girl with braid hiding behind a wall

The Whisper of Shame

One of Collide’s core values is to recognize brokenness so it can be made whole. We have a growing community of women walking toward healing, as well as a community of counselors who are partnering with us to this end. We hope you not only enjoy hearing a counselor’s voice here, but that you open yourself up to the transformational work God is calling you into so that you can see His healing as a reality in your life.

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25)

Shame is deceptive. It creeps in uninvited. As I sat in a coffee shop, waiting for an older friend, I felt vulnerable. I had asked him to help me navigate the journey of marriage and parenting. To ask another man for help was not a common experience for me. I was taught to be self-sufficient, to not need help. As I waited, I began to feel anxious…nervous…agitated…distressed…I wanted to hide. I wanted to disappear. This was the third time in a row he did not show. Shame whispered “You are not important. You are forgotten. You are unworthy. You are too needy…You are weak…You do not matter.” What has shame been whispering to you?

For most of us, our shame whisper can become our shame dialogue. It’s the messages we say secretly to ourselves. The silent but loud words we speak to ourselves about our shortcomings, failures, and inadequacies. These words are rooted in feeling unworthy, unlovable, not wanted. Shame tempts us to believe that at our core, we can’t measure up; that we simply aren’t enough.

Brene Brown is one of my heroes. She has done remarkable work on the topic of shame. She defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging… unworthy of connection.” Most of our whispers of shame are kept secret and hidden. Sometimes our secrets become our truth. Shame whispers “do not tell.” Shame whispers “you must hide.”

“They heard the sound of the Lord and they hid.” (Genesis 3:8)

We are not alone in our attempt to hide. Adam and Eve were tempted by their own desire, ate from the forbidden tree, felt shame and attempted to hide. Adam and Eve hid from God because they felt unworthy. In the coffee shop, I wanted to hide so that no one could see my shame. I am terrified of exposing my shame. I am terrified of exposing my shame to God. I am afraid that I am unworthy. I am afraid that He will turn away from me because I don’t matter.  Yet, hiding in my shame gives me the illusion of protection. Hiding is a form of temptation. Perhaps my fears keep me from turning to God when I feel shame. Perhaps your fears keep you from turning to God when you feel shame.

“Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

There is another whisper though. It is the whisper of the Lord asking me “where are you?” His question is not out of judgement, condemnation or with the intent to harm, or hurt me. His whisper of “where are you?” is about a desire to protect me from my shame. His whisper is about a desire to protect you from your shame. Shame’s whisper longs to convince me I am unworthy, unloved and forgotten. His whisper says you are worthy. You are loved. You belong to me. Shame’s desire is to create disconnection. His desire is to create connection.

“He came to his senses… (Luke 15:17)

Shame also disorients us and confuses us. I feel lost when I hear the whisper of shame.  The story of the Prodigal Son is a scandalous story. It is a shocking story. The son takes his inheritance, squanders all his money, and becomes lost in his shame.  Perhaps in hearing the whisper of shame, he also heard the whisper of his Father “Where are you?” Because in the story we read that “He came to his senses.” When I am lost in the whisper of my shame, the truth of the Father’s whisper helps me to “come to my senses.” I am invited to return home. I am reminded of who I am. He longs to wipe away the judgment. He longs to wipe away the fear. He longs to drown out the whisper of shame.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son…” (Luke 15:20).

The father celebrates the return of his son with an embrace, with a celebration. He gifts him with shoes, sandals and a ring. The father welcomed his son home with open arms. He wiped away the whisper of shame.  Perhaps God the Father is asking each of us: “Where are you?” Just as for Adam and Eve, he longs for us to come out of our hiding, fall into his embrace and tune our ears to His whisper of truth instead of the whisper of shame.

One of my favorite pictures is Rembrandt’s portrayal of Return of the Prodigal Son. It hangs in my office. The painting reveals the son kneeling before his father. The focus of the painting is the father’s embrace of his son, reminding us of God’s embrace as we return home. It is an embrace of compassion. It is an embrace of mercy. It is a stunning picture because it reminds me that the father’s love for his son was based on the relationship with his son, not the performance of his son. In the midst of his pain, suffering, agony, and betrayal, the father not only welcomed him home but also embraced his son. Stunning and surprising.

When our family member, friend, co-worker, partner or spouse returns “home” from being lost in shame’s grip, you and I can choose a response similar to the father’s. We are invited to set aside, at least temporarily, the pain, suffering, and heartache and embrace the one who has returned.

Not only do we have a choice to turn away from our shame and return to the other, we have a choice to receive and embrace the one returning from the grip of shame. The father celebrates the return of his son with an embrace. An embrace that reveals tenderness, kindness and compassion. Even a sense of empathy. Shame’s antidote according to Brene Brown is empathy. When we respond to another out of empathy, shame simply loses its grip. When I set aside my own judgement and allow empathy to be offered, shame’s whisper is silenced.

This post was written by a counselor or therapist for informational use only and is not intended to replace advice from a professional who is working directly with you as a patient [or client].

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