Your Biggest Tool For Conquering Shame

One day, I passed through our dining room on my way to the kitchen when I noticed something small and red in my peripheral vision. I took two steps back and discovered a Fisher Price Little Person with black hair, a white shirt and a red skirt attached to the dining room wall. I reached up to remove it, assuming one of my boys had suctioned it on as a joke, but it didn't budge. In fact, after pulling a few times, I realized it was permanently sealed to the wall.

I have to confess, I was super-frustrated because we were in the process of knocking out our punch list for our recently constructed house. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of adding one more to do to my list, but I was also certain my youngest child was responsible and his soul absorbs shame like a sponge. I needed to know how he managed to attach the toy on the wall so it could be properly removed, but I knew I would have to be strategic because I knew the shame monster was willing and waiting to invade. I gingerly asked if Joseph might possibly know how the toy attached itself to our wall, and the mere suggestion sent him running. It took awhile, before we eventually worked it out.

Here's what I've noticed about human nature. While we have been created equal, we are certainly not all created the same. Some of make gut decisions while others of us feel our way through life. Some of us absorb the mood of an room, while others create the mood for the room. For some of us, shame rolls off our shoulders without a passing thought while others of us take days, weeks or years to rid ourselves of it. We might have been created equal, but we are not the same.

Processing shame can be emotionally complicated, so I want to share with you the biggest tool, or rather mindset, I've learned to conquer unhealthy shame. The first step is to understand what shame is and why we feel it.

What is Shame?

If you’ve read any of my books, blogs or heard me speak, you have probably heard me quote one of my favorite authors, Lewis B. Smedes. His writings on forgiveness and shame have freed me greatly. Here are two of my favorite quotes by him: “Almost everybody feels shame sometimes, like an invisible load that weighs our spirits down and crushes out our Joy. It is a lingering sorrow. But it can also be an acute pain that stings you at the moment you are feeling best….shame has no intelligence; it does not reason with us. It is a feeling. However, whenever we feel shame, it sets us at a cross-road. We have a choice; do we rush to get relief, or do we first ask what causes the pain” (Shame and Grace, Smedes, p.6, 36). 

Whenever we feel shame, it sets us at a cross-road. We have a choice; do we rush to get relief, or do we first ask what causes the pain.
— Smedes

Lewis reveals a few things about shame in these quotes. They are:

  • No one is immune from shame.
  • The feeling can sneak up on us in an instant.
  • It can crush our joy and bring sorrow.
  • Or we can use it to direct us to the place where we need to heal.

When shame finds it's way to our doorstep, we have a choice. We can either give into hurt or to take the opportunity to heal. When shameful feelings enter my heart, I don't usually want to heal. I want to hide. I've always been told all shame is bad, but in his book, Shame and Grace, Lewis teaches that healthy shame is our path to healing while unhealthy shame keeps us hurting. So what is the difference between healthy and unhealthy shame?

What is healthy shame?

Have you ever felt like something is broken inside? Have you ever felt like your righteous life doesn't measure up; like your righteousness is but a dim reflection of God's brilliance? Me too. And while these feelings are frustrating, they are a form of healthy shame. God allows us to feel healthy shame because it makes us aware of our sin. Think about it. If we are created in God's image, sinful behavior should make us feel ashamed because it does not reflect the character of God. If we participate in lying, deceit, violence, selfishness or greed, we should feel regret and desire forgiveness. I hope you agree that it would be tragic for a person to become unfeeling or indifferent to their sin, no longer able to feel remorse. If a person ever finds themselves absent from guilt altogether, they have become disconnected with the natural law of good and bad. They have become so absorbed with their sin that their hearts are hardened to the point of wickedness.

Healthy shame reminds us that we are incomplete, but, his salvation is drawing us back into right relationship with him and identity as his daughters and sons. Healthy shame is intended to draw us to him, not away. “Healthy shame is the call of our true selves. It is the price we pay for being persons who are really meant to be better persons than we actually are" (Shame and Grace, Smedes, p.154). We should be thankful and respond to healthy shame, while fighting against unhealthy shame. So let's talk about unhealthy shame.

What is unhealthy shame?

Unhealthy shame originates from indictments or labels we’ve absorbed from the outside rather than from God's original design for us. They are unbiblical beliefs we’ve contracted from the world around us, such as:

  • Harsh words or insults
  • Abusive people or situations
  • Repetitive sinful behaviors we’ve left uncontrolled
  • Doctrines we’ve absorbed from the world (friends, ads, shows, world-views, and even false doctrines in the church)

Unhealthy shame damages us and keeps us alienated from our true identity as children of God. And, while shame can often make us feel hopeless, “I believe, responsible for what we do with what other people did to us. When it comes right down to it, cruel as it sounds, we suffer the shame we do not deserve because we deceive ourselves. We deceive ourselves with the falsehood that we are unworthy human beings. We support our deception with plausible reasons why we should feel unworthy. We pollute our consciousness the way a factory manager may release toxic chemicals into a stream and immediately convince himself that the stream is where he should release them. This is why we usually need outside help, divine and/or human, to uncover our own self-deceit” (Shame and Grace, Smedes, p.83). God did not design us to become prisoners to unhealthy shame, but rather to redefine our identity placing our confidence in Him rather than accusations from others or situations from our past. Discernment is one of your greatest tools for conquering unhealthy shame.

Discernment is one of your greatest tools for conquering Unhealthy shame

If you are just starting on this journey of discernment, it can be a little confusing so I want to share the end of a devotion I wrote on how to conquer shame in my ILYM Study Guide. "Shame is hard to fight because the battle resides in your mind. When I realized it was an internal battle, I decided I needed someone to help me weed through my thoughts to determine what was biblical and what was not, what was reasonable and what was not, and what was edifying and what was not. I often advise people to see a professional counselor or psychiatrist, and very often they respond, “I’m not crazy, Sharie!” I usually respond with, “I see a counselor to keep my mind, soul, and heart healthy.” We all need this kind of help every now and then!” (ILYM Study Guide, p.66) The Lord designed us to be free and gave us the Holy Spirit to help us overcome, but we have to choose to listen and take responsibility for our souls. I've listed some resources below which helped me do this in my life. I hope they help you too!

helpful resources

© 2018 by Sharie King.  All rights reserved.

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