Shame has no place here | Characteristics
Remember this one: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” “
I grew up going to church whenever the doors were open. A friend of mine, Debbie, was tall and twice as devoted to church as I was.
The congregation was proud to know the truth about God and to have all the good beliefs that lead to heaven.
One Sunday, the pastor invited Debbie to speak to the congregation. “How wonderful ?!” I thought.
Except it wasn’t wonderful at all. It was terrible. And I will never forget it.
At 16, Debbie was forced to publicly confess that she got pregnant.
“How awful ?!”, I thought. “What kind of church would do that? And what kind of God would require it?
The show seemed to go on forever. I remember the crying, hers and mine.
The pastor spoke after her, denouncing her bad choices, bad behavior and her now ruined life. He said he hoped God would forgive him, but wasn’t sure if he could.
In biblical times, sticks and stones were used to injure, sometimes kill, people who had strayed from the line that “faithful” people had to follow to belong. I think the sticks and stones would have been like a reprieve from the hurtful words Debbie had to say and then endure.
I never forgot. Since then, I have spent most of my adult life – first as a minister and now as a therapist – researching, understanding and combating the dark art of shame and its harmful effects. tragic events in human life.
What do I mean by shame? Many confuse it with guilt. In short, guilt is “I did something wrong”. Shame is “I am bad”. Of the two, guilt can inspire change while shame strips us away, threatens our sense of security, and leaves us vulnerable to reciting negative and self-defeating messages that make us believe we are unworthy.
Shame is the fear of not being loved, of not belonging, of not being able to connect with another. The point is this: we are wired for social connection; it is what, in part, gives our existence a meaning, a meaning.
Shame is the fear of having become someone who is not worthy of being loved, of belonging. It’s a fear of being disconnected from others based on who we are, and this manifests as an intense sense of emotional pain. And the pain is real.
In 2011, researchers found that when it comes to the brain, physical pain and the experience of social rejection trigger the same receptors.
So when I say shame hurts, I mean shame hurts, like breaking a thighbone hurts. The brain does not differentiate.
Advances in neuroscience confirm what our children have always known: emotions can hurt. We need to talk about it; it is the only way to heal.
In my practice, I hear so much shame. While there are those who believe that shame is a useful tool in preventing people from behaving badly, the point is, it is both bad and dangerous. Shame is correlated in scientific studies with substance abuse, violence, depression, eating disorders, bullying, and suicidal thoughts. According to the data, shame does not have a positive outcome, does not encourage better behavior, and is likely to inspire negative effects. And yet, I hear about it all the time.
Gossip, blame, intimidation, fear, favoritism, slurs, harassment, dehumanization and exclusion of people are clues that shame has permeated a particular culture.
Without a doubt, we are soaked in shame, which is painful. But what we don’t realize is that perpetuating the shame is just as painful. And no one knows how to do this with such precision and sophistication as the religious in religious communities.
Most of the time, the shame stories I hear come from the church. What irony?
What can be a gathering of people with whom we are included by grace, nourished in faith and equipped to lead a life of ministry has become for some a place of deliberation and judgment on who is “in” and who is ” outside ”, to decide what beliefs are right and who holds them most sincerely, to excise the badly brought up and to call it an act of obedience to a demanding God.
All faith communities that criticize, reprimand, or belittle – and then exclude – people for any reason should remove the word “church” from their signs.
In Greek, “church” means “those who are called by God”. Nowhere in all of Jesus’ teachings are believers instructed to ridicule, condemn, discredit, or exclude someone on the basis of what they believe. The “do this and dislike those who don’t to be accepted into our group” mentality is a middle school bullying tactic that is unworthy of religious communities and unworthy of their God. What happened to “all are welcome?” “
No matter how firmly you believe that you are speaking on behalf of God, you are wrong. Only God speaks for God. For those of you who disagree, you do so at the risk of suggesting that God depends on you. In doing so, you have just created God in your image.
It is the height of blasphemy. Be careful there. God does not need our help.
God is perfect all by himself. Which means the love of God is perfect love. Where there is perfect love, there can be no fear. We are not to fear God, but worship God in wonder, awe, and acts of faithful service to all of God’s people, regardless of what they believe, if any. If we are not to be afraid of God, then we are not to be afraid of God’s people either. No fear means no shame. Without shame, churches would have no power to demand a certain belief or behavior as a prerequisite for membership.
Shaming people is about power and control. I would bet the farm that God is not happy with this.
For goodness sake, please stop shaming people for thinking, believing, loving, voting, dressing or living differently from you. Jesus never did that. Why you?
There is nothing good in shame. It hurts everyone, including perhaps more particularly shame. We all want to belong and be loved. Trying to make other people feel bad about themselves only emphasizes how lonely you really feel.
Why don’t we talk about it instead of talking about each other?
And to you who know shame. Tell someone. Talk to yourself as you would someone you really care about. Own your story. Let go of self-doubt. Shame is a lie that someone told you about yourself in order to control you. Let them go, then let them go, and with your free hands, grasp the truth of your life, whatever it may be. Maybe you will still find God there.