Shame. It’s a heavy word. One, when spoken out loud you can feel that “shame-like” feeling wash over you. It’s a feeling many have experienced and wish they hadn’t. Shame is a feeling that we, as God’s image bearers, weren’t meant to experience. Yet, because of the fall and sin entering the world, we know it all too well. Shame can leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable, often leading us to hide. In scripture this exact scenario plays out. Shortly after Adam takes a bite from the apple, the Lord goes to look for Adam and Eve, and where does God find them? Hiding. In similar fashion, we do the same. When we experience shame, our tendency is to hide from both God and from others. The tricky thing about shame, we can’t fight it without God and others. To break the cycle of shame, God wants us to be honest with him. By sharing with him how we feel and what we’re experiencing, he can lead us to truths about who we are as a follower of Christ, as his image bearer. By sharing with others, they can help us create truth statements and show us the lies we may be believing. Shame is a cycle that needs to be broken. Below is a piece created by Paul Stiver. Take a moment to reflect on a shame narrative you may be experiencing right now.
What is a Shame Narrative?
A shame narrative is a narrative that you tell yourself, internally that reinforces to yourself that you don’t matter, you are bad, you do not have worth, your needs aren’t important, etc. Shame says, “I’m bad” on an internalized, personal, and value level. An example of an internalized shame narrative is: “You can’t wear that outfit out in public, everyone will think you look so fat.” This is something that a person is telling to themselves as a reinforcement of their self-perception that they don’t matter, are bad, do not have worth, or that they aren’t important.
Identifying a Shame Narrative
How do we know that we are listening to and internalizing a shame narrative? Perhaps the single greatest way to identify a shame narrative is to listen to the voices of others in your community. Are they telling you how much you matter? Do they bristle at your self-defeating negative talk? Are they challenging you on what you are thinking about yourself? Are you blindsided and dumbfounded by their encouragement to you, because you can’t believe in your own significance to them? Community is extremely important because our community has angles and lenses and perspectives on us that we do not have on ourselves, and they can come alongside us to help us identify, interrupt, and break shame narratives. We can know that we are listening to and internalizing a shame narrative when we are consistently beating ourselves up in our own mind. We might say things that demonstrate that we are really down on ourselves, that we don’t matter, or that we suck. Remember, shame says, “I’m bad” at an internal, personal, value level. We can know that we are listening to and internalizing a shame narrative when we find ourselves unwilling to take care of our own needs or assert our desires in a relationship. We can know that we are listening to and internalizing a shame narrative when we are in constant comparison to others, or in consistent need of approval from others. We can know that we are listening to and internalizing a shame narrative when we are not taking care of ourselves (physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally), because we are unwilling. What are some other ways we might become aware that we are listening to a shame narrative?
Interrupting a Shame Narrative
One way to interrupt a shame narrative is with the Why Ladder. The Why Ladder works by taking a proposition, idea, belief, or realization and examining it on a deeper level by asking the question, “Why?” This is done repeatedly to get beneath the surface of the initial idea, and move “down the ladder” toward deeper held beliefs and convictions that lie beneath the surface. The why ladder forces us to examine our internal beliefs that drive the internalized shame narratives, and it sets us up to interrupt those narratives. The best way to interrupt those narratives is to break them with gospel truth.
Breaking a Shame Narrative
The best way to break a shame narrative is to counter the shame with gospel truth. For example, the gospel tells us that we matter to God. We matter so much that he sent his Son to die for us and redeem us, and Jesus has taken our shame on the cross. We are sinners but we have infinite worth to God, because we are made in his image, are purchased by Christ’s blood, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We have inherent worth because God has declared it to be so. We are important to God and to others. Let’s take some time to go through this process on our own.
- Start by brainstorming an area that might be a shame narrative for you.
- Then, walk through the why ladder beginning with that first proposition, question, or idea.
- Finally, apply the gospel to identify lies, remember truth, and map out an action step forward.