You can’t have a blog about health, especially emotional and spiritual health, without directly discussing shame. So let’s get this out in the open because I will be talking a lot about shame. If you know me, you may have heard me say that I believe that shame is Satan’s greatest weapon. So we HAVE to talk about it to fight back.
*side note: if you don’t know Brené Brown yet, go meet her at www.brenebrown.com. She changed my life and she’ll change yours. And I’ll talk about her a lot. Because, a little, obsessed. I highly recommend starting your Brené reading with “I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)”, then read all of her books. ALL OF THEM.
Brené Brown says, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Read that sentence a few times and let that soak in, because if you truly allow yourself to absorb it, you know EXACTLY what shame is. If you allow yourself, you can easily identify the emotion or experience of shame. Shame is painful. It’s painful when we’re in it, when we remember a shame experience AND when we hear other’s shame experiences. She also says shame is the fear of disconnection from others- and in our faith context, that first is the fear of disconnection from God. We feel shame about what we believe causes us to be unworthy of acceptance and belonging and become disconnected from God and from others.
Shame is one of the first emotions mentioned in Scripture. God creates the world, creates man, creates nature and all things. At the end of chapter 2 we’re introduced to shame through the absence of it, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25 NIV). So when things were as they should have been, when Adam and Eve literally walked and talked with God, shame did not exist. Then Satan introduced sin and shame when he tempted Eve and she shared that temptation with Adam. Scripture doesn’t reference shame again immediately following, but you see Adam covering himself and hiding from God. What often makes us want to hide? Shame.
So at this point you’re either mildly uncomfortable or mildly intrigued, but you probably feel a rising up of “those poor people that feel shame”. It’s a protective mechanism. Because when we think about or hear others’ shame, we feel our own start to bubble. And no one, yours truly & Brené included, enjoys the experience of shame. Not only do we want to avoid shame because it is NO fun, but we also aren’t aware it is shame we’re experiencing. I mean let’s be honest, shame is present without the majority of us knowing it, the majority of the time. We don’t know shame is present because we aren’t taught about shame. The essence of shame is secrecy and isolating- I mean Brené’s definition says it- “unworthy of acceptance and belonging”. So we don’t talk about the shame we feel because we’re afraid of being further isolated. But shame thrives in secrecy, so the less we talk about it, the more it grows. And then we’re stuck in shame and we don’t even know it. We’re stuck and we have no way out.
Shame also comes with a physical response, as all our emotions do, and often that’s what we notice without ever realizing the accompanying emotion. For me, shame is a sinking feeling in my stomach or a heavy rock sitting in my chest. It’s the “I can’t believe I just said or did that!” or the “should” and “shouldn’t” thoughts that run rampant at times. More deeply hurtful it’s the “I am awful, I am disgusting, I am _____________”… you fill in the blank. Shame is I want to run away. Shame is a desperate feeling that leads me to behave and say things that aren’t congruent with my heart’s values and the Holy Spirit living in me. Shame is a dark, scary place that is carried secretly. It’s the doubt that creeps up and the belief that sets in that I am unworthy.
There’s a lot of danger in shame- in the feeling or belief that I am unworthy- but one thing that is dangerous is that we tend to think shame can help motivate us. So we shame ourselves or others, believing it will somehow help us to feel or become worthy. There’s an important distinction to be made between guilt and shame. Because guilt can be motivating, but not shame. Guilt can motivate us because it says “hey, that BEHAVIOR (or ATTITUDE) wasn’t the best” which can lead to “let’s try something different next time”. Shame isn’t motivating because it says “hey, YOU aren’t okay, YOU aren’t good enough” and there isn’t further thought. Because that’s all we see “YOU AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH” in a big flashing lights dancing in front of our hearts. And there’s a part of our souls that curls inward and hides in a dark place to try to stay safe.
There’s SO much to shame. This doesn’t even SKIM the surface. So I’ll be writing continually on the topic of shame. This post is meant to be a very small introduction. Please don’t stop here… whether you read more blogs I write about shame or Brené (please read all the Brené) or you find someone else, don’t stop here. Shame is big and powerful and scary. And Satan uses shame- that feeling and belief that we aren’t worthy- to attack us, all of us.
So let’s talk about our shame, let’s share our shame with Jesus and watch Him show us victory. Because in the same way that God’s story didn’t end with Adam and Eve being kicked out of the Garden, it doesn’t end with our shame. God made a specific plan, through Jesus’ death, to conquer shame and tell you just how worthy you really are.