A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Facing Up to the Monster of Shame

Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

I probably know a lot more about shame than I realize, and so do you.  The problem with shame is that it is like a computer virus, hiding and lurking beneath the surface and then BAM!  All of a sudden it strikes, there is devastation in relationships, and everyone, including us, wonders what happened. Shame is one of the most masterful creations of the enemy of our souls.  And his representatives love to use it in their quest to gain power and control.  A shamed person is not really that hard to dominate.

If you have been abused – sexually, verbally, spiritually – then you have been shamed.  Shame is rather different than guilt.  Guilt has to do with our actions.  It can be true guilt or false guilt, depending upon whether or not our actions have been truly guilt-worthy.  But shame… ah, the evil subtlety of shame…. this nasty little item goes right to the core of who we are as a person.  Shame tells us that we are worthless, that no one could ever want us.  Shame looks back at us in the mirror and causes us to hate what we see.

Mark 9:28-29, “And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” (29) And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.””

Shame isn’t a demon, but however Satan operates as the accuser of the brethren, he surely has a hand in the thing.  Some things, like the false guilt we often face from the blaming tactics of abusers, are hard to deal with.  Others are so pervasive and deeply instilled in the depths of our being that we find ourselves asking “Why could we not cast it out?”  Shame is one of those kind.  It is a real monster.

Shame functions as a filter through which we perceive all incoming data.  Comments or looks or actions by others.  Things we read.  Love offered.  A kindness rendered.  Its origins lie in sin.  Our own sin.  The sins of others against us.  But as it takes root in our minds, it takes even good things offered us and twists them so that they are perceived as assaults against us.  As rejections of who we are.  Shame isolates us because it can even render us incapable of receiving love from others and even from the Lord.   Listen to this quote taken from the “Psych-central” website:

Marilyn J. Sorensen, Ph.D., author of “Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem” and clinical psychologist in Portland, Ore., explains how such disorders originate.

“Early in life, individuals develop an internalized view of themselves as adequate or inadequate within the world,” she said. “Children who are continually criticized, severely punished, neglected, abandoned, or in other ways abused or mistreated get the message that they do not ‘fit’ in the world — that they are inadequate, inferior or unworthy.”

These feelings of inferiority are the genesis of low self-esteem, Sorenson says.

“Individuals with low self-esteem become overly sensitive and fearful in many situations,” she said. “They are afraid they won’t know the rules or that they’ve blundered, misspoken or acted in ways others might consider inappropriate. Or they might perceive that others reject or are critical of them.”

Once low self-esteem is formed, the person becomes hypersensitive — they experience “self-esteem attacks” that take the form of embarrassment or shame, Sorenson adds.

“Unlike guilt, which is the feeling of doing something wrong,” she said, “shame is the feeling of being something wrong. When a person experiences shame, they feel ‘there is something basically wrong with me.’”

Middelton-Moz says this is a common emotional response in adult children of alcoholic parents, as well as those who grew up with depressed parents, abuse, religious fanaticism, war, cultural oppression, or adult or sibling death. All of these experiences cause an individual to feel vulnerable, helpless and shamed.”

[End Quote]

It wont take you long to realize as you consider these facts that a person who is based in shame is going to find long-lasting, healthy relationships virtually impossible to maintain.  Shame works to isolate us as it inevitably turns the most well-intentioned words and actions of others into shaming, flaming missiles aimed right at us.  Shame can even quite purposely sabotage a relationship since it renders us too ashamed to thing we deserve such things.

The remedy of course is Christ and a total revamping and transformation of our minds (Romans 12:1-2).  Somehow the Holy Spirit works in us to communicate the love of the Father for us as His adopted children (Romans 8).  But we can also benefit in our battle with shame by seeking out help from others the Lord might put in our path.  For example, I would recommend Released from Shame: Moving Beyond the Pain of the Past  [*Affiliate link],  by Sandra D. Wilson. It is written from a Christian perspective.  Probably for many of us, we would do well to get into some kind of counseling and/or therapy group for help in overcoming shame.  It is a really big mistake to try to deal with this one by ourselves. Many victims of abuse have so given themselves to helping others – such as their children – that they have neglected to seek help and therapy for themselves.  And that is not a good thing to continue to do.

* Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ  gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link

7 Comments

  1. Talk about hitting it right on: “Individuals with low self-esteem become overly sensitive and fearful in many situations,” she said. “They are afraid they won’t know the rules or that they’ve blundered, misspoken or acted in ways others might consider inappropriate. Or they might perceive that others reject or are critical of them.”…..”Once low self-esteem is formed, the person becomes hypersensitive — they experience “self-esteem attacks” that take the form of embarrassment or shame, Sorenson adds.” Living with low self-esteem is living in paranoia over doing something “wrong”. I basically feel as though I have to constantly tweak my words and actions to be “right” in someone elses eyes. I doubt myself in every area in life. Planning to check out the book recommendation.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Yes, R2 (hmmm… Star Wars name:) — This business of shame is a subject that no abuse victim can ignore. Actually, all of us would do well to learn more about it and pray that the Lord would search it out in us so we can see it. One of the key indicators I have seen in numbers of victims who are still all caught up in shame is “I’m sorry.” They say this very, very often. They do so because they are constantly afraid that in their worthlessness and stupidity they are totally clumsy in their interpersonal interactions with others. Of course, if you have been hammered by an abuser for years, you are going to feel worthless, i.e., shamed. You will find other books on Amazon once you look up Wilson’s and I highly encourage you to keep reading. Steven Tracy’s book, Mending the Soul, deals with it some and the workbook that goes with his book is well worth the $30 or so it costs.

  2. anonymous

    You have described me perfectly. I have been since Oct of 2010. I came out of a marriage that was both abusive emotionally/mentally as well as adulterous. I get so concerned with how i’ve presented myself before others and what comes out of my mouth, especially other believers. My low self-esteem is due to being so emotionally fragmented and feeling scattered internally. I get so overwhelmed with the negetive chatter box in head that I feel it’s best that I just isolate and hide myself from other believers.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Well, it doesn’t do us any good in battling shame to continue to associate with people who shame us. I hope that one day you will be able to find Christians who are healthy to be with and not unsafe. In the meanwhile, I suspect that working on shame will help you greatly. Wilson’s book is really good and you can easily find others on Amazon. I hope that this discussion is helping you get to the bottom of those symptoms you are experiencing and you can realize that you aren’t so abnormal after all. You are just a human being who has been sorely treated and shame is an almost inevitable result.

      • anonymous

        Yes! This discussion is helping me greatly. Thank you!

  3. LOL, was just going to suggest Mending the Soul, but Jeff beat me to it!
    I really like the distinction between guilt and shame: “Guilt is the feeling of doing something wrong, shame is the feeling of being something wrong.” That’s very helpful. It reminds me of how I always felt defective, like my wiring was all wrong, as a result of having been sexually abused in childhood. But thanks be to God, He has healed that tangled and fused wiring; He has rewired and renewed my mind, body and soul.

    And yes, if a person frequently and unnecessarily says “I’m sorry” that’s definite indicator that they probably come from a shame-based place. I put my hand up for that, especially in the past. And I see it it other survivors.

  4. Finding Answers

    […..insert net-speak for ^That…..]

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