What is shame? On a most rudimentary level, shame is the underlying and pervasive belief that one is somehow defective or unacceptable. The Counseling Center of the University of Illinois indicates the precise way that a person believes they are unacceptable can be very unique. It might be that they think they are “too much” in some way — too talkative, too shy, too unattractive, or too emotional. It might be that they think they are “not enough” in some way — not smart enough, not funny enough, not thin enough, or not cool enough. Usually, if a person is struggling with an excess of shame, they believe they are defective in many ways. They feel unworthy, unlovable, or “bad.” While shame is a necessary human emotion that helps us develop a moral compass, it can become destructive in our lives. It can lead us to believe that we have to be perfect or else we are not lovable. It can lead us to withdraw from others. It can lead us to be defensive and distant. It can lead us to feel depressed and anxious. It can lead us to be overly responsible and to seek approval excessively. It is often the experience that underlies addiction, infidelity, perfectionism, eating disorders, excessive dependency in relationships, and so many other problematic behaviors.
How does one release the shackles of shame? The Counseling Center of the University of Illinois makes the following suggestions:
1. To begin moving past shame, you must first recognize it in your life. Notice when others are shaming you but also notice the ways in which you shame yourself. Do you say things to yourself like:
“That was stupid! I can’t believe you said that!”
“Who would want to talk to you?”
“You look awful today!”
These are shaming statements. It is important to be able to recognize when someone is shaming toward you but it is also important to recognize that YOU might be the person who shames you the most. One way to think about this is that you must “turn up the volume” on the shaming statements in your life in order to hear them more clearly so you can change them – not so you can listen to them more closely. It is good also to understand the origins of our shame. Where did your shame originate? How did it start? How do you perpetuate it? Are you trying to stay close to someone who shames you by allowing them to continue shaming you? These are examples of questions we must ask ourselves in order to understand where our shame comes from.
2. Develop compassion for yourself. Find ways to be loving toward you including accepting that you are human and you have limitations. When you act in ways you don’t like, be curious about it rather than critical. Forgive yourself for your past so that you can move on. It’s crucial to take a stand against shame by not shaming others or yourself. Try to make shaming a behavior that is simply unacceptable and forbidden.
3. Act in ways that demonstrate you are a person of worth and value. Sometimes even if you feel like you are not good enough, you can still operate in the world as if you have worth. This essentially sends a message back to yourself that counteracts the shame. If you treat yourself and others with respect, you develop more pride and self-esteem. It is important to be a good advocate for yourself in your journey toward healing from shame.
Beloved, Paul wrote in Romans 8:1 the quintessential verse that covers feelings of shame and regret for the believer. He says:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Remember, once a person has confessed their sins, both past and present, they do not have to continue to live in shame and guilt over them. God has forgiven the believer and forgotten those sins. It is a good thing to remind yourself of this fact in order to forgive yourself and move forward in newness of life.
Next Month: Is your spiritual growth stuck in neutral?
The writer does not assume responsibility in any way for readers’ efforts to apply or utilize information or recommendations made in these articles, as they may not be necessarily appropriate for every situation to which they may refer. Rather, the objective is strictly informative and educational. If you would like to contact Rev. Lester, write to her c/o P.O. Box 121, Brookfield, WI. 53008.