"Shame will drive you out of the presence of God" Steven Furtick
As I walk through my own battle against shame, I've discovered that the root of most of it is coming from things in my life--situations, experiences, circumstances--that were beyond my control. Now, I'm not saying that I don't feel some sense of shame, guilt or regret for some of my own actions---but it's different. I have found it easier to forgive myself, get over those things and move on than from the things others have shamed me for in my life. I'm not sure why that is, just yet, but I suspect it has something to do with everyone's desire to fit in and that's why the things that other people find "wrong" with us are so damaging.
So, for example, the first time I remember feeling intense shame in my life was around the age of 12 or 13 and my grandmother had passed away. I was devastated. She was "my person", if you know what I mean. At age 12, almost 13, I had no clue how to process all of these hard emotions. I was grief-stricken. Her loss in my life, and to our family, was astronomical. To me, it was natural to cry and express those emotions.
My stepmother felt differently, and told me that I was "upsetting everyone and if I didn't stop crying, she would not let me go to the funeral".
The fear of not being able to go made me stuff down all of those feelings but it also did something else---it made me feel ashamed of my grief, sadness and this huge sense of loneliness over the loss of my grandmother. Suddenly, it felt "wrong" to cry and I felt as if something were wrong with me.
Shame set in. I think from that moment forward, I always carried that with me and I held back when something made me sad, happy, excited, shocked, loved, etc....
I started losing confidence in myself. It didn't happen all at once. This was an event in my life that was a catalyst for a decades long cascade into deep shame and most of it came from being the target of someone else's actions--meaning what they did was in no way my fault and it wasn't truly about me either.
This led me to fight battles that were not mine to fight. I may have to face it, but I don't have to fight it. I have one who will fight for me.
It also did something else--it began the process inside me that has caused me to shrink back from what God had made me to be. I started hiding parts of myself that He placed in me and meant for me to share. It started to cause me to be unwilling to be vulnerable anymore. This didn't happen all at once--I'm now 49 and I'm just now realizing all of this so, it was definitely a long process and series of events in my life that just built this, layer by layer, in my mind.
I could name all of the different events in my life that brought about another layer of shame; Things like being told, again by my stepmother, that "You have to be smart to be a nurse." When I shared I wanted to go to college to be a nurse. She also said that with a loud laugh.
There were other instances with this person in my life, too many to name. Each event just added more doubt, more shame and damaged my sense of self. Despite all of that coming from one person, I managed to do OK. But as I look back, I realize that I never really LIVED. I did what others expected of me and just tried to live as un-noticed as possible. Sounds kind of boring, right? It was.
Around age 24, my father and stepmother were no longer a part of my life. That was their choice, not mine. My stepmother gave my father an ultimatum: "It's either her or me." and he chose to remove me from his life. The fact that it was over lies, half truth, jealousy and just pure spite is irrelevant at this point---the woman he married was a very flawed, damaged and hurting individual. I've learned that her attitude and treatment of me was about her own pain.
And that is basically the lesson I've learned and am reminding myself of daily. MOST of the time, the way people treat you, if they dislike you, criticize you, laugh at you, insult you, attack you---it is about THEM, not you.
Another event in my life that I've come to realize added more shame to my spirit came from two people who had never met me at the time that they made some really broad assumptions about me, jumped to some ridiculous conclusions and came to some absurd snap judgements about me and my character based on absolutely no personal experience with me whatsoever. I am not even joking here. They had never met me. I do not exaggerate. All they knew was my name, I had a child and was a single mom at the time and also managed a hair salon (which meant I was also a hair stylist). Suddenly, that told them everything they needed to know and they decided I "must be a mess". They knew 5 facts about me but did not know ME yet they decided that told them enough to reject me.
At the time, I didn't get angry. I didn't react much at all. Somewhere, in the back of my mind a lie began though. The lie was this "There must be something wrong with you, Lori, if people who have never met you think that you something is not right about you. You must be defective or a mistake if they can tell how "bad" you are without ever talking to you. You deserve their rejection."
That's how shame starts. It's the idea that you ARE bad, that something is wrong with you, that you are a mistake, defective, a reject. As Brené Brown says, it's the intensely painful feeling that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging and boy did I feel unworthy and as if I didn't belong ANYWHERE. The thing is, I hadn't done anything to deserve this judgement from them--but the devil used it to convince me that I was a mistake. This added another layer of shame and at this point, it deepened and grew more roots.
I can only talk about this all now, in this way, because of the journey of self awareness and discovery that I've been on for the last several months. I can put all of this in perspective now. I could not have done that a year ago.
All of these events, with my stepmother and these other individuals set me up for the biggest blow to my spirit that was to come--the one that put me deep into the Shame Pit for 18 years and if I'm going to be honest, I'm still climbing out of it but I can see the light at the top for the first time in a long time. But once again, this descent into the Shame Pit was due to the actions of another person, not myself or anything I had done. Sharing the details of this time in my life is not something I'm quite ready to do just yet. It was a deeply personal betrayal of trust, love and commitment. It pulled the rug right out from under me and I didn't catch my footing again for many, many years.
This specific event sort of "sealed the deal" in a way. I'm not saying the effect was permanent, but what it did was to sort of complete the attack on my self-esteem, self-confidence, sense of worthiness and value, convinced me I had no purpose in life other than to just exist and take up space. It was incredibly lonely and depressing. At one point, I fought off thoughts of suicide. I was desperate for a way out of the intense pain I was in.
And all of this was the result of someone else's actions that were a result of THEIR pain and hurt---I was just in the crossfire. How often do we find ourselves in the crossfire of someone else's battle? They are hurting, shooting arrows as this pain, hurt and trauma--which most of the time is caused by someone else who is in pain and their pain was caused by yet another person in pain---do you see the pattern here?
How do we stop it? First, you have to understand the cause and nature of the battle that is before you. For me, these were NOT my battles. I didn't start it. How's the song from Billy Joel go... "We didn't start the fire.. It was always burning... Since the world's been turning...." We aren't fighting world battles but these are spiritual battles that have been around since the beginning of time and you can try to fight it, but it's not yours to fight.
Don't fight the battle you didn't start. You will lose. It will begin to consume you and you will lose yourself in the fight. You will become a hurting person who hurts others and become part of the shame cycle.
Stop fighting someone else's battle. Instead, turn your focus to God and His promises--remind yourself what He says about you:
You are alive with Christ (Eph. 2:5)
You are a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)
You are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21)
Greater is He that is in you than He who is in the world (1 John 4:4)
It is not I who live, But Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20)
You are greatly loved by God. (Rom. 1:7, Eph. 2:4, Col. 3:12)
You can do all things through Christ. (Phil. 4:13)
You are God's workmanship, created in Christ for good works. (Eph. 2:10)
You are more than a conqueror through Him who loves you. (Rom. 8:37)
*(List taken from UNashamed by Christine Caine)
You are a treasure.
You are God's friend.
You are God's son/daughter.
God loves YOU.
Let God fight those battles. They are His. If the battle is too big---it doesn't belong to you.
Share your shame with someone who deserves to hear your story. Your story won't be for everyone, but as Brené Brown says in her book, Daring Greatly: Shame can't exist with empathy. Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. You need to name it and speak it---that will cut it off at its knees. (paraphrased)
Choose who you share your story with wisely. Not everyone is meant to hear it. You need those really close 1-2 friends who will sit with you, listen and relate. This person will empathize with you and love you through the process of letting go of shame.