It’s A Shame—Part I

By Sylvia Clemons, Healing, Shame

“For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” Romans 10:11
“Shame on you! What’s the matter with you! You’re so clumsy (stupid, ugly, etc.)! Can’t you ever do anything right?”Sound familiar?Families living in a state of dis-grace are bound by an unhealthy kind of shame that blames, labels, wounds and bruises. The young and defenseless are especially vulnerable and the hurts often last a lifetime.

We call these families “shame-based.” They operate with different rules and behaviors than “grace-based” families. It’s a continuum. No family is totally one extreme or the other, but they do tend more toward one end of the spectrum or the other.

There are actually two kinds of shame. One is the healthy shame the Lord intends we feel when we violate His principles. Healthy shame and the resulting feelings of guilt lead us to repentance and a life lived in submission to God.

While healthy shame leads us toward the Lord, unhealthy shame is the kind mentioned in Romans 10:11. It is a result of the fallen state of man and causes great difficulties in relationships. Unhealthy shame turns us away from God. It leads to legalism and attempts to control others and a life falling far short of the abundance Jesus said is possible.

The unhealthy kind of shame and God’s grace are opposites. Unhealthy shame is defined as a painful sense of guilt and feeling unacceptable, a feeling of humiliation and loss of standing. Grace, on the other hand, is undeserved acceptance and love received from another. God shows His grace toward us in providing salvation when we are not worthy of such unmerited favor. We show grace to one another when we love without regard to “worthiness” and don’t require that our love be earned.

The Lord created all humans with three basic needs. We need to be convinced that (1) we are loved and accepted, without any strings attached, (2) that we are capable, valuable, important, special, and worthy, and (3) that we are not alone in facing life. God intended that we be in supportive relationships and share the struggles of life in a fallen world.

A “shame-based” family cannot meet those basic needs adequately. Members are given constant messages that something is wrong with them and love is conditional, based on performance. People are not loved and accepted for who they are. Instead, behavior is the most important factor. Unhealthy shame tells people that they must behave in certain ways to b acceptable. It says that they are defective if they do not perform up to someone else’s standards. It is not, “I made a mistake” which can lead to repentance and forgiveness. It becomes, “I am a mistake” with no true redemption possible.

On the other hand, “grace-based” families strive to operate according to God’s principle of grace that says, “You are loved and accepted for who you are, not just for what you do.” It lets the members know, verbally and non-verbally, that they are not alone. Family members are there to support and encourage each other, even in the midst of hurts and conflicts.

When people come from shame-based families, they are full of an unbearable kind of pain and must find ways to cope with it. Two unhealthy avenues of coping are acting out the pain and trying to pass the shame and pain on to others. The healthy avenue of dealing with the pain of unhealthy shame lies in going through the healing process.

If you would like to explore this topic further, here are a couple of books I recommend: Hurt People Hurt People by Sandra Wilson and Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderan.