“I am so ashamed”; “You brought disgrace on the family”; I am ashamed of you!”; “You should be ashamed of yourself!” Have you struggled with any of these statements? Did someone speak them to you? Or have you spoken them to yourself? Have you spoken them to someone else? Shame is a powerful and very destructive emotion. It destroys our ability to enjoy healthy and productive relationship with self, others and God and therefore dramatically affects the quality of our lives. Here are 5 ways shame makes us lie to ourselves.
- “Most people are better than me”
Shame is an emotion that inhibits spiritual and emotional growth by making us constantly compare ourselves with others. By encouraging us to believe that there is something inherently wrong with us compared to others, we are given a ready made excuse to keep on feeling what we have been feeling and in doing so, continuing the self-destructive behaviors that made us feel ashamed in the first place.
- “It’s all my fault”
A healthy emotional and spiritual life like the physical is not a chance event. It is something that requires a great deal of emotional and physical investment. Shame makes it easy to give up and accept the fate of a looser in the battle of life. It does so by disguising itself as responsibility. “It’s all my fault,” “I am to blame,” may seem as though they are the right things to say, but in reality is the language of defeat. On the other hand, there are some who never accept responsibility, but spend all the time blaming God or others for their plight. The truth is it does not matter whose fault it is, the real question is, “What do I do now?”
- “If I tell what I know, nobody will like me”
Shame tricks us into lying to ourselves. We believe that by holding on to secret wrongs we avoid exposure and embarrassment. Therefore, we conclude that anything is better than letting go of the secrets. As a result, we live a lie and our spiritual and emotional growth is sabotaged.
- “I don’t deserve forgiveness”
Shame based thinking constantly has us believing we don’t deserve to be forgiven. We should have known better, or we should not have done what we did or said what we said. Somehow we convince ourselves that God expects more from us than from others. It is amazing how many deeply spiritual persons have struggled with a lifetime of shame and confused it with guilt. It is critical for spiritual and emotional health that we accept our mistakes and claim a new future based on forgiveness from God, self forgiveness and forgiveness of others. A prerequisite for forgiveness is repentance, a willingness to take responsibility for my actions. Responsibility says, “I will not blame anything or anyone for my situation and that includes myself.” This opens the road to real growth.
- “I guess I am not on God’s priority list”
When we can’t find explanations for life’s disappointments and failures, we often resort to shame based conclusions such as this one. Such expressions are based on the belief that if God cared about us, he would not let all this happen to us or at least bring us some relief from the distress. If that does not happen, it’s a short step to the conclusion that our concerns are not that important to God. Perhaps we are too sinful or unfaithful, or we don’t pray enough, in other words we are overcome by shame.
Shame affects our spiritual and emotional lives in powerful ways and we have to able to detect the lies it suggests to us and counteract them with truth. We will explore ways to do this in our next post