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  • Writer's pictureSinclaire Sparkman

Separate from Shame

Updated: Dec 8, 2021

If you hang your head, hide from your problems, or find yourself generally depressed, you may have a problem with shame.

Shame comes from many directions, a lot of the time from rigorous standards that don't allow for grace. Shame can also come from something that happened to you, or something you allowed to happen. It could come from your Sunday school teacher calling you out for wearing shorts to church on a hot summer day; it could come from your peers snickering about that extra weight you packed on after the wedding; it could come from that sexual situation you never wanted in the first place.

Becoming a victim qualifies us for shame—that sneaky emotion that cuts our self-love out from under us. Shame attacks our whole person. We hold on to shame because we think it keeps us safe, but in reality, it keeps us in the dark. Shame separates us from our best self.

While any emotion can be useful, shame becomes toxic pretty fast. Shame is like enjoying a fairly wonderful hike and brushing past poison ivy. Maybe you didn't even see the three-leafed creeper clinging to the path, but by the end of the day, you start to feel itchy. You regret ever going hiking in the first place. You start to hate on yourself for not being more careful. You think of all the reasons you're unworthy to ever hike again. But what's the real problem? It's not your love for hiking, or the path itself. The problem was the poison you ran into along the way.

Shame attacks us on a personal level, unlike guilt which condemns a certain action. Sneaky shame deactivates love, leaving us open to despair.

Religion uses shame as a weapon to divide us from loving our self. Religion says, repent for ever hiking, you fiend! While we're itchy with shame we may cut ourselves off from God, like Adam and Eve who hid after that whole forbidden fruit incident. We sit in our shame and convince ourselves we’re not good enough, we’re unlovable, we’re too dirty for God to ever love us. It's not true. God found Adam and Eve in the garden and asked, "Who told you that you were naked?" With love, he sought them out and created justice for their injustice. Shame was the first thing to separate humanity from God. And shame is still doing that dirty work today.

God made a way to love us no matter what. We're acceptable no matter what. And he'd be the first one to hop right back on that hiking trail with you because he's just that good.

Shame tells us that we are unacceptable because of the things we’ve done. Shame keeps us flailing around in the dirt saying woe is me, I’ll never overcome this, I’m too bad, bad, bad. Shame attacks the person, not just an action. Guilt focuses on the action, saying what you’ve done is wrong. You should've never walked into that poison ivy or you wouldn't be so itchy: true. You are terrible at paying attention and will always end up itchy when you hike: not true.

Shame says you as a whole person are wrong because of something you did or even something that happened to you that you could not control. Shame is a twisted, contorted mirror of pride.

In a shame mindset, you are self-focused. You define yourself by your circumstance, succumbing to unrealistic and unhealthy thoughts about yourself. Shame says if I never hike again I will never be itchy again. Shame says if I stay down and stay hidden, I can survive; and that is a bald-faced lie.

Shame puts us in a dangerous place because when we feel ashamed we do not share our sorrow, we wallow in it. We don’t reach out for help when we feel ashamed. We want to hide and continue to hate our self forever. We continue to itch because shame says we deserve to itch.

Things that cause shame are usually embarrassing. No one wants to admit to what makes them feel icky. It's easier to itch in the dark than to admit that you walked right through a patch of poison ivy on your wonderful hike. Shame will keep you scratching until you bleed or drive yourself crazy, or both. Shame works to destroy you.

It takes courage to overcome the embarrassment and own up to what went wrong. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage. But shining a light on the situation, telling someone, or just owning up to it in your own head is a lot like reaching for the Calamine lotion or running a hot oatmeal bath to calm the itch. Exposing the embarrassing steals its power over us, though we may still suffer for a bit. Shame will fade at the sight of light and love, just like that poisonous rash fades fast with proper treatment.

We all mess up. We all do dumb, dirty things, and sometimes horrible things happen to us. Have the courage to stand up to it, expose it instead of hiding it. Continue to love yourself despite the circumstance. There’s no fault in that, in fact, it’s quite powerful.

So what's the cure for shame?

It may come as a surprise, but humility opposes and chases out shame. But it seems odd because if I start loving myself enough to separate from shame, that must mean I'm building up pride in myself, right? Quite the opposite in fact. Pride may seem like an attractive break from hating yourself, but pride actually gives shame its power. Pride works to make shame stick because pride tells us we know what's best for us. Pride tells us we should hide from God because he might be angry. Pride tells us that we deserve our shame, or even that we should be ashamed of our shame.

In turn, humility is an acceptance of our flaws and an embrace of the possibility of failure. Humility deactivates shame because humility activates compassion for yourself. Humility activates self-love, and that is far more powerful than staying in the dark.



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Jan 26, 2019

This is awesome!!!

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