For several post now, I’ve been saying that I believe that the fully human life is a life of mature love. I feel most fully alive when I love and am loved well. In my last post, I wrote about the power of shame in my own life and shared some of my journey toward shame-free living. Shame is a powerful obstacle to loving well.
In the Faithwalking community that I serve, we work to help people see the power of shame and find ways to grow in freedom from that power. What follows is a portion of what we share with people as they participate in our community.
Although shame is primarily a feeling, attached to the feelings are thoughts. These thoughts are usually repetitive and predictable, often laced with profanity and accusations. Here are some common thoughts that accompany the feelings of shame:
- “I’m never good enough. I’m worthless.”
- “What’s wrong with me? Try harder.”
- “Who do you think you are?”
- “Stupid, stupid, stupid” or other name-calling.
- “If you really knew me (or knew this secret about me), you would reject me.”
In the Faithwalking community, we call this aspect of our internal dialogue the “shame voice.” The very first step in quieting your “shame voice” is to become aware of what it is and how it speaks to you. This might sound counterintuitive, but before we can learn to ignore our “shame voice,” we actually must take time to listen to it closely. This is because, for many people, it is such a constant companion that we are not even conscious of the way it affects us.
Disparaging thoughts have spun around and around in our minds for so long that we have come to accept them as the truth, rather than as lies that we can choose to accept or reject. Even worse, many people mistake their shame voice for the voice of God.
What does your shame voice say to you?
My shame voice would say, “You are so weak and powerless. If anyone really knew that they would never accept you.” So I hid and pretended. I put on a mask that included anger, intellectual superiority, and self-righteousness. I did this to protect myself from being found out. When my shame voice got triggered, I would lash out in anger. Or I would begin telling you all the things that I knew that would somehow validate my power. Or as a last resort, I would self-righteously shame you so that I could at least diminish your power.
It was a breakthrough moment for me when I actually slowed my internal processes down enough that I could see this voice in action and learn to see how much impact this had on every relationship that I had. My shame voice resulted in me feeling temporarily powerful but being deeply disconnected from my truest, best self and from the important people around me.