i hate shame

shameyeah, i know hate’s a strong & negative word.  i don’t like my kids to say the word “hate” and i am always giving them alternatives:  “don’t like”, “don’t agree with,” “not into” are all fine.   but when it comes to shame, honestly, the only word that i can think of that’s appropriate is hate.   i hate shame.

shame is the #1 destroyer of freedom, the #1 destroyer of relationship, the #1 destroyer of hope.  i am 100% convinced that this the reason the enemy, who is very good at killing, stealing, and destroying life and anything good, loves shame.  evil knows if it can keep people stuck in shame they will never experience freedom, the taste of deep and intimate connection with other people, and the propelling energy of Jesus’ hope.

shame has all kinds of definitions,  but i like to describe it as a deep ugliness, guilt, and horrid embarrassment about things that we did or are doing (or sometimes aren’t doing) or things others have done or are doing to us.  we’ll do practically anything to keep it hidden because if other people know, we are absolutely sure they will never be able to look at us again through the same lens.  they will judge us, they will view us in the same ugly way we view ourselves, they will leave us, they will hold it against us, they will somehow have power over us.

i know a lot about hidden shame from the past & and a little about current (and out in the open) shame from the last few years.

hidden shame was a part of my story for many years.  (ps: i have been sharing about this openly & publicly for a long time so don’t worry about me putting out something so big out of the blue. i recognize there’s no easy way to ease into it).  although it didn’t look as bad on the outside, on the inside of my family resided the damage of divorce, alcohol abuse, sexual inappropriateness, depression and violence.  i was sexually molested when i was 14, and because of how messed up things were i didn’t even recognize it for that until almost two decades later.  it was just one thing in a long chain of events that lead me to drinking, drugs & boys on the weekends & then getting straight A’s and being the golden child at school on the weekdays.  when i was 17, going into my senior year of high school, i had an abortion.  after the trauma of the experience, i pushed every feeling about it as deep as you could possibly bury it and got down to business hiding and faking to protect myself.  it was easy to do because i had already become the master at being the good girl on the outside while on the inside i was an insecure, lonely, confused mess.  right after high school i darted off to college and became crazily committed to making up for my decision by working hard at school, life, religion.

but unfortunately, shame had taken up residence.  over those years, i became better and better at lying, hiding, pretending during the day. but in the silence of the night the heaviness always crept back in.  i spent more times than i can count in bible studies & groups that talked about abortion like no one in the room could ever have even considered such a horrid thing.  i didn’t have the capacity to say out loud “hey, you are talking about me and you have no idea how awful what you are saying feels” so instead i would pray that no one could sense my darting eyes, shortness of breath, and silent pleas that the conversation would shift gears to another topic.  during many years of my christian experience, i didn’t have the strength to say “pretty much every day the strongest feeling i feel is shame and i’m sick and tired of it.”  and because of that, i was stuck in a bizarre prison of self-contempt, performance & hiding.

it wasn’t until i had two of my children that i finally ended up in a safe enough women’s group to begin to tell a bit of my story out loud & gain enough courage to tell my husband the truth.  but even then, it took a long time for things to shift.  through unconditional love from jose and amazing friends (who were also familiar with shame’s destruction) & a long hard season of intense post-abortion healing work that had way more to do with my relationship with God, myself, my family than the actual abortion, i began to feel in my heart, not just my head, Christ’s love & experience freedom.  shame lost its power over me in that regard.

so many have so much hidden shame, unspoken things that are hard to say out loud, things that have happened or things that are currently happening but are too hard to admit.  i always pray the time will come where they can “get current” and let it out in safe places with other people who can hack it and won’t try to fix or cover it up or minimize the magnitude, that they will experience the freedom that comes over time when shame loses its stranglehold & they get a taste of God’s real grace.

so hidden shame is one thing, but what about current-out-in-the-open shameful stuff?   what are we to do with the shame of continually making the same mistakes over and over again for everyone to see?  of never being able to pull it off the way we think we should?  of struggling with weight, too-hard-to-hide addictions, finances, divorce, wayward kids, losing our job, messing up relationships, lack of acceptable faith, oh all kinds of things that we feel bad about?  sometimes that’s worse than hidden shame, the things no one knows.  that is what damaged me the most about losing my job a few years ago, that it was right there in the blaring light for everyone to see.  the church i had poured my heart & soul into basically slammed the door on my face & carried on without missing a beat.  honestly, the most prevalent feeling was intense shame.  and usually, the response to our exposed shame is similar to adam & eve’s–isolate, run, or find some weird way to cover it up (my initial default is usually to just work harder & hope it goes away, yeah, it doesn’t work too well).

so what’s the way out from under shame’s weight?  i know the proper christian answer is Jesus! and while i believe that Jesus is the great shame destroyer, i don’t think shame automatically leaves when we know the right verses or the right christian answers like so many expect.  i think it’s more of a weird wild combination of the Holy Spirit, people, and tangible experiences that begin to shift things in us.   i think the way out from under shame’s power is to take a long view of life in community together with others who are willing to be as desperate as we are & are trying to let God’s spirit come in to the scary parts of our heart, too.  i think the way out is a life of brokenness, honesty & restoration.  a life of learning to trust, carry others’ burdens and let others carry ours.   a life of nurturing and participating in safe places to say out loud the things rattling around in our heads and in our hearts.  a life of being around others who will point us toward Jesus, redemption, grace, truth, and hope in the good times & the bad.   a life of being set free so we can pass on that freedom to others.  this is what i think “the church”, the living, breathing, beautiful body of Christ, should be best at:  shame removal.  i am fairly sure that Jesus was pretty darn good at it. and yet i realize that for so many the church has been way better at increasing shame than decreasing it.  it’s the oddest paradox.

nowdays i don’t actually care where it happens as long as it happens (we all know God shows up in the craziest of places).  over the years i have seen firsthand men & women get free from shame, and it is the most beautiful of things.  leaning into giftedness, finding purpose, restoring relationships, learning how to be comfortable in our own skin, passing on hope to others. oh, there’s nothing more glorious!

so i believe strongly that we must battle against shame together, that we let our hatred of its power in our lives, the lives of those we come into contact with, compel us to do anything we can to fight it.  that we let others into our shame and call out the goodness in each other, God’s image buried underneath the rubble.  that we fight tooth & nail to create places that dissolve shame’s stronghold in this world so men & women across all shapes & sizes & colors & walks of life can taste, experience, breath in Christ’s freedom, hope, relief.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

28 Comments

  • “i spent more times than i can count in bible studies & groups that talked about abortion like no one in the room could ever have even considered such a horrid thing.”

    Been there. Done that.

    Once again, you’ve nailed a difficult topic on the head and sent it scurrying for cover. Shame is damaging . . . physicall, emotionally, psychologically, relationally. Until we put into practice the habit of honesty and unconditional forgiveness, shame will hold us down and beat us into a state of unfruitfulness . . . and hardenness. For we fail to truly care for others until we can live honestly with ourselves.

    As always, an engaging post full of tradition-shattering truth. I stand in awe . . .

    Reply
  • Kathy, I love these words of yours, and the timing of your post is amazing! Just two days I group I was meeting with spent some time talking about how shame is really the first thing that showed up in the garden after Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We’ve been talking about the dignity that God ascribes to we human beings, and how shame seems to be the polar opposite of that dignity. Part of Hebrews 12:2 came to mind where it says that Jesus, “…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame….” I looked up the word scorn and it means open disrespect for something, accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike. That’s to be our attitude toward shame. Sort of a “Like hell I’ll give you even a passing glance you lying sack of….” Well, I’ll stop before I offend your readers. 🙂 But our attitude toward shame really is to be that strong, so that we utterly scorn it.

    Shame is the thing that kept me in bondage for so many years as well. No more. The cross is enough and I’m done with shame. Thankfully I have friends to remind me of that when it tries to rear its ugly head again!

    If we bring it out into the light, shame loses all its power if what we bring out is bathed in an atmosphere of love with no judgment. It never goes away hidden in the dark, does it?

    Maybe the worst part of shame is that it denies the power of the cross. If we hang onto shame it is saying that we still think WE have something to do with our righteousness and worth as a human being. I give up on playing that game; I lose every time. It’s much better to take His free gift!

    Reply
  • A great, very insightful post. Thank you for the honesty and vulnerability in writing it. What a blessing.

    Reply
  • Very introspective Kathy I am so glad you are learning to forgive yourself. Forgiveness was one of the greatest gifts that was given to us. Jesus was not only teaching us how to forgive others but ourselves as well. When we feel shame it is a reflection of our ability to forgive ourselves. To emulate Jesus, as hard as that can be, is what we all should be moving towards. Foregivness is a huge step towards that goal. Why ask of Him something you refuse to do yourself?
    Great meeting you and the group Sunday!
    Lisa’s friend, Jon.

    Reply
  • brian – yeah, i think you touch on an important point that i didn’t really get into in the post–when we are stuck in shame, our ability to love others is completely tainted. jesus’ command, that sums up the entire law–love God, love others (as ourselves)–gets so limited when we are stuck in shame (i don’t believe it’s completely nonexistent–love seeps in & out even with shame there but it sure does get choked off)

    tracy – i love the word scorn, that jesus scorned the shame of the cross and i think that’s so appropriate here, too, that we learn to scorn shame (ps: swear words are allowed at the carnival, sometimes they’re just the right words!). there was a time in my healing, too, where i had to deeply, like to the core, confess how i had ignored the cross, couldn’t accept what he had done there when it came to this shame & that was the greater sin.

    jeff – thanks for your encouragement

    jonathan – you too. and keep kicking in shame’s teeth!!

    Reply
  • Awesome Kathy. You always have the words. I think it’s shame that wrecks community…we are all so certain we are so broken that no one could love us as we are. So we fake it.

    Reply
  • I heard once that guilt is about what we do and that shame is about who we are (who we believe ourselves to be.) I can see the connection you make about the doing part and shame. Maybe it’s semantics anyway. I do believe shame separates us and robs us from embracing God’s image in ourself and others. Thanks for exposing it. Occasionally for me church has helped, but most often it has been relationship with close friends who can listen, get in my face, pray with me, and even laugh about it together.

    Reply
  • you’re a good xian…keep it up. better than i will ever be. way to go kathy, love ya…loved having you hang out with us this week.

    they say, “jesus is the answer”…i ask, “what was the question!”

    Reply
  • erin – yeah, shame is a community wrecker because it keeps people from bringing their real selves to the table. but so much work needs to be created to develop safe enough, solid enough places that can hold the space & hack people’s true stories, otherwise, being honest can just create more shame…

    jon – thanks for stopping by and it was nice meeting you at sunday’s fiesta. i am so with you, forgiving ourselves is sometimes the hardest part…

    jenny – there are a lot of semantics around it for sure. there’s a verse in the psalms where david said “remove the guilt of my sin” and i think of that sometimes, that we get that the “sin” is forgiven but need to have the guilt/shame taken away, too. i think those close relationships are “church”…the body of Christ extending its heart, its ears, its mind, itself in a really tangible way.

    sam – nah, you are a way better xian than me. i really enjoyed tuesday too and hope to be back next week, it was good for my soul. oh yeah, and didn’t you know it doesn’t matter what the question is, the answer is always jesus?

    Reply
  • Isn’t it an interesting pardox that what starts to heal the pain ; i.e healhy relationships, church, communication.. are the very things that we flee as fast as we can when we are caught in the funhouse mirror of shame?

    “the church i had poured my heart & soul into basically slammed the door on my face & carried on without missing a beat.”– I keep hearing this line over and over in my head, as it resonates such a chord of validity with me.

    You will be happy to note, that partially due to this post, as well as other pieces in the “weird & wild” experience of mine, I may be headed back to church again in 2 weeks. It isn’t the refuge, but it will do, for now. 😉

    Reply
  • katherine – thanks for stopping by…

    stacy – yeah, lots of paradoxes on this journey, that is for sure, the things we need the most we often run from. keep me posted on your step back into church, i am anxious to hear how it goes…i know you will take with you new wisdom and strength!

    Reply
  • You once again have spoken in words that are to the point and so insightful that I can only sit here and think about the bondage I have allowed myself to be in, especially after this past year. Thank you for saying what I don’t seem to have the ability to write in a clear way but when I read your words they really strike home.
    Peace be with you,

    Reply
  • “shame has all kinds of definitions, but i like to describe it as a deep ugliness, guilt, and horrid embarrassment about things that we did or are doing (or sometimes aren’t doing) or things others have done or are doing to us. we’ll do practically anything to keep it hidden because if other people know, we are absolutely sure they will never be able to look at us again through the same lens. they will judge us, they will view us in the same ugly way we view ourselves, they will leave us, they will hold it against us, they will somehow have power over us. ”

    From now on this will be my definition of shame as well.

    Thank you so much for sharing, it truly is amazing the story of recognition and redemption that you portrayed in your writting.

    Andy

    Reply
  • john – always great to hear from you and glad it struck a chord as you continue on your journey…hope we can all hang out soon!

    urh – thanks for the encouragement

    andy – thanks for stopping by and for the encouragement, too. glad that it resonated with you…

    Reply
  • Nice blog Kathy. I’m impressed that you can own up to the things that caused you shame. Not because they’re so terrible or anything like that. Simply because, it’s hard to ‘fess up to the things that make us feel ashamed. I have difficulty one-on-one at times, let alone shouting it out to the world. There have been times where I can shout it out in my life, but then for some reason, I always give in to shame again. Go figure…

    5 stars for Jose for supporting you when you were finally able to come to grips with your past. That’s key. It hurts like hell when the one you love doesn’t want to listen and tells you that you lied to them for not telling them about a past that you couldn’t even be honest with yourself about.

    Reply
  • hey lisa, glad you’re here! i agree with you, the shame cycle is so weird and to me, that’s why we need safe, challenging, loving community to somehow have it be integrated into our lives, the staying current part. it doesn’t eliminate shame but it does help give better places to keep it from festering & robbing us of life. and yeah, that was the part that needed the most grace & forgiveness from jose, that i had lied and not trusted him with that part for a long time…

    Reply
  • I have a friend at George Fox University–Nancy Thurston–who did her disertation on Shame. She’s in the psch. department. Would love to see you two compare notes. Personally I think you have a more “successful” solution then endless therapy sessions. Thanks.

    Reply
  • minnowspeaks – always good to hear from you here. i will have to do a little search & check it out. i always appreciate everything you write.

    Reply
  • You’re so cool, Kathy. Thanks for being real and hanging it all out there like that. What is it with the grading of sin? Why are some tragic events and regretted choices in life twisted and judged by the self-righteous so much more harshly than, say, judging others or gossip? ARG!

    Reply
  • beth – that is so true, the culture of sin-measuring. we all know certain ones are way higher and bigger and shameful than others and that it shouldn’t be that way. hope all’s well with you!

    Reply
  • I hate shame too. I love your blog on this, Kathy! I think it is so counter culture (in every sense, emotionally, spiritually) to say no to shame (I actually use a much, much stronger word 🙂 and to chose to believe the truth about myself, God and the love He has for me. Thanks for opening up about your life. What a shame killer – openness, trust, truth! 🙂 Yay!

    Reply
  • Pingback: Pidgey » curación vergüenza y división

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *