Healing Shame That Binds
"Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, 'I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.' And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone."1
Go to any supermarket where a parent is busy shopping and their child is being obnoxious or feels he or she is being ignored by the parent. Some of the put-down, shame-based criticisms these children receive make your blood curdle.
Listen to the angry tone of voice as the parent blurts out: "You bad boy! If you don't stop your noise, I will take you outside and...." If they are getting this kind of treatment in public, you can imagine what they are receiving at home: "You terrible girl; shame on you; you wicked, bad boy/girl."
When a child receives a continual dose of any shame-based accusations, he eventually believes that that is the kind of person he is and continues to feel this way throughout his adult life unless he gets the help he needs to resolve his damaged self-concept.
Another terribly shame-based group of people are those who have been physically and, especially, sexually abused in childhood or youth. Sex, to many of them, has become a dirty, repulsive thing and because they have sexual feelings, they often feel dirty and ashamed of themselves. This is such a tragedy because they never sinned but were grievously sinned against.
So how do we overcome a shame-based self-concept?
First, continually remind yourself that God loves you just as you are and that He has totally forgiven all your sins that you have confessed to Him. Keep reminding yourself of this—regardless of how you feel. This kind of repetition over time helps re-program your faulty belief system. Many a time when I was feeling shame-based, I said over and over to myself, "God loves and accepts me as I am so I love and accept me as I am." This kind of repetition (with feeling) programs truth (or lies) into our deeper mind and belief system.
Second, realize that we were damaged in damaging relationships and will get healed in healing relationships. So, with God's help, seek out a trusted friend (a skilled counselor if necessary) with whom you can trust your very soul. Little by little start to open up to this person and share all your shame-based feelings and all your failures. This needs to be with a non-judgmental, non-advice-giving-wanting-to-fix-you person. It needs to be someone who knows you fully and accepts you totally. Through their loving acceptance of you just as you are, little by little you learn to love and accept yourself. This does take time.
I know this can be threatening because many of us feel that if we are known for who we truly are, we won't be liked, let alone loved. But this is a false belief. The fact is we can only be loved to the degree that we are known. But again, it is very important that we never open up to a shame-based, judgmental, unsolicited-advice-giving person.
Third, realize, too, that love is a feeling to be learned. When we are born, we have the capacity to love, but how to love is learned. If we grow up in an angry environment, we will learn to be angry or, if in a fearful environment, we will learn to be fearful. But if we grow up in a loving environment, we will learn to be loving. We love by first being loved. Unfortunately, what we didn't receive as a child, we need to receive now. That's the way God created us and He doesn't go against His own design.
As the Bible says, "We love God because He first loved us." The same principle applies to people—we love others because someone needs to first love us." And, as already noted, as we open up and are totally honest to a safe, non-judgmental loving person, little by little we learn to love ourselves in a healthy sense. This then frees us to work on overcoming our failures. As long as we hide our sins and faults, we are never free to resolve them.
Remember the words of David who sinned grievously: "Finally, I confessed all my sins to You and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, 'I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.' And You forgave me! All my guilt is gone."2
We too can find the same freedom from guilt, false-guilt, and shame.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, thank You again that You know me exactly as I am inside and out, and still love me. Lead me to the help I need so I can learn to love and accept myself the way You love me, and be free from all my guilt—both real and false—and shame. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus's name, amen."
1. Psalm 32:5 (NLT).