Dictionary.com defines shame as:
the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another:
“She was overcome with shame.”
How many times does that example sentence apply to each of us every day? For me, several. Thankfully I don’t keep track. I’d probably feel worse about myself if I did. I’d shame myself for feeling so shameful all the time. But the majority of my shame isn’t necessarily driven by my own behaviors, because frankly, I’m kind of nerdy. I work, church & work some more. I’m home most weekends & I definitely don’t do much throughout the week.
No, most of my shame is driven by the influencers of my past. My sexual abusive grandfather. My ex. My son. My mother. My adoptive father. Even my biological father.
For some reason, this type of shame reminds me of the poo throwing monkeys at the zoo. You know the ones. Behind glass. Mischievous grin. Just as you get up close, they launch a poop bomb at you that splatters all over the glass. You can tell by the look on their face how deeply they enjoyed the look on yours. And they start to work on a new poo bomb for the next unsuspecting sucker to walk up. Good thing we aren’t fully exposed to them or they would be the least viewed exhibit in the whole place.
Take for example my grandfather. He began molesting me when I was 10. He didn’t just start with inappropriate actions. He began by gifting me with things & treating me special. Lucky me.
On that side of the family, I had a summer cousin. During the school year he lived in Cali with his mom. For summer break, he stayed with his dad. My grandparents & my uncle all lived on one enormous piece of land with several houses. So when Scotty came home, I wanted to do everything he did. He had a mini dirt bike. So I wanted one. My grandfather made sure I had one that summer. Scotty & I zipped around that land like we owned it. We rode back deep into the woods & ate our picnic lunches (fluffer nutter sandwiches, chips & water). We swam in the pond. Basically, I was a lot less girly, because I did not want Scotty thinking I was a sissy getting in his way. I wanted to be cool enough for him to want to hang out with.
Occasionally, Scotty had other stuff to do so he wouldn’t be able to hang out.
That was when it began. Gradual touching. I was immediately uncomfortable with it. I began trying to avoid being alone with my grandfather. It was difficult though because it was just me, him & my grandmother. I remember asking my grandma to let me take her for a ride on my dirt bike. She said she was busy but to ask my grandfather. Surely, driving fast with the wind whipping through our hair as I steered this dangerous machine around the yard would be a safe place. No. It wasn’t. Surely innertubing in the pond with the whole family (aunts, uncles, cousins…) would be a safe place. No, not there either. He said to me “this is our little secret. Just between us. No one else gets to know about this.”
But I knew it was wrong. I don’t know how I knew but I did. The molestation continued for a while. Finally, I told my mom.
She flipped out.
As toxic for me as my mom is, she did have moments where she was solid. This was one. She never doubted or second guessed me. They put me in therapy immediately. Filed a report with CSB. Cut the entire family out of communication with him. My adopted dad met with him, offered him reunification if he sought counseling. He refused. I never saw him again except at a couple of funerals.
But what happened as a result of my declaration was not something any child should have to walk through. I was forced to testify against my grandfather to a panel of CSB workers to determine if there was enough evidence for charges. They determined there was not. Remember, “just” molestation so basically “just” heavy petting. My grandfather called me early on to tell me that everything would work out just fine. It didn’t. We didn’t get to go to family functions. So my younger sister screamed at me “YOU’VE RUINED OUR FAMILY!” Yup. I had. I had split it down the middle. 2 uncles broke away with us. My aunt’s family & my grandma standing by my grandfather.
That is quite a burden on a child. To be followed with years of silence among the family. His name & “the incident,” were taboo. No one discussed either. I walked around with the assumption that everyone felt the way my sister did. I remembered that he warned me not to tell. If I had listened, I would never have hurt so many people. My guilt turned to shame.
Ugly harmful burdensome shame.
As I grew up, I realized that, yes, I had split the family in half. But because I had, I had also saved most, hopefully all, of my younger cousins from enduring the same twisted fate with him. But the shame remained.
No one had ever told me I did the right thing. That I was brave. I understand that 35 years ago, sexual abuse wasn’t nearly as open a topic as it is now, so I don’t entirely blame my family for that. It is just where society was at that time. But for me, the shame remains.
I’m not ashamed that I was abused. But that shame holds on in a way that warps my self worth. Probably because since that time, other people have heaped more shame on top of it & now it has become a mountain range of shame.
This past Friday night, I got to see one of my favorite speakers, Christine Caine, speak at a local church. She has a remarkable book titled “Unashamed.” (Read it. Now.) During her speaking engagement, she pulled out the Bible & referred to Genesis 2:25. She read it to the crowd.
“Adam & his wife were both naked & they felt no shame.”
She went on to explain that we were never created to feel shame. It says so right there in Genesis. We were never intended to be ashamed of who we are. Because, also according to the Bible, we are all created in the image of God. So regardless of our shape or size, we are in His image & we are perfect. Big nose, big boobs, tiny ears, big feet, bald…whatever we find imperfect on ourselves is still of God & He loves it-and us. Many of the things we see within ourselves as flaws are actually gifts from God.
So if we weren’t created to feel shame, we need to work at pushing it away from our lives. Now, understand this. Shame & guilt are two different things. Guilt is conscience for bad behaviors. Shame tells us we are bad people (maybe for bad behaviors.) However, we are NOT the sum total of our choices. We have a past, we are not our past. Every second of every day we make decisions & we can completely turn our lives around in one second. Sure it may take longer than that to see the fruits, but the decisions we make can propel us towards a new life instantly.
Dr. Brene Brown has said “Guilt says I made a mistake. Shame says I am a mistake.” See the difference? When we self talk from a place of shame, we feed that ugly beast within us more shame so he continues to grow & we continue to shrivel up.
The simple truth is that regardless of what we have done in our past, even our recent past of 2 minutes ago, we are still not the sum total of those choices. If they are bad, we obviously must face our consequences but that doesn’t require we stay on the bad choices path. Therefore, shame is a nasty lie we are told to keep us from fulfilling our God given destinies.
So, please bury this deep within your hearts: You are lovely, loveable, loved & there is no act you could do to separate yourself from the love of God. The shame you feel from your past is not from Him.
Friends, love the uglies-yours. Work to recognize the shame lies inside & replace them with love truths.
Have a beautiful week.