Shame is a blush that starts round your neck and spreads to your bones. It silences you and shrinks you and stamps you like a stain. Shame is about exposure: being naked in front of others and them seeing you in all your ugliness and seeing all the things you want to hide. You want to say ‘it wasn’t me, wait – I didn’t do it’. But you DID and you’re in the spotlight and everyone saw.
So what do you do with your shame? Perhaps you hide it under (fabulous) clothes. Or maybe you stamp on it by doing stuff, (like whack- a-mole only with lists instead of mallets). Maybe you deny it (Nothing to see here folks). Or you fence yourself with excuses, (Tuesdays are my Crazy Day: tomorrow I’ll be fine).
But whatever your strategy, you need an antidote. This shame stuff is strong. It’s burning your throat. You need something equally bad to fight it.
So you go to the cupboard and pick out a bottle. Something like anger. Or hatred. Or contempt. You look at it and you make a choice – pour it onto other people or drink it down yourself.
Example. You lose your keys. For the third time in two days. You’re embarrassed. You’re ashamed. So what do you do?
1. Storm around the house, firing accusations. ‘Who moved my keys? I know where I left them and they’re not there! Someone must have taken them.’ You protect yourself from shame by transferring it to someone else.
2. You turn the violence on yourself. An internal monologue that runs something like this: ‘I’m an IDIOT. I can’t even look after my keys. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I shouldn’t even have been born’. You wield your shame like a knife and twist it deep.
Two ways of dealing with shame. Both are violent. And neither work. Because neither address the real problem.
The real problem is not my keys. The problem is me. I am weak and selfish and dependent and sinful. My shame is real. So where do I take it? It has to go somewhere – but I can’t give it to other people and I can’t deal with it myself.
“On the day you were born your umbilical cord was not cut, you weren’t bathed and cleaned up, you weren’t rubbed with salt, you weren’t wrapped in a baby blanket. No one cared a fig for you. No one did one thing to care for you tenderly in these ways. You were thrown out into a vacant lot and left there, dirty and unwashed—a newborn nobody wanted.
And then I (The LORD), came by. .. I said to you, lying there helpless and filthy, “Live! Grow up like a plant in the field!” And you did… But you were naked and vulnerable, fragile and exposed.
…I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine”.
(from Ezekiel 16)