(Drawing by Jessica Peterson)
- Have you ever wished you could just disappear?
- Is embarrassment excruciating to you?
- Do you feel like you don’t measure up?
Maybe you struggle with shame, like I do. Often an innocent comment can be enough to cause you to crumple up like a piece of paper.
In my family of origin, my father was morbidly obese. He countered this by being jolly around people. Not around us, but around others. In the privacy of our own home he struggled with rage. I mostly remember my dad as eating, or sleeping, if he wasn’t yelling.
My dad often used food as a treat for us.“Who wants to go out for ice cream?”
While we often raced to the car, I struggled feeling embarrassed of his size. One time as we were at Taste-e-Freeze, I went inside with my brother to order our cones. We could see the family through the huge plate glass windows. As I stood in line there were a couple of boys who noticed my dad. One boy spread his arms out wide and pointed to my dad who never noticed to my recollection. The boy then laughed wildly soliciting others to follow his lead.
I froze, wondering how I would walk out to our car. I wanted to disappear. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the object of the boy’s ridicule. It felt like I was.
Shame is a crippling thing. And if you grew up with shame, the chances are good that you may still react when that button is pressed. After that outing I avoided going places with my dad in public. I never told him why, I just found excuses.
Another incident comes to mind when I think about shame. I had one aunt who would take one finger and gently push it across another as she would chant, “Shame on you.”
Honestly, I cannot remember the context, just how it felt. I didn’t like going over to her house.
My ability to differentiate between guilt and shame became skewed. At a conference I once heard a speaker make it clear. Guilt is something we feel when we’ve done something wrong. Shame is feeling we are the problem. Shame is a hard thing to grow out of.
When we feel shame we:
- have little self confidence
- are afraid of making a mistake
- have trouble letting others get to know us
It was liberating finding Romans 5:1, which states, “There is therefore no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.”
But, even knowing that truth was not enough, I had to get to the place where I believed it for me. Though it’s taken a while, I am getting better at recognizing when shame is trying to camp out in me. Certain words trigger shame in a person,
“Why did you do that?”
“What were you thinking?”
Sometimes it isn’t even what is said, but how it is conveyed. A raised eyebrow can sometimes crush a person.
I’m thankful I am learning about this crippling thing called shame. I know I have value as a person. And I am careful in choosing the words I use with others, knowing there are some who struggle in this area.
How many of us have cringed, hearing a parent belittle his/her child. The child is probably hearing something his/her parent also heard growing up.
One time while out for dinner with my husband and two children, my daughter accidentally spilled her water. Quietly we all grabbed napkins and sopped up the mess. The table may have gotten a little wet, but her spirit never dampened. I thought of how differently that scene would have looked in my house growing up. I’m thankful we can break some of the chains in our lives.
You don’t have to disappear. You matter to God. And if you have ever felt shame, just know that even Jesus did. In Hebrews 12:2, It says that for the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame.
You see, God hates shame too.
About Anne Peterson
I write words you can feel, sometimes they rhyme. If I'm not writing, I'm telling stories from my head, to little ones who call me grandma.