What is Shame?Shame is when we fear that ugly part of us will be exposed; that those who look at it will retract from the sheer monstrosity of it. It can lead to isolating thoughts like "nobody would love me if they knew what I have done."
Shame is different from guilt and different from embarrassment.
Guilt is "I made a mistake."
Shame is "I am a mistake."
Guilt is "that was bad."
Shame is "I am bad."
It is internalizing the guilt that could lead us to make positive changes to instead churning us up in turmoil. Shame is associated with isolation. We pull back for fear of being seen and vulnerable. Sometimes we respond to others' shame with shame of our own. We disconnect from the ugliness for fear of vulnerability. More on this after a bit of background.
For women, shame is often centered around our inability to juggle it all. In reality, few of us have magazine clean houses. Mine is extremely lived in, as in...we live in our house and therefore there are dishes and laundry...and toys...and random, random things left in random, random places. The shame also weighs us as we compare how we parent our children. I know in the past I would be extra on my toes and down to business in public or at family's house because I feared doing it "wrong;" that my children's failures somehow were my failures. In addition to homemaking and parenting shame can also be intricately related to body image, personal skills, bringing dinner to someone every night...the list we could potentially allow to fester into shame is never ending. The details are different for each of us and what may be shaming to one may not necessarily be shaming to the other Boil it down for women and it is about the contradicting messages we are blasted with constantly: we should be thin, but we should be curvy. We should spend all of our time helping our children thrive, but we should pursue a career. We should keep our house completely spotless, but we should enjoy our young children. On and on...we feel we are "bad" or somehow "broken" because we cannot uphold these standards. As we look around at others from the outside, we resign to the realization that "I am the only one who doesn't have it all together. There must be something 'wrong' with me."
Men also have shame, but theirs is usually centered around fear of being perceived as weak. This can pop up at the work place. Maybe he has shame because he isn't providing as much as his friend is for his family. Maybe he is grieving a loss, but feels shame in having been caught crying by his wife. Maybe he fears his struggle with infertility someone makes him "less of a man." Just like with women, the details are different; however, boiling it down for a man typically shame is related to fear of weakness.
Why Shame?"And thus [Satan] goeth up and down, to and fro in the earth, seeking to destroy the souls of men" (D&C 10:27)
The Father of Lies continually seeks our total destruction. He has unleashed darkness with more fury than ever before. He is seeking to shatter families by targeting individuals. He is purposefully planting seeds of doubt that can masterfully lead to shame. And what a cunning tool shame can be! Brigham Young said, “It was revealed to me in the commencement of this Church, that the Church would spread, prosper, grow and extend, and that in proportion to the spread of the Gospel among the nations of the earth, so would the power of Satan rise" (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (1954), 72.)
Shame is the lowest vibrating emotion. When a person vibrates at low levels, it can effect not only emotional health, but also physical health (immune system is higher the higher we vibrate), as well as spiritual protection.
Shame has been a plague of the human race since the beginning of earth's history. Let's look at how shame came about. In Moses 3: 25 we read "And they [Adam & Eve] were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed (emphasis added)." As Adam & Eve were introduced into the garden, they were free of shame.
In Moses 4 (Genesis 3) Satan tempts Eve, Adam & Eve fall, and death enters the world. Verses 13 & 14: "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they had been naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voices of the Lord God, as they were walking in the garden, in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife went to hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden (emphasis added)."
Shame had been introduced and is manifest through their seeking to hide. They feared God would see their "nakedness." When we are in shame, we also fear being seen in the bare vulnerability of who we are. An important aspect of shame to discuss is isolation and seeking to hide.
SeparatedIn D&C 29: 39-41 we learn the place of shame in God's plan for His children: "And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet---Wherefore, it came to pass that the devil tempted Adam and he partook of the forbidden fruit and transgressed the commandment, wherein he became subject to the will of the devil, because he yielded unto temptation. Wherefore, I, the Lord God, caused that he should be cast out from the Garden of Eden, from my presence, because of transgression, where in he became spiritually dead, which is the first death, even that same death which is the last death, which is spiritual, which shall be pronounced upon the wicked when I shall say: Depart, ye cursed."
Adam's transgression brought about separation from God. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we celebrate Eve for her courage. Because of the fall we are born into this fallen world with fallen bodies. Just as Adam experienced a separation, God is also only able to hear our prayers because of The Great Mediator, Jesus Christ. It is because we pray in His name that our words have access to penetrate his ears.
Elder Oaks said: "Modern revelation shows that our first parents understood the necessity of the Fall. Adam declared, 'Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God' (Moses 5:10). Note the different perspective and the special wisdom of Eve, who focused on the purpose and effect of the great plan of happiness: 'Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient' (Moses 5:11)."
D&C 29:42 "But, behold, I say unto you that I, the Lord God, gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son."
Satan "knew not the mind of God (Moses 4:6)." In his seeking to thwart God's plan, His great Plan of Happiness was ironically set into motion. In Adam & Even separating for God it didn't frustrate God's plan. The separation instead created the need for Jesus Christ as Savior. Our inviting Him into our lives to overcome the natural man tendencies is vital. It is Christ who is able to lift us from this fallen state and our isolation and shame as we use our days of probation to seek Him "---that by his natural death he might be raised in immortality unto eternal life, even as many as would believe" (D&C 29:43). He will raise our vibration and literally allow us to become a "new creature" in Christ (2 Cor 5:17).
In holy temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we learn about this process and are given instruction to how to return to His presence.
Shame vs. Humility"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up" (James 4:10)
Humility is recognizing we are unable. One of my recovery friends referred to the first 3 steps of the 12-step program as a waltz. I love that. We are constantly repeating steps 1-3 over on a daily basis: "I can't." "He can." "I will let Him." 1...2...3...1...2...3...1..2...3... Humility is the first step. As Moses put it, "man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed" (Moses 1:10). It is taking the realization that as fallen man we personally are nothing, or powerless, that we can recognize the need for a power beyond our own capacity. "...He bringeth low, and lifteth up" (1 Sam 2:7). As we humble ourselves and recognize that we are powerless, it can be easier to recognize our need for a loving Savior and His abundant grace in our lives. As we take step 3 and place our trust in God and His Son, He can begin to truly work in our lives. God is a God of agency and respects our agency. He will not work in our lives until we invite Him to. God needs us to be humble.
"In this fallen condition, we have a conflict within us. We are spirit children of God, with the potential to be 'partakers of the divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4). However, 'we are unworthy before [God]; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually' (Ether 3:2). We need to strive continually to overcome unrighteous passions and desires" (True to the Faith) Being in this fallen condition and oozing natural man tendencies, it may be difficult to believe that "man is a god in embryo and has in him the seeds of godhood, and he can, if he will, rise to great heights" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 28.)
Satan seeks our being "puffed up" in pride or our isolation in shame. He does not want us to take the step of humility. He seeks to plant seeds of doubt and to fill us with lies. "You will never be good enough." "You don't belong" "God doesn't love you." "You are beyond hope; you are too far gone." "You are the only one going through this." Maybe we have gotten to the point of such negative self-talk we don't even need these lies whispered in our ears to believe them! Maybe he is able to simply hold us down with his pinky as we continue the same self-destructive cycles. When we allow these seeds to take root, we often seek to hide, like Adam & Eve. We fear our "nakedness" being exposed. We have come to believe the lies to be true.
The Antidote to Shame
We are wired for connection. The inability to change (or be changed is a better way to say it) is an illusion of this fallen world. The truth is that you are known individually by God. He loves you and seeks "that He may exalt you in due time" (1 Peter 5:6). Not that He does the exalting. That isn't something we are capable of doing ourselves. As we continue to hide in our faulty beliefs, Satan laughs in our faces.
Shame is doused by connection.
I am beginning to put the pieces together as to why Satan would seek us to stay in shame! Not only individually, but also collectively at this important time of earth's history.
It takes courage to share. There is fear in allowing vulnerability. We are taking a risk in exposing our weakness. Maybe it will back fire. Maybe we will not be received well. This can be especially fearful if attempts to open in the past have been met with negativity.
BUT what if we were met with love and understanding?
The opposite of shame is empathy. Empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy is "I am sorry for you." Empathy is "I am sorry with you." There is a misconception that we must have common experience in order to have empathy. Not so. As we look at the feelings underneath the experience, we can find empathy. Maybe I don't know what it is like to have a parent die, but I do know what loss and sadness feel like.
Most people are not naturally empathetic. These are skills we must seek to develop. Our natural tendency is to blame. We want to hold someone accountable. Maybe hearing someone's shame evokes shame in us. Another person's shame can bring our own unresolved trauma to the surface. (Check out my post on triggers and trauma) That can be painful and we may find ourselves unable to hold the hurt for that person. Sometimes we may end up "one-upping" as we call it at our house. "You broke your leg, but at least you aren't like my sister's aunt's dog who broke both her legs and pelvis." etc. When we blame or bring our own hurt out we are not in empathy. Empathy is touching that part in ourselves that knows the shame. It is sitting in the darkness with that person because we know our own darkness well.
Jesus Christ is the perfect example of empathy. Alma 7: 11 & 12 "And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities."
We must seek to come out of hiding from God through Jesus Christ. We need to get to the point that we too can say, "thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonour: mine adversaries are all before thee" (Psalms 69:19). Remember, He can (and does) hear our prayers. Approach Him in mighty prayer. Lay it all out. Just like the irony of Adam & Eve seeking to hide their nakedness from Him, He already knows it. He wants us to open our hearts to Him. We will be met with empathy and mercy. His message is of unity. He wants us to become one with Him (Mosiah 15:1-4). Satan seeks to isolate us through shame. He helps us to love ourselves. Loving ourselves includes all of ourselves. Even the seemingly ugly parts. Even the parts we wish weren't there. As we go through the purging to have Godly love for ourselves, we are filled with charity and able to love others. To sit in shame with them, seeing it clearly without judgement of them or ourselves.
Similarly, Satan is full-on attacking families. We must seek to connect with our spouse and children---to become one with them. I know well that it can be more difficult than it seems by me writing that here, but it is what He would have us do. The secrecy of shame is what feeds addictions and keep them thriving. Shame is associated with the faulty core beliefs that created the addictions in the first place.
As we have the courage to share, the compassion to listen, and learn to meet shame with empathy, we are becoming united. We cannot continue to hold secrets as individuals or families. He needs us to clear out the grudges, the anger, the hate, the trauma, the shame. When we do, a place is carved out to hold the unity, the joy, the peace, the love. As He cleanses us from the ungodly, we become like Him. That process starts with us working with God on our mess first.
God is building Zion one heart at a time. One couple at a time. One family at a time. This spreads to our communities and ripples out until the message has been carried to all. It is time to throw down the isolating walls created by shame and start by letting Him in. It is time to step into the light and find the joy He intends for His children---the joy that doesn't have to wait until later.
These are the lyrics from the closing song the choir sang at our Stake Conference Sunday. It is powerful!
Make us One by Sally Deford
How shall we stand amid uncertainty?
Where is our comfort in travail?
How shall we walk amid infirmity,
When feeble limbs are worn and frail?
And as we pass through mortal sorrow,
How shall our hearts abide the day?
Where is the strength the soul may borrow?
Teach us thy way.
Make us one, that our burdens may be light
Make us one as we seek eternal life
Unite our hands to serve thy children well
Unite us in obedience to thy will.
Make us one! teach us, Lord, to be
Of one faith, of one heart
One in thee.
Then shall our souls be filled with charity,
Then shall all hate and anger cease
And though we strive amid adversity,
Yet shall we find thy perfect peace
So shall we stand despite our weakness,
So shall our strength be strength enough
We bring our hearts to thee in meekness;
Lord, wilt thou bind them in thy love?
Take from me this heart of stone,
And make it flesh even as thine own
Take from me unfeeling pride;
Teach me compassion; cast my fear aside.
Give us one heart, give us one mind
Lord, make us thine
Oh, make us thine!
Check out this TED talk by Berne Brown on shame. She also has some really great books she has written covering this topic.