The Experience of Shame

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.

My Righteous Anger

Door to Freedom

In the past 2 days, I’ve spoken with 3 different, BEAUTIFUL, amazing women that I respect and love so deeply. These are women that are beautiful in every sense of the word…. They are strong, they are caring, they are deep, they are funny, they are brilliant, they are light in a dark world, they are a breath of fresh air to me…. and did I mention they are beautiful? Each one of these women that I love so deeply all have different body shapes. They all have different hair color, hair texture, eye color, pant size, weight, health struggle, body type. But they each spoke of the intense pain of living in bodies that aren’t deemed worthy. The question you may ask is deemed worthy by whom? The answer to that question is different for each woman, but each woman could easily identify a person (or persons) in their life that taught them from a young age that their body was not okay. That something was flawed about their body and that because of that flaw their personhood was flawed…. It meant that they were not good enough, that they were not and are not worthy. If only they were a little smaller or handled their food “well” or didn’t have this or that health struggle or looked a little differently, then they would be worthy.
What did I feel rising within me as I listened, and participated, in these conversations of shame?
Sadness.
Shame.
Empathy.
Disbelief.
Frustration.
Sorrow.
I’m tired of this culture we live in that constantly sends the message that our value is based on the aesthetics of our bodies. That message is absorbed by pretty much everyone in some way, despite our initial reaction of denial when its brought to our attention. So many people I speak with say they aren’t on the weight loss journey for aesthetic reasons, their health is at stake! So now it’s this health concern or that health concern that has inspired them to lose weight or “get healthy”. But the fact of the matter is that it ALL stems from the diet culture we live in that screams at every corner “YOU AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH!!” That message of worth has crept from culture/media into our minds, into our souls, into our homes, into our families and before you know it, our CHILDREN are conscious that their value is based on their body. Even my 6 month old gets comments from family, friends, and strangers on his little “chubby” self.
Arise, my righteous anger!
The vast majority of us don’t look at our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our dear friends and think “ya know, if she’d just lose a few, I’d love her a little more”. We don’t say, “if you were a little healthier then I’d love you more”. No, we wouldn’t consciously say that to our dear ones, but we sure say that to ourselves!! Have you ever stopped and actually paid attention to what you say to yourself? I have and let me tell you, I can be real nasty, real quick. I say the worst things anyone could say to someone, ever. (I’m serious here.) All because my gut pokes out or my jeans that fit last year don’t fit anymore! And when I put it that black and white, I think, “seriously?” Listen, I know I have a ton of flaws and we could talk all day about them, but also, I’m not a terrible person and my jean size or gut size shouldn’t have any say in determining my worth as a person. And I have to ask myself, “where does this come from?” Diet culture.
Arise, my righteous anger!
My work as a therapist, an eating disorder therapist, has called me to step into the worst of what diet culture does. It takes a beautiful creation of the Lord and breaks him or her down into nothing based SOLELY on their physical self. It says to that person, “you cannot be worth life and you do not deserve joy and peace if you do not fit a certain ideal”. That ideal is moving or has moved from “thin enough” to “healthy enough”. But there is still some ideal that is decided upon that takes away the essence of humanness and says “you are not okay”. The bottom line of diet culture is that you have to meet some pre-decided ideal to be worthy, to be allowed to love yourself or even accept yourself.
Arise, my righteous anger!
So, why do we participate in this sick twisted culture? I mean, would any human with even a semi-caring heart want to be party to such a twisted message? NO! That’s why there is so much push back when this is brought up- No one really wants to participate in it. So, WHY do we participate in this sick twisted culture? Because we are bombarded. All day, every day. Without even knowing it, we live entrenched and engulfed in a culture that tells us our body is our worth and food is the enemy. I’m sick of it. I don’t say “hate” lightly, but boy do I HATE diet culture! What do I hate even more than diet culture? Diet culture invading faith. Diet culture invading our churches. Diet culture invading our church family and relationships. Diet culture twisting and abusing the Holy Inspired Word of God. Repeatedly I see books, blogs, articles, sermons or just hear conversations where Scripture, SCRIPTURE, is used to justify this socially acceptable shame and prejudice and condemnation. And my blood boils.
Arise, my righteous anger!
Jesus Christ said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV) Diet culture steals. Diet culture kills. Diet culture destroys. As I’ve watched beautiful men, women, and children accept their “worthlessness”, I see Satan use diet culture as one of his greatest weapons. Satan uses diet culture and the preoccupation with weight and shape and health to remove our focus from HIM and put it on shame. Satan uses diet culture as an insidious way for our shame to engulf us and seemingly overcome us. The good news is that Jesus Christ HAS defeated him and there is VICTORY. The verse doesn’t end with what the thief does, the verse keeps going because HE CAME TO GIVE LIFE! And give it to the FULL! Hallelujah there is victory!
BUT we are in a battle, my friends, make no mistake. This is battle. So we have to fight. We can’t passively stand by and watch and “not participate”, we have to get dirty and get angry and get on our knees. So I pray- boldly and heavily and often- that this budding blog becomes a place where Christ shows HIS VICTORY over diet culture. Where grace wins. Where love wins. Where joy is found. Where freedom rings. Where peace settles.

Because Christ would look YOU in the face with the most tender eyes,
He would cup YOUR face in His nail-scarred hands,
He would breathe in the aroma of YOUR hair,
He would wipe YOUR tears away with His robe,
He would kiss YOUR head,
He would tell YOU that no matter what YOUR body looks like or feels like,
no matter what YOUR health is or isn’t,
no matter what YOUR food choices are or aren’t,
no matter how much weight YOU’VE gained or lost,
no matter how YOU’VE lost or gained that weight,
no matter what YOU’VE done to YOUR body,
that
He found YOU so worthy He died for YOU.