i hate shame

kathyescobar healing, identity, spiritual formation, the carnival in my head 28 Comments

shameyeah, i know hate’s a strong & negative word.  i don’t like my kids to say the word “hate” and i am always giving them alternatives:  “don’t like”, “don’t agree with,” “not into” are all fine.   but when it comes to shame, honestly, the only word that i can think of that’s appropriate is hate.   i hate shame.

shame is the #1 destroyer of freedom, the #1 destroyer of relationship, the #1 destroyer of hope.  i am 100% convinced that this the reason the enemy, who is very good at killing, stealing, and destroying life and anything good, loves shame.  evil knows if it can keep people stuck in shame they will never experience freedom, the taste of deep and intimate connection with other people, and the propelling energy of Jesus’ hope.

shame has all kinds of definitions,  but i like to describe it as a deep ugliness, guilt, and horrid embarrassment about things that we did or are doing (or sometimes aren’t doing) or things others have done or are doing to us.  we’ll do practically anything to keep it hidden because if other people know, we are absolutely sure they will never be able to look at us again through the same lens.  they will judge us, they will view us in the same ugly way we view ourselves, they will leave us, they will hold it against us, they will somehow have power over us.

i know a lot about hidden shame from the past & and a little about current (and out in the open) shame from the last few years.

hidden shame was a part of my story for many years.  (ps: i have been sharing about this openly & publicly for a long time so don’t worry about me putting out something so big out of the blue. i recognize there’s no easy way to ease into it).  although it didn’t look as bad on the outside, on the inside of my family resided the damage of divorce, alcohol abuse, sexual inappropriateness, depression and violence.  i was sexually molested when i was 14, and because of how messed up things were i didn’t even recognize it for that until almost two decades later.  it was just one thing in a long chain of events that lead me to drinking, drugs & boys on the weekends & then getting straight A’s and being the golden child at school on the weekdays.  when i was 17, going into my senior year of high school, i had an abortion.  after the trauma of the experience, i pushed every feeling about it as deep as you could possibly bury it and got down to business hiding and faking to protect myself.  it was easy to do because i had already become the master at being the good girl on the outside while on the inside i was an insecure, lonely, confused mess.  right after high school i darted off to college and became crazily committed to making up for my decision by working hard at school, life, religion.

but unfortunately, shame had taken up residence.  over those years, i became better and better at lying, hiding, pretending during the day. but in the silence of the night the heaviness always crept back in.  i spent more times than i can count in bible studies & groups that talked about abortion like no one in the room could ever have even considered such a horrid thing.  i didn’t have the capacity to say out loud “hey, you are talking about me and you have no idea how awful what you are saying feels” so instead i would pray that no one could sense my darting eyes, shortness of breath, and silent pleas that the conversation would shift gears to another topic.  during many years of my christian experience, i didn’t have the strength to say “pretty much every day the strongest feeling i feel is shame and i’m sick and tired of it.”  and because of that, i was stuck in a bizarre prison of self-contempt, performance & hiding.

it wasn’t until i had two of my children that i finally ended up in a safe enough women’s group to begin to tell a bit of my story out loud & gain enough courage to tell my husband the truth.  but even then, it took a long time for things to shift.  through unconditional love from jose and amazing friends (who were also familiar with shame’s destruction) & a long hard season of intense post-abortion healing work that had way more to do with my relationship with God, myself, my family than the actual abortion, i began to feel in my heart, not just my head, Christ’s love & experience freedom.  shame lost its power over me in that regard.

so many have so much hidden shame, unspoken things that are hard to say out loud, things that have happened or things that are currently happening but are too hard to admit.  i always pray the time will come where they can “get current” and let it out in safe places with other people who can hack it and won’t try to fix or cover it up or minimize the magnitude, that they will experience the freedom that comes over time when shame loses its stranglehold & they get a taste of God’s real grace.

so hidden shame is one thing, but what about current-out-in-the-open shameful stuff?   what are we to do with the shame of continually making the same mistakes over and over again for everyone to see?  of never being able to pull it off the way we think we should?  of struggling with weight, too-hard-to-hide addictions, finances, divorce, wayward kids, losing our job, messing up relationships, lack of acceptable faith, oh all kinds of things that we feel bad about?  sometimes that’s worse than hidden shame, the things no one knows.  that is what damaged me the most about losing my job a few years ago, that it was right there in the blaring light for everyone to see.  the church i had poured my heart & soul into basically slammed the door on my face & carried on without missing a beat.  honestly, the most prevalent feeling was intense shame.  and usually, the response to our exposed shame is similar to adam & eve’s–isolate, run, or find some weird way to cover it up (my initial default is usually to just work harder & hope it goes away, yeah, it doesn’t work too well).

so what’s the way out from under shame’s weight?  i know the proper christian answer is Jesus! and while i believe that Jesus is the great shame destroyer, i don’t think shame automatically leaves when we know the right verses or the right christian answers like so many expect.  i think it’s more of a weird wild combination of the Holy Spirit, people, and tangible experiences that begin to shift things in us.   i think the way out from under shame’s power is to take a long view of life in community together with others who are willing to be as desperate as we are & are trying to let God’s spirit come in to the scary parts of our heart, too.  i think the way out is a life of brokenness, honesty & restoration.  a life of learning to trust, carry others’ burdens and let others carry ours.   a life of nurturing and participating in safe places to say out loud the things rattling around in our heads and in our hearts.  a life of being around others who will point us toward Jesus, redemption, grace, truth, and hope in the good times & the bad.   a life of being set free so we can pass on that freedom to others.  this is what i think “the church”, the living, breathing, beautiful body of Christ, should be best at:  shame removal.  i am fairly sure that Jesus was pretty darn good at it. and yet i realize that for so many the church has been way better at increasing shame than decreasing it.  it’s the oddest paradox.

nowdays i don’t actually care where it happens as long as it happens (we all know God shows up in the craziest of places).  over the years i have seen firsthand men & women get free from shame, and it is the most beautiful of things.  leaning into giftedness, finding purpose, restoring relationships, learning how to be comfortable in our own skin, passing on hope to others. oh, there’s nothing more glorious!

so i believe strongly that we must battle against shame together, that we let our hatred of its power in our lives, the lives of those we come into contact with, compel us to do anything we can to fight it.  that we let others into our shame and call out the goodness in each other, God’s image buried underneath the rubble.  that we fight tooth & nail to create places that dissolve shame’s stronghold in this world so men & women across all shapes & sizes & colors & walks of life can taste, experience, breath in Christ’s freedom, hope, relief.