How Restorative Practices Addresses the Compass of Shame and Helps Heal Church Hurt (Part 1: Overview)

In a previous blog, Three Reasons Why Restorative Practices Unifies a Church, I shared an overview of how churches should continuously build, restore, and sustain a safe community.  But how might this be accomplished?  In large part, maintaining an emotional, physical, and spiritually safe church community involves a recognition of The Compass of Shame and a willingness to heal church hurt.
Today, I’d like to provide an overview, personal testimonies, disclaimers, and implications about The Compass of Shame.

Overview of the Compass of Shame

In Restorative Practices, the idea of “shame” does not relate to experiencing or pointing out wrong or negative behavior as we might normally consider.  The following explanation and graphic from the International Institute of Restorative Practices website addresses shame:  

Shame is worthy of special attention. Nathanson explains that shame is a critical regulator of human social behavior. Tomkins defines shame as occurring any time that our experience of the positive affects is interrupted (Tomkins, 1987). So an individual does not have to do something wrong to feel shame. The individual just has to experience something that interrupts interest-excitement or enjoyment-joy (Nathanson, 1997a). This understanding of shame provides a critical explanation for why victims of crime often feel a strong sense of shame, even though it was the offender who committed the “shameful” act (Angel, 2005).


Nathanson (1992) has developed the Compass of Shame (Figure 5) to illustrate the various ways that human beings react when they feel shame. The four poles of the compass of shame and behaviors associated with them are:

      • Withdrawal—isolating oneself, running and hiding
      • Attack self—self put-down, masochism
      • Avoidance—denial, abusing drugs, distraction through thrill seeking
      • Attack others—turning the tables, lashing out verbally or physically, blaming others   1
I believe the most powerful  takeaway is that shame represents an interruption of a person’s positive affect, regardless of whether someone else intends to cause this interruption.  I’ll speak more about this in upcoming blogs.

Personal Testimonies about The Compass of Shame

My introduction to Restorative Practices, particularly The Compass of Shame, began in March 2018 when I attended a 2-Day workshop.  It is not hyperbolic to suggest this changed my life because it helped me clarify and understand the reasons behind several of my broken personal and professional relationships, including among Christians.  

After becoming a Restorative Practices & Conferences Trainer later that year, I became more aware of how The Compass of Shame helped explain church hurt not only in my local church but also among members from other churches.  My point is that church hurt is no small matter.  Because every church is a hospital for the soul, we would benefit from using every tool at our disposal to promote and ensure a safe community.


Disclaimers about The Compass of Shame

To be fair, The Compass of Shame and Restorative Practices have origins from both social injustice and legal justice movements.  It is also closely associated with educational communities ranging from elementary to post secondary.

For me, however, The Compass of Shame is an amoral approach to addressing not only physical and emotional harm, but spiritual harm as well.  I plant my flag firmly for the spiritual implications of Restorative Practices found in Matthew 18:15-17 where Jesus explains the process of church discipline to His disciples.


Implications about The Compass of Shame

In my next blog, I will discuss the concept, cause, and cure for withdrawal, the first pole on The Compass of Shame.


1   Staff, IIRP. “4.5. Compass of Shame.” IIRP, 

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