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Christian Counseling - Self-Accusation

Of the few names Satan is known by, "devil" is one that refers to him as a slanderer and accuser. We are all familiar with the scene recorded in Job chapter one where he stands before God and accuses Job of allegiance to Him only because he and all his possessions are protected. In essence, the devil is asking, who wouldn't stay in a relationship with God who completely takes cares of him. Further, the devil is saying, remove that protection and Job, or anyone, would abandon God. We know the rest of the story.

The point here is that of being accused. We know people do this to others for many reasons. Some do it because some accusations are true and need to be shouted from the roof top and some do it because of evil intentions--to hurt another or get something they want. As obvious and harmful as most of these are, there is something potentially even more damaging and insidious--self-accusation.

The good side of self-accusation is its necessity in helping us own our sins so that we can make confession and change our behavior. We tell God about our wrongdoings, ask Him for forgiveness and turn away from doing those things again. If people could limit self-accusation to that, it would be right and healthy.

The downside of self-accusation is that it hurts one's self-esteem and self-image, increases false guilt (feels the same, but there is no real offense), feeds self-doubt, creates anxiety and fear, results in anger directed at oneself and can cause depression. It's insidious in that a few negative self-statements don't really have a negative effect on a person, but do that over months or years, well you get the idea.

It's surprising to me that most people who engage in these negative self-comments aren't aware of how often they do it or how seriously it affects them over time. They become so accustomed to what they do they lose perspective. yet, when they keep a journal of the behavior for a week or two they are often surprised as well.

Changing this behavior is most often very difficult. Largely because it's a complicated issue (what isn't). We can see that in how self-accusation can significantly increase a person's sense of guilt, as well as temporarily decrease the sense of guilt after one has verbally punished himself or herself. It is complicated because it can become an ingrained behavior that is supported by strong beliefs, such as I deserve what I say to myself or this is what God would say to me. Really? God doesn't give us what we deserve, and He calls it mercy. Instead, He gives us what we don't deserve, and He calls that grace. What He wants us to do is to own our own sins, request forgiveness and leave the chastisement to Him, if He chooses to do so (most of the time, He doesn't).

Loving our neighbors as ourselves, as the commandment suggests, requires self-love. It is something He wants and expects us to do for ourselves, just as He does for us and He does to Himself. For the most part, self-love, mercy, forgiveness, grace, compassion, acceptance, etc. are incompatible with self-accusation. We all need to develop these attitudes and behaviors until they become part of our character and we find liberty from condemnation, which God so desires for us.

Also, we need self-boundaries, such as, "I will attend to and use self-criticism to gain self-understanding and for the purpose of confession, however I will go no further. I will not beat myself up with words, for then I become like the devil--using self-accusation destructively. Jesus sufficiently paid the perfect and complete price for all the wrongs I will ever commit, and I can't improve on that by punishing myself."

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