Shame and the Church
by Julie Mustard
Shame is the most intense negative human emotion. It is a universal experience. Shame is the voice in your head that screams, “I am ______________________.” We fill-in-the-blank with words and phrases that attack the very core of our identity, but why? Why, in knowing how destructive shame is, do we allow ourselves to partner and give it power, eventually becoming a perpetrator of it in the lives of others?
The answer is as old as humanity…really. In the genesis of mankind, our identity was solid and wrapped up in our God-likeness with God. It was never meant to be any other way. He made us for constant union with Him where we would not need the ability to know good and evil; yet, at the introduction of sin, that is exactly what we received. What was meant to be experienced as “like God and with God” instantly became “like God apart from God.” The moment Adam and Eve ate from the tree, they experienced the worst thing possible: shame.
Gershen Kaufman received his Ph.D in clinical psychology and he says this about shame: “Shame is the most disturbing experience individuals ever have about themselves; no other emotion feels more deeply disturbing because in the moment of shame, the self feels wounded from within.” Shame attacks identity to the core and perpetrates the cycle so much so that we become perpetrators of it too.
Another leading pioneer in this topic is Brene Brown who is also a research professor at The University of Houston. This author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers says, “We cannot grow when we are in shame, and we cannot use shame to change ourselves or others.” If this is true, then why do we do it? It all goes back to the tree. We were so desperate for the knowledge of good and evil. In suspicion that God was ripping us off, our eyes were opened to which we were never meant to see. This was all at the introduction of a lie from the enemy. The introduction of lies, whether self-inspired, hate-driven, or the product of life experiences are designed to strip the sons and daughters of God of their identity. It separates them from knowing they are safe, protected, whole, loved, enough, treasured, and the list goes on.
In the very moment when Adam and Eve were invited to draw close to God, they allowed their new experience with shame to be the greater reality than being with God. They took leaves to cover their newly discovered nakedness and began the blame game. “But God, it was this woman YOU gave me! I did not want to…No God, it was that snake. Why is he in this garden anyway?” In our society, we call this “throwing someone under the bus.” It is also called blame-shifting, which means moving responsibility to someone else. Why? Because deep down you know you did something wrong and cannot stop hearing the words telling you, “I am bad.”
Here are some examples of the shame cycle taking root and spawning destructive beliefs:
“I hate my body, but at least I do not look like Jenny. Man, she is so disgusting.”
“I am such a screw-up! Every time! Why do I even bother? I will never get this.”
“My children are the cause of all my problems. If it were not for them, then my house would be clean, I would not have all these wrinkles, and people would see me as a good person.”
“Wow, did you see how horrible Suzie’s project was at work? I mean really, doesn’t anyone see how horrible she is at managing details?”
“I am the fat mom. I cannot go to the park with the kids because I am winded before we even begin. My daughter hates me because I am fat.”
In her research, Brene Brown discovered how we “judge people in areas where we are vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we are doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I do not go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We are hard on each other because we are using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived shaming deficiency.”
Before you consider continuing the self-hating behavior of shame for not “getting this already,” let’s recognize the hope we have in Jesus. Jesus never lived in shame and never used it as a motivational tool. When He was accused, He remained silent; when others vied for positions, He made space for them to work it out and followed through with a lesson on the heart of the Father. When He was direct in His discipline and rebuke, it was never meant to shame; He only gave invitations to come up higher.
In this space with God, the higher place, we can be secure in our Godlikeness with God. No longer do we have to look around for proof of “knowledge of good and evil,” we really can just be who He created us to be. Instead of repeating the lies and destructive products of shame, begin a war on the terror that is in its very nature shame. Shame is not your friend and is not going to keep you safe. Be kind to yourself and give yourself complete permission to live an authentic journey. Keep short accounts, and get your identity from who your Abba Father (Dad) says you are!
“All of my secrets and scars and wishes and dreams can live together in this one body without shame, without blame, and without fear. I am all loved, all accepted, and all in service to God. In his eyes, regardless of what I did or didn’t do today, I am loved. I am His, so I am enough.” ― Anna White
Keys to defeating Shame
1) Declarations – Make a list of 10 identity declarations of truth in the opposite spirit of the place of shame. Example: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am important.”
2) See Failures as Learning Opportunities – Instead of letting every failure take you further down a shame spiral, deal with your slip-ups and mistakes when they happen. Give forgiveness, clean up your mess, and move forward. Avoid the shame traps of identifying “what’s wrong with you” in the middle of missing the mark.
3) Be Kind to Yourself – Learn to love yourself so you effectively love others more authentically. The swirl of shame in your life can be the result of partnering with things such as self-hatred and even self-pity. Cease from all negative self-talk and self-harming behaviors and get help for any addictions. Once you love yourself well, shame’s voice loses its power.
The Operating System of Jesus by Lain Bradbeer
I Thought it was Just Me by Brene Brown
Julie Mustard is an author, minister, and speaker who interned for Steve Backlund in 2012 and 2013. She currently works for the Global Legacy Department at Bethel Church in Redding, CA as the Director of Short Term Missions and Operations Manager. She is passionate about healthy relationships, believers walking in the fullness of their identity in Christ, and seeing people transformed from the inside out so they can be the leaders and releasers of the Kingdom of God.
Social Media Sites: @juliemustard