It’s A Shame—Part 2 (ARTICLE)
by Rev. Sylvia Clemons, LPC, LCDC | November 2, 2009
Rev. Chester Wright said, “Unresolved shame is the most debilitating spiritual condition with which we contend today. It is the root of almost all Christian inconsistency...Giving up hope of being any different drives more to backslide than temptation or sin.”
In Part One, we talked about the differences between healthy and unhealthy shame and between unhealthy shame and grace. We saw that people raised in “shame-based” families are full of unbearable pain and must find ways to cope with it. The two unhealthy avenues of coping are acting out the pain or trying to pass the shame and pain on to others. The healthy option for dealing with the pain of unhealthy shame lies in walking the path of healing.
First, let‟s talk about the unhealthy ways of coping. People who act out their shame do so by focusing only on themselves and their own needs. Their “empathy quotient” is nearly non-existent. They have difficulty relating to how other people feel and how their own behavior affects others. They victimize and abuse others in physical, sexual and emotional ways.
The other unhealthy option is trying to act shameless by passing the unwanted shame on to others. The original occurrence of acting shameless was in the Garden of Eden when the Lord came looking for Adam after the forbidden fruit episode. In Genesis 3:11-12, Adam first tries to hide from the Lord, next he tells God it was Eve‟s fault for giving him the fruit to eat, and then he attacks God for giving him the woman in the first place. We‟ve been using the same damaging strategies ever since.
Ways we‟ve created to pass our shame on to others are: demanding perfection, striving for power and control, raging, arrogance, criticizing and blaming, judging and moralizing, being contemptuous and patronizing, rescuing and enabling others (with strings attached), being envious, and indulging in all kinds of compulsions and addictions.
All of these coping strategies are ways of pretending that we are okay and the problem lies with other people. They are all forms of denial and avoidance of the real issues of the heart.
A third option for dealing with unhealthy shame lies in the healing process. Healing from a childhood of unhealthy shame involves finding out who we really are, as reflected in the eyes of the Lord, rather than through the eyes of shaming parents. It involves looking in the perfect mirror of Christ, rather than the marred mirrors of hurting and hurtful people.
A “healing process” is called a process because it happens over a period of time. It is not a quick fix or instant change; it is a journey. In her book, Hurt People Hurt People, Sandra Wilson says, “The healing process is like trying to package a live octopus. Just about the time we think it‟s all wrapped up, something else pops out! That‟s why it‟s more realistic to talk in terms of „I‟m committed to a changing process‟ rather than „I‟m completely changed.‟”
What is that process? Here are a few steps in a nutshell.
Step 1: Since the “shame-based” hide themselves and their pain in darkness, first we must come out from behind the masks and look toward the light of health and God‟s grace. We were initially hurt in relationships; we are also healed in relationships. But, this time, we must intentionally surround ourselves with safe, nurturing people who will help us on the journey. In this redemptive process, we can process the pain and shame and learn to see ourselves as Christ sees us. His Light and Truth redeem us from the darkness.Step 2: We must learn to identify long-denied needs. In the shaming process, we learned that our needs were wrong since they conflicted with the needs of shaming caretakers. But, our needs are God-given and cannot be denied for long without significant consequences.Step 3: We must recognize habits of self-protection, ways we have kept ourselves from being real and honest in our relationships, ways we have tried to control our environment and other people in an attempt to feel safe.Step 4: We must redirect our faith. Romans 12:3 says that God has given to every man a measure of faith. Through the shaming process, we learned to place our faith in our own self-protective strategies. Through the healing, we learn to place that faith in the God who has been with us and seen us through it all.Step 5: Apprehending the awesome power of grace and forgiveness allows us to make them a secure and enduring part of our lives in Christ.
Jesus said, in John 10:10, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. The Lord intends that we learn to live in the joy only He can give rather than constantly yearning and striving for the fleeting, unreliable happiness of a life without Him.