Brad had been dating Jane for months. She’d been to his apartment, had met most of his friends, and even gone to brunch with his parents. He loved being open with her and willingly shared his life with her.
But as time went on, Brad found it odd that Jane never asked him into her apartment. She didn’t invite him to meet her family or ask him to attend work events with her. Brad was serious about Jane, and he was ready to take the next step. But whenever he tried to peer into his girlfriend’s life, she shut him out.
Finally, Brad gave Jane an ultimatum. He wanted in her life, or he was ready to walk away. To his surprise, his girlfriend started seeing a Christian counselor to work through her issues and eventually, she invited him to the session.
While he was with her, Jane tearfully shared that her father was a hoarder with a serious shopping addiction. She didn’t realize that other kids didn’t live surrounded by garbage until she visited a friend’s home in the second grade. That was the day shame became her constant companion.
Understanding Shame and Why You Feel It
Shame is a hard emotion to express. You may experience it as a feeling of not being good enough, a worry that there’s something wrong with you, or an overwhelming feeling that you’re bad, dirty, or inferior.
Shame is not like guilt. Guilt is a healthy emotion you experience when you do or say something that cannot live up to your moral code or when you’ve disobeyed God. For example, if you sped to work today, you may feel guilt. Guilt is helpful in that it often comes from the Holy Spirit. It prompts us to seek repentance and correct our sinful behavior.
What Causes Shame?
Shame results from a lie you believe about yourself. Because of her childhood, Jane saw herself as worthless. She believed that since her father didn’t care enough to provide a clean, comfortable home, then it must be because Jane wasn’t worth the effort.
Like Jane, some people experience shame because of a tough childhood filled with abuse or neglect. Others feel shame because an abusive partner blames them when things go wrong. Still, others encounter shame because of alcoholism or drug use.
What Should You Do about Shame?
If you feel shame, it may tempt you to numb those feelings by turning to other things. You might use emotional eating, retail therapy, pornography, or alcohol abuse to mask your feelings. But when the short-lived relief is over after a few minutes or hours, then you experience rebound shame.
For some people, shame tempts them to humiliate others as revenge. For example, returning home to yell at your now elderly father for his abuse, or taking out your rage on your spouse. But these behaviors won’t stop your shame.
What Does Jesus Know about Shame?
Satan wants to convince you that you’re alone in your shame. He wants you to feel as if you’re the only one ever to experience it and he wants that feeling of shame to keep you isolated so you don’t turn to your loving Savior.
But you are not alone in shame. As part of his death on the Cross, Jesus experienced every human emotion, including shame and humiliation. Consider these two examples from Scripture…
“The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” And they said many other insulting things to him”–Luke 22:63-65.
“Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”–Hebrews 12:2, NLT (emphasis added)
God Longs to Heal You from Shame
If you want to live free, you’ll need to unpack your shame, examine it and discover its source. As you realize where your shame is coming from, you can continue to seek God’s healing. God longs to release you from shame and other negative emotions so you can experience His deep love and abiding peace.
How Is Your Shame Affecting Your Life?
Shame can influence your life in a big way. It creates many false beliefs that can lead you to hide out from yourself and others. Here are three ways that your shame might be affecting you more than you realize…
Saying ‘Yes’ to Everyone
Paula was known as the go-to person at the company she worked for. She was the art director, but she often helped in other departments because she always said “yes” to her co-workers.
What most people didn’t know was that Paula had spent years believing she was dumb. As a child, she’d struggled with an undiagnosed learning disorder that caused others to characterize her as stupid and lazy.
A kind co-worker recognized Paula’s struggle and recommended she test for a learning disorder. When she received an official diagnosis, Paula cried. She’d spent years feeling ashamed that she couldn’t do tasks that came easily to others.
Like Paula, it might tempt you to tell everyone “yes” all the time. This means you over-commit and work until you’re exhausted. But even Jesus took time away during His ministry on earth.
“After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”–Mark 6:46
If anyone could have made excuses and overworked Himself, it was Jesus. After all, He could have said, “I’m only going to be here for 33 years. Let’s do every miracle possible during that time!”
But He didn’t. He valued rest and in doing so, He creates a framework for us to remember too.
Numbing the Pain
Levi was a construction worker and devoted father. He attended all of his children’s games and events. He loved his wife deeply and supported her through several career transitions.
What Levi had told no one was that his uncle had sexually assaulted him when he was young. Something small could trigger the memories like a familiar smell or a certain time of day. He hated feeling powerless and ashamed. So, he drank to numb the pain. Eventually, he reached the point where he depended on alcohol just to make it through each day.
A friend recognized Levi’s drinking habits had changed. He encouraged him to seek help from the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. As Levi dealt with his drinking problem, he also found a Christian counselor who helped him heal from his past trauma.
Unfortunately, Levi isn’t alone. Many men and women know the shame and pain that comes from sexual abuse and assault. But God longs to heal your heart and restore your stolen innocence.
He longs to bring freedom to your life and help you overcome the pain. In Psalm 147:3, the writer declares, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
Wearing a Mask
Shannon worked hard to create the idea that everything in her life was going well. She never left the house without looking runway ready. She paid for her kids to attend the best private school in her area and filled their hours with extracurricular activities.
She oversaw several committees, leading a study group at her church, and always took part in her children’s school activities. Still, she felt something was wrong and made an appointment with her pastor.
While there, Shannon shared she felt deeply unworthy. This feeling led her to create a façade of the perfect life. The more she talked with her pastor, the more she realized that her feeling of shame was rooted in her from childhood.
Her mother had been verbally abusive, criticizing Shannon constantly. She often told Shannon how much easier her life would have been if she’d just abandoned Shannon when she was born.
Fortunately, Shannon could work through these feelings with her pastor. The more she focused on letting go of shame, the easier it became to let go of her need to be perfect in every area of her life.
Truth Time: You Are Not Condemned
Shame might whisper that you must be perfect. But the blood of the Lamb covers you. There is no condemnation for those who have trusted in the name of Jesus.
Paul proclaimed this truth to the Romans in Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
While shame can feel paralyzing, it doesn’t mean that you must live with it forever. Ask God to bring you the resources and truths you need to be released and live a shame-free life filled with beauty and joy.
Getting Real: Sharing Your Shame with Others
When most people experience shame, they want to hide. It’s normal to want to isolate yourself when you’re feeling shame. But although the feeling is common, that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice.
A better option is to let out your shame. When you share your story with others, they can speak the truth of God’s love over you. Here’s how to let ask for the support you need….
Anna struggled with deep shame from her pornography habit. She was afraid to tell anyone about what really went on in her home. She was afraid that someone would validate her fear that she was disgusting and hopeless.
But one night, she reached out. She called her best friend and shared her habit. It surprised her by how much better she felt just talking about it. She hadn’t realized how much of it she’d been carrying with her.
Even more surprising to her was the way her friend handled the conversation. She told Anna that she was brave to have shared her struggle and reminded her that her identity didn’t stem from her sin.
“You are so much more than your sin and shame,” she said. “You are a beloved daughter of God and His heart hurts for you. He longs to heal you from your hurts so you can release this addiction.”
Pick a Kind Listener
Like Anna, you may have been carrying a heavy burden of shame for months or even years. But you don’t have to bear that pain alone. Look for someone who you can talk to about it.
Choose the person you disclose your shame to carefully. You want a kind listener who is compassionate. Someone you trust to not tell your secrets to others and won’t treat you any differently afterwards. You might consider a mentor that’s always been supportive of you, a friend that’s known you for some time, or a clergy member that you are close to.
Share Your Heart
When you’re ready to have the conversation with your person, find a comfortable space. You want to pick a location that makes you feel safe—maybe a small café or your place of worship.
If you’re struggling with how to put it in words, it might be helpful to think about some of these questions:
- What event or conversation caused you to feel shame?
- How did that moment make you feel?
- How does it make you feel now?
- What message have you carried around because of that moment?
- How does this message affect your life?
Ask your listener to let you tell your story without interruption. This can give you the space you need to be vulnerable and process what happened.
When you’re done, give the other person a chance to talk without interrupting him or her. Listen to what they’re really saying and allow his or her compassion to remind you that God is compassionate with you.
Sharing your shame isn’t easy. It can be frightening, but it’s also freeing. When someone else knows about your pain, you no longer need to carry it alone. Now, you have a friend to walk with you on your journey toward healing.
Biblical Truths for Defeating Shame
When you’re living with shame, it’s easy to let it dominate your thoughts. You may think unkind thoughts about yourself. When things go wrong, you might say, “Of course this happened. I’m meant to suffer.” Or “Why would anyone like me? I’m a loser!”
If thoughts like these continually play in your mind, you don’t have to despair. There are three things you should know about your thoughts…
Your Thoughts Aren’t Always True
Some people make the mistake of believing every thought they have. If they think “I’m fat” then they accept that the thought is automatically correct. But consider this: for centuries, most people believed the earth was flat. It was an untrue thought that had been passed around for generations.
You may have thought patterns that were passed from generation to generation, too. Maybe you think thoughts like, “God doesn’t really like me.” Or “God doesn’t let good things happen in my life.”
Spend the next week observing your thoughts. You don’t have to call them out as right or wrong. Just listen to them and pay attention to the ones that bring you shame or make you feel poorly about yourself.
You Can Change Your Thoughts
Changing your thoughts isn’t easy, and it usually takes a long time before you feel you’re making any progress. But think of it like learning a new language—the language of God’s compassion.
Think of how you’d approach learning a new language. You’d give yourself weeks to learn and study. You’d buy books on the topic, talk about it with friends, and reach out to those more experienced in the language for help.
You Can Learn to Accept God’s Love
Of all the subjects you learned in school or college, you probably never had a single class on how to embrace God’s rich and abundant love for you. But it’s one of the most important things you can do in your life.
When you’re living in deep shame, your perception of yourself gets messed up. You may believe that you’re worthless, damaged, or ugly. But you are a beautiful masterpiece, woven together by the Creator of the stars.
One simple way to experience God’s love is to repeat what He says about your identity. Speak these truths over yourself again and again. The more you speak to them, the more you’ll believe them. Here are a few to start with…
- I am God’s beloved child. John 1:12
- I am an overcomer. Romans 8:37
- I am forgiven. Ephesians 1:7
- I am chosen. John 15:16
- I am wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14
- I am set apart in John. 15:16
- I am His masterpiece. Ephesian 2:10
- I am a friend of God. John 15:15
- I am looking forward to a bright future. Jeremiah 29:11
Embrace your identity in Christ. Take it one day at a time and don’t be upset if it doesn’t feel natural at first. As time goes on, you’ll find it easier to shift your thoughts away from shame and toward the things that God says about you.
God Delights in You
Satan uses shame to convince you to run from God. He tells you that God doesn’t want you around or that God is angry with you. He says that God would never accept you and that He isn’t interested in giving you another chance.
Don’t believe these lies! God delights in you. The complete story of the Gospel is that God loves you deeply and personally. He loves you passionately and relentlessly, so much that He willingly faced a horrible death just to be in a relationship with you.
You might feel shame, but don’t let it be your truth. You are free from condemnation. You are a child of God, and He delights in you!
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Christine Clark says
Kathy, you are a remarkable writer.