Are you a prisoner to your shame?

Let’s explore what shame is and how it can impact our lives.

According to John Bradshaw, in his book Healing the Shame that Binds You, he writes, “Shame looks to the outside for happiness and validation because the inside is flawed and defective.” 

Shame often forms our personal identity, or what we call a “false self.”

Where does shame come from?

Typically, shame originates from negative experiences during our formative years. 

Here are some familiar sources of shame that come from negative experiences: 

1. Emotional trauma (death of a loved one, divorce, witnessing an act of violence, emotional abuse, personal failures)

2. Physical trauma (being in a car accident, experiencing physical abuse, military action, war, or other physical accidents)

3. Personal neglect (a child with needs not met, being left alone at a young age, living in a poor or financially distressed family, ignored by a babysitter, uncared for properly by an absent parent possibly caused by poor behavior of the parent, such as due to alcoholism)

4. Verbal abuse (verbally abusive parents toward the child or even one another, witnessing verbal abuse from a critical role model such as siblings or parents)

5. Spiritual abuse (discipline with guilt of God, using God to manipulate behaviors, a pastor or church member in authority abusing a child)

6. Abandonment (divorce, a parent leaving, death of a loved one, older sibling moving away or going to college, a parent taking a work shift in the evenings, a parent working two or more jobs that are keeping them away from home.)

The following events may seem less significant and would be less likely to be the cause of trauma, but they can be substantial to a young person who doesn’t understand otherwise. With young children, the universe revolves around them, and everything that happens can be perceived personally. They do not see the “big picture.”

  • Being left behind at home when others go to have fun
  •  Witnessing a sibling being abused
  • Being ignored while a parent is doing something else (like watching TV or on the cell phone)

Here are some common quotes we have all heard and the resulting shame that can be initiated. 

Statement: Children are to be seen and not heard. 

Unintended message: Be quiet, don’t bother me. What you say doesn’t matter. You are unimportant. 

Statement: Big boys don’t cry. 

Unintended message: Be tough, be strong, don’t be an emotional wimp. Your feelings are not important or welcome here. You are weak and don’t measure up if you cry.

Statement: Don’t do that; you are going to get hurt. 

Unintended message: Be careful, don’t take risks. You are not competent to do it. You are not capable.

Statement: Do it right the first time, or don’t bother trying. 

Unintended message: Be perfect, don’t just try. If you fail, you don’t measure up, and you’re worthless. You are insignificant.  

Most of these statements result in implying that you should stuff your emotions and that you should not express your thoughts or feelings. 

When shame is present, we often seek external stimuli to cope with negative feelings or self-image. Pornography serves as an everyday escape, providing a false sense of intimacy. Other behaviors, such as substance abuse, will numb the pain of the shame while activities like compulsive shopping will attempt to fill the void and distract from the lack of a positive self-image.  Even the relentless pursuit of success can act as a means to externally heal the negative self-image of shame within oneself.

“In the absence of a truth, the counterfeit will do.”

From a spiritual standpoint, it is crucial to recognize that Satan deceives us by presenting worldly things as counterfeits in an attempt to keep us away from our shame. Although it may appear on the surface that he is doing us a favor (which is his ultimate aim), in reality, we become bound by his lies, preventing us from healing the root causes of our shame and limiting us from living as Christ intended.

Understanding the roots and sources of shame is vital to address and overcome its impact on our lives.

Shame Inventory

Many individuals experience feelings of isolation and misunderstanding, which align with Satan’s objective of keeping us separated. This is where his influence lies. However, it is essential to recognize that most of us encounter similar root perceptions of shame. We refer to this as the Shame Inventory.

Look at this list, and see if you identify, even mildly, with 1, 2, or many of them. 

I am a loser. 

I am not a good person. 

I am not lovable. 

I am undesirable. 

I am evil. 

I am a pervert. 

I am pathetic. 

I am stupid. 

I am a bad person. 

I am worthless. 

I am a monster. 

I am repulsive. 

I am shameful. 

I am a terrible person. 

I am despicable. 

I am ugly. 

I can’t change. 

I am a failure. 

I am incompetent. 

I am insignificant. 

I don’t deserve love. 

I am damaged goods. 

I have to be perfect to deserve love. 

I am wicked. 

No one could ever understand me.

The average person can typically relate to 7-10 of these statements, which often fuel our behaviors when feelings of shame arise. Consequently, these statements shape our identity.

The Truth

No matter what you have done or been told in your life, it’s important to remember that these statements are not a reflection of your true identity. While your behavior may exhibit the characteristics mentioned, at the core, this is not who you indeed are. These statements should not define you. This realization is excellent news for you. Any statements you have identified as circled or written in are behavioral defects that can be changed and healed.

Another perspective on these perceived imperfections is known as the “false self.” The false self is a self-image that one develops throughout life, which does not align with the true identity created by God. The shame statements you have identified in the previous exercise are one way of defining your false self.

In our next article, we will delve further into how these false beliefs tend to shape our perceived identity and provide guidance on dismantling this false identity using scripture.

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