I often get my best “think time” in the shower or during my morning date with my coffee cup. That morning jolt of caffeine combined with the pure ecstasy of a hot shower just seems to do wonders for my mind. I’m addicted to both – no apologies.
I was thinking how for some, maybe quite a few of us, shame shapes our identity. It may come in the form of labels placed on us by others, often family members. It may also come from ourselves as a result of conclusions we have gathered about our worth. Regardless of the source, shame is a harsh judge. Instead of convicting us of our current or past negative behaviors, it tells us who or what we are. Stated simply, it establishes our identity.
When I was an emerging teen, I picked up the label of “lazy.” (Aren’t most teens lazy and tired who are investing their energy in growing?) Anyway, I took the label somewhat seriously and for a while I tried to fulfill the role I was given. But as it turns out it wasn’t really accurate. It was a shame statement put on me by a frustrated parent. But it stuck somewhere down deep inside of me and it robbed me of some of my motivation.
When we experience feelings of shame we will do just about anything to rid ourselves of the effects of exposure. We will hide or lie or deny or fight or expend incredible amounts of energy to reverse or prove the accusation is not accurate.
Doesn’t it break your heart to hear of the pain suffered by people who lived with undiscovered learning disabilities? Whether ADHD or dyslexia or Asperger’s Syndrome or something else, these children often get labeled and shamed by both adults and their peers. When the source of the struggle is revealed there is almost always a sigh of relief and some expression like “You mean I’m not stupid?” What follows can be the typical grief process of dealing with the losses associated with the damaged self image.
No matter what kind of shame we have experienced there can be a healthy rebuilding of our identity as we face our reality. That is why recovery classes at our church and other organizations like AA are so effective and popular. We no longer have to carry the label of addict or something else. We are a beloved son or daughter of God who struggles with (name your challenge). The first step is always the hardest, but the most effective. Whether that first step is breaking denial or just taking action of some sort, you will be emotionally rewarded. You will feel a sense of relief or a rising up of courage. Don’t be discouraged. Expect that it will take some effort. Press through anyway.
Even if you haven’t fully embraced the concept of a loving God who is for you and not against you, being with a community of unconditionally accepting others can radically change your identity. You may have grown up hearing mostly negative corrective criticisms and so positive statements about you may feel unreal. But I can guarantee that it will be fresh cold water to a thirsty soul. Your new identity is waiting to be claimed.