Dogs Feel Shame Too

Lucy is our little Chihuahua mix. We are not really sure what she’s mixed with but she is truly the most loving and fun little thing. She was a stray. From this picture of her, you would never believe that when they found her, she was covered in mange, infected with parvo, and just had a litter of pups. Thankfully, she was nursed back to health and finally found her way into our home and our hearts!

Lucy has quite the spunky attitude, which I have to say is so fun. She’s playful and loves attention. One day, while playing, I found a slipper, grabbed it and began to move it around ready for her to bite, growl, and play some more. What happened next shocked me. As soon as I showed her the slipper, she cowered down and shifted into a completely submissive position. Being quite the fighter, this was the first time I saw this reaction. It was obvious that somewhere during her other life, she had likely been beaten with shoes. Her reaction was so clear and alarming that I immediately tossed the slipper away and began to comfort her. She was trembling.

Despite her fun loving personality, she definitely tends to feel guilty for EVERYTHING.  If there is a mess she would cower down and roll over. The interesting thing is our other dog, Riley, was never bothered by guilt. He came from a breeder, a background filled with love and playfulness. His attitude was more proud, like, “Look what I did?” Yet poor Lucy feels bad even when it isn’t her fault!

When I watch her, I’m often reminded how we also do the same. Some of us came from backgrounds filled with love and playfulness, while others faced intense shame growing up. We felt guilty, often for things we never really did wrong. Many times we felt shamed for just being a kid. To feel shame is devastating, and it’s not the same as feeling guilt. They are different.

When we feel guilt, we say “I did something wrong and need to fix it.” Guilt is uplifting and freeing as we correct a mistake. Shame, on the other hand, says “I AM wrong.” It’s a message that says the essence of who I am is bad and shameful. Shame holds us hostage to a lie that can never be corrected. As we grow into adulthood, we continually walk around believing the lie.

While Riley never even knew guilt, poor Lucy felt shame for everything. She feels shame when there is none. Just the other day, when I walked in the room, she saw me and immediately walked away with her tail between her legs as if she were in trouble. Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often but she does do this every once in a while. I do not always figure out why. I’m guessing she got into something but then again, maybe not. Who knows? Either way, I just love her and play.

What makes me sad, though, is no matter how much we love her, no matter how gentle we are with her, even at times when she does make a mess, she cannot shake that nasty lie that says she should be ashamed. It is a part of her.

How many of you are walking around with shame even when you did nothing wrong? If you are, it is time to let go of that lie, to be free, and finally find the peace you so desperately seek!

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