“I was weighed down by the burden of my unworthiness and shame. I felt ashamed of my shame. And then shamed, over the shame of my shame…” – Suzanne Rozalowsky
I think I’ve always had this feeling. The nagging and crippling sense that I’m not good enough.
Or that I’m too much. No one will be able to “handle” me and all of my “too-much-ness”. (Yes, I’ve made up a new word.) At the core of me is something very bad and I need to do as much as I can to make sure no one sees it—even (or possibly especially) God.
When I became a Christian in my first year of university, the feeling of shame seemed to dissipate as I learned about my righteousness being found in Jesus’ perfect righteousness. I discovered that when God looks on me he sees the perfectness of Christ because of his work on the cross. I understood this to be my “identity in Christ”: a pivotal truth.
But it was a short-lived experience. I continued to carry this burden of being unacceptable, a heavy norm more than a rare occurrence. I worried that it was only a matter of time before I would do something to disclose my true nature. I would be found out for who I really am or mess up horribly! This coloured all the different relationships I found myself in and even the projects or tasks I set out to accomplish.
I was weighed down by the burden of my unworthiness and shame. I felt ashamed of my shame. And then shamed, over the shame of my shame… I was trapped—in this spiral of shame!
“If only they knew how unacceptable I am.”
“I’m such a fraud and I’m going to be found out!”
“There is something very wrong with me even if I can’t pinpoint what it is.”
“Is there is something I don’t even know or inevitably will find about myself that makes me very bad?”
“I should just rest in my identity in Christ. Why can’t I do that? I’m such a horrible Christian.”
What is shame?
Heather Davis Nelson defines shame in her book Unashamed (p.20) as:
“[T]he feeling that we have missed the mark according to our standard or the perception of someone else’s standard for us. Shame keeps us from being honest about our struggles, sins and less than perfect moments.”
Learning to be seen when I want to hide
My awareness of my shame issue began at P2C PLUS.
I attended a workshop called Overcoming Shame led by Thomas Rauchenstein (who will be at P2C PLUS again this year). Thomas walked us through an exercise to help identify the difference between guilt and shame. It also helped us learn how we can look to a reliable source for our acceptance and belonging.
After listening to him I realized, “Whoa, this shame thing is big in my life.”
But some more significant shifting happened when I met Heather Davis Nelson at a women’s conference in Indianapolis. She had just released her book Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame.
Before I decided to go to the conference I had checked out the options of the focus gatherings (a smaller more intimate gathering centred around a very specific topic) and learned that there was a group on shame and that the facilitator had a book! I was sold.
During the focus gathering we talked about vulnerability and how to be real with those in your inner circles. One of the best ways to overcome shame is by hearing someone else say “me too” and “you are loved and accepted.” This will trickle into how I approach myself: with empathy and kindness.
I don’t want to hide anymore. It is so comforting to know I am not the only one. There are others who suffer in this way.
Serious about overcoming shame
Not only will Thomas Rauchenstein be presenting again at P2C PLUS this year, but Heather Davis Nelson will also be speaking during one of the main sessions times at P2C PLUS and leading workshops. She is leading specific workshops on body shame and performance shame.
There are many other sessions and speakers I am excited to hear from but I am longing for continued understanding and growth in my journey with shame and for others to embrace the journey to vulnerability and freedom in Christ. Perhaps I will see you there.