Harassed by Shame – a Trap of Comparison

Our guest blogger today is P.J. Beets, a Doctor of Ministry in Spiritual Formation student at Dallas Seminary.

Recently, I went on a backpacking adventure with a group of 14 to 17 year old Boy Scouts. I was concerned about being able to keep up with their energy and sense of adventure. I love backpacking, but I did not want to hinder them in any way. The days leading up to the adventure were harassed by shame. Will I do everything just right? Am I good enough?

What is shame? One type of shame is a feeling of inferiority which comes from comparing ourselves to our own expectations, other’s expectations, or what we perceive other’s expectations to be. Shame emerges in all kinds of places, to all kinds of people, and at all kinds of times. We can experience shame when others make decisions different than we have made concerning areas such as parenting, diet, lifestyle, activities, clothing, housing, cars, schooling, and jobs.

What happens when we feel shame? Curt Thompson says when we feel shame our physical systems disintegrate inside of us and our creativity is stifled. We can respond to shame by shutting down, withdrawing, becoming angry, or cutting others down to make ourselves feel better. The feelings of shame cripple us and rob us of the freedom we have in Christ to be who we are in Him and to let others be who they are in Christ. 

What is a healthy way to deal with the feelings of shame? I have found a few ways that can help alleviate shame. To begin with, I need to be attentive to the feelings of shame, when I don’t feel good enough, so I can take these feelings to God in order to engage with Him about them. Feelings can be used by God to get my attention about issues that He wants to address.

One day when I was feeling shame from not being included in some friends’ activity, I sensed the Lord encouraging me with the thought that I am always a part of the greatest group ever…the Trinity. I will never be un-included from this group no matter how I feel or whether others accept me or not. Wow, what a profound and comforting thought!

Also, in Psalm 25:1-2, “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me” reminds me to not get my identity from what I expect, others expect, or what I perceive others expect from me. My identity comes from God so He is the only one I should lift my soul to. Furthermore, it helps when I share about my shame. Often others help me gain the right perspective on the situation. 

Brené Brown suggests practicing critical awareness in dealing with shame: seeing the big picture of what is really going on, realizing others are experiencing the same feelings, and sharing what I know about this situation with others. Critical awareness puts the situation into proper perspective and alleviates the feelings of shame.

So did I feel shame during the backpacking adventure with my youthful companions? No. Did I do everything perfect? No. I learned that being perfect is not equal to being good enough. I was not perfect on the adventure—I  cautiously crossed a river on a log while they sprinted across the log, I crossed other rivers by slowly walking along the river bed while they leaped from rock to rock, and I crossed rivers without my backpack while they carried their backpacks across and then came back to get mine!

 It was true that I didn’t have the capabilities that they had, but I learned a profound truth through not feeling good enough. Being good enough has nothing to do with being perfect or being like everyone else. Being good enough has everything to do with my identity being in Christ and being who I am in Him. God created me with certain characteristics such as short legs that make river crossings harder and a cautious spirit that makes adventure harder. Who I am in Christ allowed these young men the opportunity to grow by showing grace to someone else and extending help.

What areas of life do you feel shame? How are you handling the shame? What is God inviting you into as you deal with the shame?

Curt Thompson, “Evening Conversation with Curt Thompson,” The Trinity Forum, 2015, accessed August 12, 2016,  https://vimeo.com/143305485. 

Brené Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” (New York: Avery, 2007), 99-120.

Gail Seidel served as Mentor Advisor for Spiritual Formation in the Department of Spiritual Formation and Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and as an Adjunct Professor in the D Min in Spiritual Formation in the D Min Department at Dallas Theological Seminary. She has a BA in English from the University of Texas, a Masters in Christian Education from Dallas Seminary and a D Min in Spiritual Formation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is a contributor to the textbook, Foundations of Spiritual Formation, Kregel Academic. She served as co-director for Christian Women in Partnership Russia with Entrust, an international church leadership-training mission. She and her husband Andy live in Fredericksburg, Texas. They have 2 married children and 6 wonderful grandchildren--Kami, Kourtney, Katie, Mallory, Grayson, and Avery.

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