Dear Brothers in Christ,
There have been several letters regarding shame lately. I would like to begin a series on posts on this most important of topics, as many of us allow “normal” shame to turn into toxic shame that propels us into problems connected with low self-esteem and sexual acting out as a false medication.
The following is a SHAME TEST.
Read each of the following statements; then, choose the term from the list which best describes your response. Put the number next to that term in the blank beside each statement.
1 – Always
2 – Very Often
3 – Often
4 – Sometimes
5 – Seldom
6 – Very Seldom
7 – Never
____ 1. I often think about past failures or experiences of rejection.
____ 2. There are certain things about my past which I cannot recall without experiencing strong, painful emotions (i.e., guilt, shame, anger, fear, etc.).
____ 3. I seem to make the same mistakes over and over again.
____ 4. There are certain aspects of my character that I want to change, but I don’t believe I can ever successfully do so.
____ 5. I feel inferior.
____ 6. There are aspects of my appearance that I cannot accept.
____ 7. I am generally disgusted with myself.
____ 8. I feel that certain experiences have basically ruined my life.
____ 9. I perceive of myself as an immoral person.
____ 10. I feel that I have lost the opportunity to experience a complete and wonderful life.
____ TOTAL (Add up the numbers of the items you have placed in the blanks.)
Interpretation of Score.
If your score is …
57-70 … God has apparently given you a very strong appreciation for His love and unconditional acceptance. You seem to be freed from the shame that plagues most people. (Some people who score this high are either greatly deceived, or have become callous to their emotions as a way to suppress pain.)
47-56 … Shame controls your responses rarely or only in certain situations. Again, the exceptions are those who are not honest with themselves.
37-46 … When you experience emotional problems, they may relate to a sense of shame. Upon reflection, you will probably relate many of your previous decision to feelings of worthlessness. Many of your future decisions will also be affected by low self-esteem unless you take direct action to overcome it.
27-36 … Shame forms a generally negative backdrop to your life. There are probably few days that you are not affected in some way by shame. Unfortunately, this robs you of the joy and peace your salvation was meant to bring.
0-26 … Experiences of shame dominate your memory, and have probably resulted in a great deal of depression. These problems will remain until some definitive action is taken. In other words, this condition will not simply disappear one day; time alone cannot heal your pain. You need to experience deep healing in your self-concept, in your relationship with God, and in your relationship with others. Christian counseling will help you to achieve this experience.
Dear Brothers in Christ,
Let’s call her Susan.
There are millions of Susans.
She was the product of heartless parents. Although she was a beautiful girl with dark brown eyes and long, silky hair, Susan never seemed quite as confident or as outgoing as her brothers and sisters. One reason for this was that by her eighth birthday, Susan had been approached by her father for sexual favors. Overcome by the shame this caused her, Susan withdrew from others and looked for an escape.
By the time she was sixteen, Susan was addicted to alcohol and drugs, and was frequently stealing as well as selling her body for money. She had accepted the belief that she was nothing more than sexual merchandise. Although she was ashamed of her lifestyle and wanted to change, she saw no way out. The only people who didn’t seem to reject her were the ones who used her. She was not only ashamed, but was also trapped and alone.
Let’s call the next girl Diana.
There are millions of Dianas, too.
Unlike Susan, Diana was raised by Christian parents. She had grown up in a conservative Protestant church and was very active in its youth group. Diana was diligent in witnessing to her friends at school, and her actions were always an example to those around her.
Unfortunately, Diana made a mistake one night that changed her life. Alone for the evening, she and her boyfriend went too far. Shocked and ashamed by their actions, they both agreed that they must admit the incident to their parents. Tearfully, Diana confided in her mother, looking for understanding and support. But Diana’s mother lost control and bitterly told her how ashamed and disappointed she was. Diana’s father couldn’t believe what she had done, and refused even to speak to her.
Her relationship with her parents continued to worsen and six months later, Diana left home. Heartbroken and overcome by shame, she turned to her boyfriend. Soon, they began sleeping together regularly, and both began using drugs. Believing that her parents would never accept her again, Diana sought acceptance in the only way she knew how.
Both Susan and Diana suffered from the devastating effects of shame. Shame often engulfs us when a flaw in our performance is so important, so overpowering, or so disappointing to us that it creates a permanently negative opinion about our self-worth. Others may not know of our failure, but we do. We may only imagine their rejection, but real or imagined, the pain resulting from it cripples our confidence and hope.
Shame usually results in guilt and self-deprecation, but it can also lead us to search for God and His answers. Our inner, undeniable need for personal significance was created to make us search for Him. He alone can fulfill our deep need.
In Him we find peace, acceptance, and love. Through Him, we find the courage and power to develop into the men and women He intends us to be. Although Satan wants to convince us that we will always be prisoners of our failures and past experiences, by GOD’S GRACE we can be freed from the toxic guilt of our past, and experience a renewed purpose for our lives.
Dear Brothers in Christ,
When we base our self-worth on past failure, dissatisfaction with personal appearance, or bad habits – most certainly including illicit sex – we often develop a false belief: I AM WHAT I AM, I CANNOT CHANGE, I AM HOPELESS. This lie binds people to the hopeless pessimism associated with poor
It also is a powerful source in our sexual acting out, as we desperately seek relief from the LIE OF WORTHLESSNESS OR INADEQUACY.
“I just can’t help myself,” some people say. “That’s the way I’ve always been, and that’s the way I’ll always be. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” We assume that others should have low expectations of us, too. “You know I can’t do any better than that. What do you expect?”
If we excuse our failures with an attitude of hopelessness too often, our personality can become glued to them. Our self-image becomes no more than a reflection of our past.
A brother recently questioned me when I told him that he needed to separate his past from the present, and that NO NATURAL LAW dictated his having to remain the same individual he had always been. I told him that he COULD CHANGE, that he could rise above his past and build a new life for himself.
“But how?” he asked. “I’m more of a realist than that. I know myself. I know what I’ve done and who I am. I’ve tried to change, but it hasn’t worked. I’ve given up now.” (Such sad words.)
I explained that he needed a NEW PERSPECTIVE, not just new efforts based on his OLD PESSIMISTIC attitude. He needed to develop a new self-concept based on the UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE OF GOD. Both this brother’s past failures and God’s unconditional love were realities, but the question was which one would he value more. If he continued to VALUE HIS FAILURES, he would continue to be absorbed in self-pity and seek sexual medication. Instead, he needed to be HONEST.
He needed someone he could talk to openly, so that he could express his feeling without the fear of being REJECTED. And he needed to be encouraged to STUDY AND APPLY THE TRUTH OF GOD’S WORD. As he persisted in this process, he sense of self-worth would begin to change. In addition to a changed self-worth, he would eventually experience changes in EVERY area of his life: his goals, his relationships, and his outlook.
Too often, our self-image rests solely an evaluation of our past behavior, being measured only through a memory. Day after day, year after year, we tend to build our personalities upon the rubble of yesterday’s personal disappointments.
Perhaps we find some strange kind of comfort in our personal failings. Perhaps there is some security in accepting ourselves as much less than we can become. That minimizes the RISK of failure. Certainly, if we expect little from ourselves we will seldom be disappointed!
But nothing forces us to remain the mold of the past, brothers. By the GRACE AND POWER OF GOD, we can CHANGE! We can PERSEVERE AND OVERCOME! No one forces us to keep shifting our feet in the muck of old failures. We can DARE TO ACCEPT the challenge of building a new life.
A counselor once told me something I never forgot: He compared life to a man hanging from a trapeze. The trapeze bar was the man’s security, his pattern of existence, his lifestyle. Then GOD swung another trapeze into the man’s view, and he faced a perplexing dilemma. Should he relinquish his past? Should he reach for the new bar? The moment of truth came, my counselor explained, when the man realized that to grab onto the new bar, he must release the old one. (God bless you, Pastor ———-.)
Our past relationships may involve the intense pain of neglect, abuse, and manipulation, but if we do not begin the PROCESS OF HEALING, we will be unable to experience the joy, challenge, and yes, the potential for failure in the PRESENT.
I have struggled with this PROCESS OF CHANGE for the greater part of my life. It may have been that I was raised in a poor family; it may have been that I was abandoned; it may be that I never felt loved and thus sought “affection” in all the wrong ways. For whatever reasons, I grew up with a SENSE OF SHAME about myself and my circumstances.
I often felt inadequate during my childhood. I had the constant impression that I just didn’t measure up. My sense of inadequacy, reinforced with the shroud of rejection, was often quite intense. Intense, did I say? How about 24/7?
The threat of potential rejection prompted me to withdraw, preferring instead to seek those who could “affirm” me in inappropriate ways.
The TRUTH that I am deeply loved, fully pleasing, and totally accepted by the God of the universe has taken me a lifetime to comprehend. But gradually, by studying God’s Word and by experiencing loving relationships with other believers who genuinely care for me and appreciate me, I have continued to gain a better understanding of the way GOD VALUES ME. This has improved my sense of self-worth considerably.
Many of my past memories are still painful for me, and I suspect they always will be. But THROUGH CHRIST, my present attitude about myself and sexual degeneration is gradually changing. Knowing that I HAVE NO REASON TO FEEL ASHAMED has motivated me to pursue a number of challenges that I wouldn’t even considered pursuing before I was born again in 1990. In the process since then, I have experienced failure and success. GOD HAS USED EACH INSTANCE TO *TEACH ME* THAT DESPITE MY CIRCUMSTANCES, MY WORTH IS SECURE IN HIM!
We all need to be HONEST about the pain, the anger, the disappointment, and the loneliness of our past. We need to put ourselves in RELATIONSHIPS that will encourage us to feel what we may have suppressed for many, many years. This will enable us to begin (or continue) to experience HOPE, and eventually, sexual healing … in fact, all kinds of healing. CHANGE IS POSSIBLE, BUT IT IS A PROCESS. (“Progress, not perfection” … remember?)
Does this seem strange? Does it seem difficult? We may have difficulty relinquishing what is familiar (though painful) for what is unfamiliar because our FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN often “seems” stronger than the pain of a poor self-concept. It seems right to hang on where we are. But Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
Any change in our behavior requires a RELEASE from our OLD SELF-CONCEPT, which is often founded in failure and the expectation of others. We need to learn how to relate to ourselves IN A NEW WAY. To accomplish this, we MUST begin to base our self-worth on GOD’S OPINION OF US AND TRUST IN HIS SPIRIT TO ACCOMPLISH CHANGE IN OUR LIVES! Then, and only then, cherished brothers, can we overcome Satan’s DECEPTION that holds away over our self-perception and disobedient behavior.
By believing Satan’s lie (I am what I am, I cannot change, I am hopeless), we become vulnerable to pessimism and a poor self-concept.
I leave you with the following and wonderfully uplifting scriptural truth:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” Galatians 2:20.
Dear Brothers in Christ,
By definition, SHAME is a deep sense of inferiority. Feelings of inferiority can result from prolonged patterns of failure, or they can stem from only one or two haunting instances. Either way, they can destroy our SELF-WORTH, and as a result, adversely affect our emotions and behavior. These perceptions of ourselves aren’t easily altered, but they CAN change through honesty, the affirmation of others, the truth of God’s Word, the power and encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and time.
Precisely because of CHRIST’S REDEMPTION, we are worthy, forgiven, loved, accepted, and COMPLETE IN HIM!
Yet shame can have powerful effects on our esteem IF WE FAIL TO ACCEPT THIS TRUTH. It can manifest itself in many ways, aside from the INFERIORITY just mentioned. Drawing from my own experience and counseling sessions, the following is a general list of the common problems we might experience with shame:
1. HABITUALLY DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR. We often behave in a manner that is consistent with our perception of ourselves. Therefore, seeing ourselves through the eyes of shame instead of through the loving eyes of God usually results in a pessimistic outlook on life and a lifestyle of destructive behavior.
2. SELF-PITY. Shame often prompts us to view ourselves as victims. Consequently, whether we blame others or condemn ourselves for our actions, we sink into the depths of feeling sorry for ourselves.
3. PASSIVITY. Some of us try to compensate for gnawing feelings of shame through passivity, refusing to invest any part of ourselves in relationships and responsibilities. We may be compulsive perfectionists in some areas of our lives, but may avoid taking risks in relationships or circumstances. We may tend to become engrossed in “sidetracking” activities (clipping coupons, cleaning the garage, filing papers, reading magazines, woodworking, etc.) so that we are “too busy” to experience the reality of developing a RELATIONSHIP with God and others. We need to take RESPONSIBILITY for our behavior. Passivity is the characteristic that can push us over the edge into near-commitment to sexual idolatry.
4. ISOLATION AND WITHDRAWAL. Isolation is often a corollary of passivity. Avoiding both the risks of rejection and failure, some of us WITHDRAW from virtually ALL meaningful interaction. We develop masks, sot hat nobody can see our hurt. We may be socially active, but may not allow anyone to get really close to us. We are often afraid that if people REALLY knew us, we would again experience hurt and rejection. Our deep sense of shame leads us to withdraw from others, feel isolated, and experience the pain of loneliness.
5. LOSS OF CREATIVITY. When we are ashamed of ourselves over an extended period of time, the cutting edge of our creativity wilts. We tend to become so preoccupied with our own inferiority that we are unable to come up with new ideas. Often believing that whatever we attempt will fail, we may choose to avoid doing anything that isn’t a proven success and relatively risk-free.
In my own case, however, the opposite effect took place. Apparently I USED my inherent creativity to CREATE a mask that made me APPEAR to be “wonderfully creative” … director of school plays, director of church musical, published poet, blah, blah, blah. It was all abuse of what Christ had given me … I just distorted it to cover up my shame instead of allowing him to free me.
6. CODEPENDENT RELATIONSHIPS. In an attempt to overcome their sense of shame, many people become CODEPENDENT; that is, they depend on being NEEDED by a family member or friend who has an addictive problem or compulsion. Codependents thus develop a need to “rescue” and take care of others. This caretaking is the codependent’s subconscious way of trying to gain personal significance. Such attempts usually backfire, however, because dependent persons often USE SHAME to manipulate the codependent.
A frequent ploy is to tell the codependent that he or she is being “selfish” for taking care of personal affairs rather than those of the dependent person. This locks the codependent into a hopeless pattern of “rescuing” to gain approval and feeling ashamed because of his or her inability to develop a sense of personal value, regardless of how hard he or she tries to do so.
7. DESPISING OUR APPEARANCE. Beauty is highly valued in our society. Hollywood, television commercials and programs, magazine ads and billboards, the Internet – they all convey the message that PHYSICAL BEAUTY is to be prized. But very few of us compare to the beautiful people we see in these ads and programs, and most of us are ashamed of at least one aspect of my appearance.
We might spend hundreds of dollars and an inestimable amount of time and worry covering up or altering our skin, eyes, teeth, faces, noses, thighs, and scalps, refusing to believe that GOD, in his sovereignty and love, gave us the features he wants us to have. Does this truth begin to open your heart to some self-love?
For years I refused to look at myself in the reflection of store windows and even mirrors. But as I allowed the Lord Jesus to CHANGE my heart and mind, he truly affirmed the old saying, “Beauty is only skin deep.” Those lepers and beggars and blind and lame didn’t seem to have any problem with a desire to win a beauty contest. They praised GOD when they were able emptied of sores, able to work, given their sight, and walk. Physical beauty paled in contrast to those most merciful and compassionate gifts of Jesus.
Again, brothers: PRECISELY BECAUSE OF JESUS CHRIST’S REDEMPTION, WE ARE WORTHY, FORGIVEN, LOVED, ACCEPTED AND COMPLETE IN HIM!
There is no place for the lies of shame in our NEW life in Christ.