Shame, Shame, go Away

 

“What’s wrong with me? There must be something wrong with me. What’s wrong with me?” This is the voice of shame. Dr. Brené Brown, a shame researcher, defines shame as an intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. Shame tells us we are flawed, unacceptable or unlovable, not good or important enough.

Sometimes as a result of our broken world, choices we have made, or choices others made that have affected us, cause us to feel shame. But, it’s important to note that guilt is not shame. We let guilt define our actions, while we let shame define who we are. Guilt is saying, “I did something bad.” Shame is saying, “I am bad.” Guilt says, “I lied.” Shame says, “I am a liar.” That being said, any outstanding guilt that comes to our conscience should be brought to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s important for us to seek God’s mercy in confession. The shame that lingers even after the Sacrament is what we’re trying to heal.

Shame can come in different forms and as a result of different experiences. I regularly meet with young men and women who are haunted by the shame of sins from their past. Sometimes this shame comes up in the moment; sometimes it comes up years later. Spiritually, they have been forgiven through the grace of the sacraments, yet they can’t shake the shame. What is the shame you carry?

We all have heard the sayings like, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” But shame just doesn’t work that way. Shame is rooted deep within our hearts. Whether you geographically move, change schools, or try to erase memories, shame still has a way of affecting us. Oftentimes, our responses to shame can be displayed in three tainted ways: covering, hiding, and blaming.

Covering

Adam and Eve are prime examples. They ate the fruit, felt shame, realized they were naked, and covered themselves. We too have the tendency to cover up different things in our lives. Maybe it’s covering up our feelings, covering up about something we did or someone else did. What are some ways you “cover”?

Hiding

The shame we feel can cause us to move away or “hide” from a particular relationship or situation. After the Fall, Adam and Eve hid from God by cowering behind a bush. Sometimes we withdraw or try to hide. In my life, this was the case with some friendships in high school. I neglected certain relationships because I had a negative experience or was afraid to tell a friend they hurt me. I chose to hide rather than to work through the conflict. What are some of the ways you “hide”?

Blaming

Blaming can take place when someone shames you and you want to respond with shaming them. When God confronted Adam and asked what he had done, Adam turned and blamed it on Eve; Eve then turned and blamed it on the serpent. If your parents get upset with you for getting a bad grade, your response might be to yell back at them for being terrible parents. In this case, you feel shame because of your bad grade and, in turn, you want your parents to feel shame. What are some ways you “blame”?

Shame, shame, go away. There is hope! The opposite of shame is honor. Honor has to be given in order for shame to be defeated. Scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame” (Romans 10:11). Recovering from shame and rebuilding honor and self-esteem takes time and patience, but it can be done. It’s time for shame to go away… and not come back.

The following are tools to help you process and walk through your shame:

Identify your triggers
What sets off your feelings of shame? A good way to uncover this would be an examination every night before bed. Go through your day — the good and the bad — and focus on where you were triggered. Did someone say something that brought up feelings of shame? Once you know some of your “shame triggers,” you can begin to manage them.

Self Care 101
When you feel shame, it’s hard to be loving toward yourself. We might be tempted to believe that being hard on ourselves can somehow help us; therefore, being self-compassionate might seem unnatural. One simple way to start is to imagine what you’d do if someone you cared about shared that they were deeply ashamed of something they’d done. What would you say to that person? How would you treat them? You should treat yourself with the same love and care.

Receive love
The feelings of unworthiness attached to shame make it very difficult to receive love from others. This could be accepting compliments, receiving affirmations, small gifts, or anything really. We are called to receive love openly and with gratitude. This takes conscious, concerted practice, but over time it will feel more natural to receive kindness and love from others.

Friendship and community
Shame melts in community. It’s import that we do not allow ourselves to remain alone in the darkness of shame. We don’t have to cover up or overcompensate for our weakness because God’s power works best in weakness. “… I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God created us to live in community with one another. In our battle against shame, we need friends to journey alongside us — friends with whom we can be vulnerable and who will speak truth in our lives to help reshape our shame story.

Christ continues to reach out to all those who feel imprisoned by shame. His healing message is the same today as it was 2,000 years ago: shame, shame, go away. Jesus wants us to give Him our shame. Nothing is too big for His infinite love. He can heal any shame in our life. The key is to invite Him in and allow Him to give you new eyes to see yourself and your situation in His merciful light.

Go Home and Love Your Family

 

If you have ever seen the movie “Lilo & Stitch,” you might remember a scene in which Nani and Lilo talk after they get into a fight. In that scene, Nani apologizes to Lilo for yelling at her and Lilo responds with, “We’re sisters, it’s our job.” Even though it might seem like a cute, little line from a Disney movie, it actually hits really close to home.

Is it really our job though?

I don’t know about you, person reading this right now, but I constantly argue with my siblings. Actually, the people I argue and fight with the most are my family: my parents, siblings, close cousins, and those friends who have become family. A majority of the people I know have the same problem, and it’s kind of weird if you really think about it… Why are we meanest to the people we love the most? The ones we’d be truly afraid to lose?

I think part of the answer comes precisely from the same reason it’s a problem: love. We fight the most with the people we love because we know they love us back. They’re the people you know you’re stuck with no matter what happens, especially if it’s your siblings and/or parents. Parents have this innate protectiveness toward their children and love them unconditionally, no matter how many times their child rebels. Similarly, your sibling will never stop being your sibling or stop loving you no matter how horrible the fight.

Have you ever been in a fight with your sibling, but they defend you relentlessly the moment you get picked on by someone outside of your family circle? It’s because of love. For this reason, they become these “safe targets” we often reveal our worst selves to, knowing they won’t run away, even if we constantly argue with them and hurt their feelings.

However, should we still continue to bicker and fight with them just because we know they won’t leave us?

Love is often defined as “willing the good of the other.” When we love someone, in an authentic and true way, we will their good. We want their joy and happiness. We ultimately want what’s best for them. The trouble with constantly fighting with the ones you love, knowing they won’t stop loving you, is that this “love” doesn’t justify your bad behavior. If there are other things bothering you and you relentlessly take them out on those closest to you, you’re not loving them the way they deserve. Hurting someone you know will forgive you is inexcusable.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta said that if we wish to change the world, we have to go home and love our family. This is easier said than done — especially when the love/hate habits in our families feel like they’re so ingrained in us that they could never change. I personally struggle with this everyday, so to help you make a first step, here are my top five tips to help you bicker with your loved ones less:

Look to their virtues, not their flaws.

So often we get caught up in the negative and forget to see the good. Don’t focus all of your energy on their negative traits. When you find yourself wanting to bicker about or pick a fight over something your relative does that annoys you, pause and think about one of the things you love about them. You might still be annoyed, but the tone of voice in which you speak to them will change from bickering to conversational.

Thank God for putting them in your life.

Although it seems cheesy, it’s when we are grateful to God in prayer that we are more appreciative of those around us. This can also be shown by saying “thank you.” You’d be surprised how rarely we thank our family members, so doing it makes them feel all the more appreciated and loved. You can even write a little note and leave it somewhere for your family member to find as a nice surprise for their day!

Do something nice for the person you fight with the most.

Whether it’s mom, dad, brother, or sister, show them you appreciate and love them. Small gestures and acts of kindness go a long way in making love seen. It can be as simple as clearing your dad’s plate after dinner or as elaborate as doing your sister’s chores when you know she has a lot of homework.

Pray together.

It can be so hard to pray with your family, especially if it’s not something you’re used to, but it is possible! Start with something small, like saying grace before dinner if it’s not something you normally do, or a little more elaborate like praying the rosary together once a week. Inviting God to be the center of your family increases love in ways you can’t even imagine.

Always say you’re sorry.

Sometimes we let our ego get in the way, but asking for forgiveness can help our relationship with our loved ones in profound ways. Practicing it in small moments — like after raising your voice in a conversation with your mom — makes it easier to do it in the bigger moments — like when you call a sibling a mean name. Apologizing is never easy, but it is a necessary part of loving our family.

I sincerely hope these tips help you show your “safe targets” just how much you love and appreciate them. It’s normal to struggle and you are definitely not alone in this battle, but God calls us to love, and to love in an authentic way, and He gives us the grace to do so when we ask for it.

In 1 John 3:18 we read, “Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” My prayer for each of us is that we allow God to transform our hearts, so that we may show our family how much we love them — with more than just words — with actions of love and not of conflict.