come to life. If a parent begins to routinely drink to excess, he or she may become belligerent towards both the spouse and the children. If such behavior continues, the children may begin to develop a conception of relationships as abusive, and that they themselves are fundamentally bad, thus internalizing the shame of sin. Such negative beliefs may ultimately lead to the children developing interpersonal deficits which in turn lead to psychopathologies such as depression, anxiety, and general relational troubles. The sin, such as in this example, would need to be determined within the parent’s personal examination of conscience and cannot be categorized by the definition of a single action. So, even when a person turns from sin and repents, the consequences to the family members may yet remain from the stain of the sin. This result is most commonly called shame. Shame is Satan’s disguise for truth and is the thin line between sin and psychopathology. Shame distorts a person’s internal sense of authenticity. It is the original consequence from sin known to mankind and began in the Garden of Eden.
It is important to realize that we all carry bits and pieces of psychopathologies or “issues.” These, in and of themselves, are not the equivalent of sin; they are the mirrored reflection of our beautiful human brokenness. Beautiful, because our broken soul is the defined purpose of God’s redemption. Mental health difficulties are neither some type of characterological defect as generations before have believed and many still maintain nor are they the direct result of a particular sin. As we struggle on our own path, may we respond unto ourselves as well as our brothers and sisters with charity, grace, and empathy. This is the pathway in which we carry our cross. Jesus told us to pick up our crosses and follow Him. “What is my cross?” one might ask. Your cross is simply being you. Can you really think of anything harder to do than be totally and purely you? It is the most challenging journey given to mankind, the journey of Christ. The primary purpose of this journey is to dispose ourselves toward the cross of salvation. The choice to follow our Christ in the way of the cross is a lift for many mental health ailments and may separate us further from certain psychopathologies. Blessings to all of you on the journey of being you. Hallelujah!