Diane Langberg and I talked recently about the concept of shame. She mentioned reading an interesting mystery that had a couple of lines about shame that might be powerful imagery for some. The novel, C.J. Sansom’s Sovereign, is about a hunchbacked lawyer. About 200 pages in the lawyer has an encounter with King Henry the 8th. The King scorns the lawyer publicly for his hunch (at which everyone laughed).
His first reaction?
“Now I had met him. I felt for a second that he shown me what I was, an unworthy creature, a beetle crawling on the earth.” (p. 221)
Then anger arises in the lawyer. Why? for he recognizes the weight on him is not his own shame, but that of the king.
Whose shame do you carry? Most often we carry either the clear shame of our own misdeeds OR the shame foisted on us by the misdeeds of others. And it seems that the shame put upon us by abuse and maltreatment weighs us down the most. Often those who mistreat us do so in ways to make us believe that in fact we are worthy of shame or that they are righteous in their treatment of us.
What would happen if you saw it not as your own but thrust upon you by those who mistreated you? If you could hand it back (metaphorically), would your own back straighten? Would you feel less dirty and self-negating? If you suffer from shame due to mistreatment, try to imagine that the feelings are not yours but in fact the abusers. Imagine what life might be like if you were to shed that shame that does not belong to you.
21 responses to “Whose shame do you carry?”
Is humiliation, dishonor, embarrassment all parts of shame?
Anony, good question. Language isn’t that precise. They certainly are parts of it. Is all humiliation shame? Embarrassment = shame? I think probably not. Shame is more enduring and less connected to specific events. So, I might be told my fly is down and become embarrassed. If I continue to be upset about that next week then it probably is tapping into something much larger and deeper, shame.
A little girl repeatedly raped by a group of men is experiencing their shameful acts within her, but to separate her own shame, from such shamefulness against her seems to get fuzzy because they make those shameful deposits in her person – resulting in her own level of shame about the events because they are so degrading and humiliating – though she is not responsible. The lawyer born with a hump seems different to me. He had no control over the birth defect. it was not brought on by evil – ignorant men tried to make him feel shame. But, evil choices against one that carry tremendously shameful and degrading acts – how does one not feel utterly degraded – carry the shame of such shameful acts? make sense? If someone makes fun of me because I have a weird nose, then shame on them. This other seems different. One shame born out of ignorance and another born out of pure evil violating a completely aspect of the person internally. ????
Agreed these examples are different and evil act perpetrated do have differing effects. However, I think that it is common that a victim no only suffers real damage but also perceives self in light of what has been done to them rather than perceives self in light of who they were prior to the abuse.
Agreed these concepts are fuzzy but worth continuing to work through.
Do not think a two or three year old has the capacity to see her self prior to abuse (when abuse was the only pervasive thing in the home) and perceive her self in light of any other truth as you suggest – that is the problem – all she knows is to perceive her self in light of abuse. Guess we are on just different tracks right now and that is ok. 🙂 Guess you were not including this level of shame in your original post – but that is the place it brought me – and brought me hard.
Anony, What you say is exactly true. One of the challenges is for such a child, when grown, to parse through the truth and lies as an adult and to begin to gain capacity to hear what the Lord says is true and to reject the lies perpetrated on them. This is hard work, as you likely know already. A blog post, if it is good, points to a direction…but it cannot do the heavy lifting to accomplish what can only be done in a safe counseling environment.
Thanks though for reminding us how hard this is and praying for your traveling along a difficult road.
Please allow me to say this final word: No matter what shameful acts were done against a person, including me, and though as a very young child there was no “before” to perceive self in any other way but abuse, as an adult I know a Person, Jesus Christ, who does carry every bit of shame I ever bore and it is learning little by little to litter it all back on Him. He is unbending when I am bent over in shame and He wants every single piece.
Liberating thought! But like Patricia Hurst falling in love with her captors, some folks have that shame inculcated into their identities, it’s tough to see a benefit to giving it up…or sort of like someone with Scoliosis who’s accommodated the curve for so long, the pain associated with a straightening brace isn’t a welcome thought.
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Shame is intensely personal, I don’t think we can generalize someone’s experience of this difficult emotion. Just as its origin is different for each person, so is the healing and attempts to right the wrongs or assign responsibility.
Shame can be embarassing, which adds to the difficuty; All shame has deep roots; some just go in a different direction.
…and how does shame differ from guilt?
Powerful statement: Often those who mistreat us do so in ways to make us believe that in fact we are worthy of shame or that they are righteous in their treatment of us.
Something I learned today….worth mentioning here…”Demoralization: When Satan figures out who you and I fear the most that we are and he sets about to confirm it”….Beth Moore; Believing God
We can spend a long time on this, we decide which way to go; difficult either way. both ways require strength…but each of a different kind.
I read that shame and guilt are both emotions. I feel ashamed. I feel guilty. But it seems to me that only guilt is a state of being, a substance, an entity.
Perhaps shame is an emotion we feel in response to guilt? Perhaps then, the emotion of shame in response to personal guilt is good! Shame and remorse can lead to repentance. That is the shame that Christ took on Himself.
Yet, if I feel shame for what another did to me…, if I feel shame for guilt that isn’t mine, how can I be comforted by being told that Christ takes our shame. How does that response communicate that the guilt and shame is not mine? It seems to me that it doesn’t. It is like saying to the victim, oh, you’re not guilty, but in case you are guilty, Christ died for that. Huh? So am I guilty or not? Should I feel shame or not?
Perhaps it is better to help the individual learn about boundaries between people. I am not X. X is not me. There is a place where I end and X begins. X has no right to put his/her shame on me. I don’t have to carry it. Even if they never accept their shame it still isn’t my responsibility to carry it for them. It is their shame. It is on them what they do with it.
Meanwhile, if the emotion of shame can alert us to guilt and lead to repentance, perhaps if I am loaded with others shame I have nothing left to be able to consider valid shame coming from my own sins.
Just thinking out loud.
if you get a chance to pick up a great book, take a look at “The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse,” by Dan Allender, PhD. I think he does a nice job of differentiating between guilt and shame, from a biblical perspective. If you’re fortunate enough to have an open-minded library that includes Christian authors, you may even find it there for free!
I believe shame is linked to condemnation, which is what gives it such power to harm. Yet, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), and so we can (and I think should) view shame as a foreign object if we belong to Christ. That’s why I love Isaiah 61 so much – “to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes…” This is the mission statement of the ministry of Jesus Christ, and so we can know He is still serious about doing this. Through Him we are enabled to defeat shame (and all forms of condemnation), and live as the beloved, treasured, ones we are.
Ah yes, that’s the answer! I feel shame because I believe and accept the condemnation of those who judge. But, who is my judge? The only judge that matters is the One who says, “There is therefore now no condemnation”.
The problem is that I listen to what others say about me rather than what HE says about me. What they say about me is a lie. What He says is the truth. That is what I need to hold.- Easier said than done.
Shame may be gone but grief remains. I grieve the loss, what was stolen from me. I groan from the pain of how I was harmed.
Maybe when shame is gone, then grief, a healthy thing, is freed to fully grieve.–Although again, for me easier said than done. I’m not yet totally convinced that grief is good/healthy.
D., Jesus grieved. He grieved over the death of His friend Lazarus whom He knew He would raise again. He still grieves over the sin, sorrow and suffering of this world. He grieves when your heart is grieved and for the reasons that makes it grieve. Grieve .. .. it is a holy thing. But do so at His feet – He keeps every tear and considers them precious.
Such blessed and sound words from this blog this morning. Stopping here is a wonderful way to start the day.( I Thess. 5:23) In the name of Jesus, Father God, I pray, let our whole spirits, and souls and bodies be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.