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Shame

August 21, 2019

I wrote about three of the most powerful forces in a kid’s life a while back.  If you missed it, you can check it out here: Three of the Most Powerful Forces In Life

There’s one emotional force that fuels all three of these powerful, primary emotional forces: SHAME.  That’s my topic today.

My theory is that everybody has experienced shame (unless they have some sort of psychological pathology).  If you are capable of experiencing guilt, you’re capable of experiencing shame.

Guilt and shame are related – almost joined at the hip.  There’s an important difference between guilt and shame, though.  Guilt is a feeling I have because of something I have done.  Shame is a feeling about who I am.  The distinction between them is huge.

The waters get a little cloudy here, though, because there are two kinds of guilt.  There’s real guilt – guilt I feel because I’ve done something wrong.  There’s also false guilt – when I feel guilty, even though I’ve not done anything wrong.  Both real guilt and false guilt are rooted in the conscience.  Your conscience tells you what’s right and what’s wrong.  But your conscience is educated by your upbringing and background.  For that reason, everybody’s conscience isn’t the same.  I’ve written about this before.  You may want to check it out: Conscience

False guilt and shame share a common characteristic.  They are both unbelievable powerful.  Both false guilt and shame motivate people to make significant bad decisions and to act in often destructive ways.

They’re alike in another way.  They can both be very subtle.  Lots of times, they’re hard to discern.  They exist beneath the surface, hidden from the view of our conscious mind.  It’s a weird dynamic, but it’s at work in virtually every human.  Weird and incredibly powerful.

Shame, since it’s a feeling not about a thing I have done (or perhaps a thought I have had), but a feeling about who I am, is insidious.  Here’s how the dictionary defines insidious: proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.  That’s shame.  You can make amends for or be forgiving for something you’ve done, but try as hard as you may to make amends and seek forgiveness for who you are, there’s no finding it.  The harder you try, in fact, the farther away it gets.  Hence, insidious.

A Texan PhD named Brene Brown has researched and written about shame, and is my favorite author on the subject.  She did a TED talk that went viral a few years ago, and that put her on the map.   Take 20 minutes and watch her TED talk here: Brene Brown

If you’re a reader, I recommend her books, The Gifts of Imperfection, and Daring Greatly.  If you’re not a reader, get them in audio form.  If you’re trying to deal with same in your own life, or you feel you’re dealing with it in a child’s or a spouse’s life, I think you’ll find some really good help in them. 

Millions of words have been written and published about shame.  It’s not a simple subject.  So I don’t have any illusions that I can do it justice in my blog, but there are a couple of things about shame that a parent needs to know, and then do something with.

First of all, shame is a contagious disease.  We catch it from carriers.  We catch it through the words people say to us, and although we’re susceptible to it all through our lives, we’re most susceptible to it in our early childhood.  Words we heard in our childhood can cripple us for our entire life.  And there’s a very strong chance the person who said those shaming words heard some form of them from someone in their childhood.

If that’s not bad enough, it may not be the actual words that were spoken that gave birth to your shame.  The power is in your interpretation of the words you thought you heard.  The meaning the speaker had in mind may not be the meaning you got when you heard them.  The intent of the speaker is way less powerful than the interpretation of the hearer.  The power is in what I thought you meant by what you said, not what you think you meant by it.

Secondly, nobody can “fix” your shame.  God can certainly heal it, but my experience is that He usually does this by taking people through a process of healing, not an instantaneous event of healing.  God wants to heal our shame.  He’s made provision for this through Jesus’ stripes and wounds.  I think He wants us to partner with Him through the process to find it, though.

One implication of this is that you can’t fix your child if they’re going through – or stuck in – shame.  You pray for them to find freedom from it, for God to free them from it.  You can’t make it happen for them, though.  In fact, this is another thing that the harder you try to do it, the farther away the desired result gets from you.  Nobody can do the work for you on your shame, and you can’t do the work for your kids, either.  My apologies for having no pixie dust to toss on this and make it all better.

So what are you supposed to do?  Well, you keep doing one thing you’re already doing.  You pray like crazy for them.  But counter-intuitively, you go to work on you instead of them.  You work on your own shame, in partnership with Christ and His power in you.  You look into the dark corners of your own life and story to see things that you might really want to not look at.  You’re looking for these things so you can deal with them.  You may need the help of a mature and wise person from outside your normal circle for this.  One of the same gender as you.  Or you may have the great blessing of people in your circle who can help you.  But you’re probably going to need help.  So pray for God to bring mature people to you, and then look for them.

And then go to work on this with Christ as your Partner and Helper.

As you do this, you will be modeling recovery from shame for your kids.  And that’s huge.  The way you model dealing with shame in your own life is incredibly important.  In fact, in most ways, you modeling this is far more powerful than any words you might want to say to them about it.

But it’s a messy process.  Sometimes deeply embarrassing.  Sometimes tearful.  Sometimes angry and verbal.  Usually it’s not a process you want out there for everybody to see (although I think it might make pretty compelling reality TV).  It doesn’t need to be out there, usually, in fact.  But we’re not talking about doing this in full view of your neighborhood, or your job, or your church, or your Facebook friends. We’re talking about the kids you either gave birth to or helped their birth process happen, and who you’re raising and living with.  We’re talking about your inner circle.

Probably the most important thing I can write about this is DON’T GIVE UP!  You have an enemy who wants you to give up, because he knows you’re more vulnerable to him and useful to his plans if you’re held hostage by shame.  He would much prefer you to be a carrier than to be recovered from it and learning hoe to live a healthy life.  St. Peter wrote that this enemy is roaming around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.  Satan is way serious about keep you locked up.  He’ll do all kinds of things to make you want to give up.  So don’t be taken by surprise by this.

But you also have a Defender and Advocate.  God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, is in you to give you every strength and tool you need to not give up.  He’s not out there somewhere, cheering you on.  He’s IN you, if you said yes to Jesus on His terms.  And He wants to see you healed.

I have to tell you this last thing, though.  God wants to see you healed, but He’s not really very interested in making you happy through the process.  So.  It might be painful.  But it will be worth it.

From → Marriage, Parenting

One Comment
  1. Mike permalink

    Shame devours happiness. Hard work is required indeed. Change can happen if you’re willing to put it ALL on the table. Working toward forgiving and letting go are two separate things IMO. The results of shame still pop up now and again. I know the signs and have a loving God to go to for help. Thanks Steve.

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