Silencing the Voice of Shame
What voice speaks loudest in our lives? Have you ever heard that voice in your head say, “I don’t fit in, no one likes me, I’m not special, I’m not lovable, I’m not enough, I’m broken, I’m a mistake, I’m annoying?”
If your answer was yes to any of these, chances are the voice of shame has spoken in your life for a while. Shame is a core belief that we are unworthy. It says no matter who you are or what you do you will always be broken or worthless. Shame crushes us in an attempt to derail us from who God has called us to be and what he has called us to do. Shame is a struggle most of our youth feel today due to the comparison culture cultivated by their peers and social media. Shame can feel overpowering, crippling, and downright insurmountable. Couple it with a fear of failure and you’ve slowly concocted a recipe for perfectionism in its most toxic form. It can stop us in our tracks and make us afraid to move for fear of affirming what we're afraid of… that the shameful and negative thoughts about ourselves are true.
In my own life shame held me captive from experiencing and becoming who God truly intended for me to be. My goal as a student was to grow up and become a wealthy entrepreneur. Growing up in a trailer taught me that if I “hustled” enough and worked hard enough with perfection as my measuring stick that I would finally be enough. I measured this by the requirements of society’s definition of success: wealth, power, and position. Failure was not an option, to fail meant all those times I felt I was less than were true and confirmed. Shame seduces us by pushing us to pursue statuses in our lives that we think will help us.
Culture says you need to be thinner, smarter, wealthier, or even busier to be happy and content. We run after these things and avoid failure in our attempt to cultivate a sense of worthiness that only God can truly give us. In doing so, we miss the point, that there is beauty in our humanity and that God loved us and called us worthy long before we ever did anything. So, what is a person to do when, like myself, they achieve their goals at the age of 28, yet they still feel they aren’t enough? How does one pivot, and develop a new worldview and understanding of what truth is?
The answer for this comes in knowing the truth about God, our identity, and naming shame for what it is. There is power in naming something. Calling shame out as untruthful begins to cut shame off at the knees.
We need to teach and train youth to identify those shameful thoughts in their lives and combat them with the truth of what God says. Once you name something you can speak against it. This means affirming our identity in Christ and his grace and replacing unhealthy habits with new healthier ones. We were never called to be perfect; we were called to be who God created us to be. He knew our deficiencies, imperfections, and ability to fail long before he made us, and the bible says he loves us anyway.
Ephesians 2:10 says “It is by grace we are saved, and not ourselves, it is a gift of God so no one can boast.” That means we cannot earn worthiness, that we are worthy of God’s love by his grace and that’s enough. Teaching youth to accept and believe this is crucial. Accepting this encourages us to see failure and being human for what it is, an educating experience that grows us more into who God has created us to be. We also need to set boundaries for ourselves on what we let speak into our lives and embrace grace when it comes to how we approach life. Below are some steps to help your youth navigate how to combat shame in their lives but might also come in handy for your own life.
1.) We learn to identify and put down the voice of shame with the true loving words of God: This can be done by writing down all the times shame speaks into your life throughout the day and affirming the lies for what they are, lies. You combat shame with truth and grace for yourself, just as God does for us every day.
2.) Lean into vulnerability: shame loves secrecy. There is a saying “we are as sick as our secrets.” So, we need to remove that weapon from shame’s arsenal. This means being courageous and reaching out for connection and accountability when we are struggling. This can look like letting go of the constant need to feel perfect and admitting to safe people (those that want your best and love you) how you are feeling and asking for help. Connection comes through being raw, real, and authentic.
3.) Recognize your feelings: a lot of times the things we think are influenced by what we are feeling. Walking through this and asking, “What am I feeling?” will allow you to have grace and empathy for yourself. Connecting what you were thinking with what you are feeling encourages us to develop emotional intelligence and mindfulness that will let us recognize when we are leaning into shame, and instead turn toward healthier alternatives (truth, accountability, and asking for help).
4.) Give yourself the grace to be human: Take those thoughts captive by taking ownership of your mistakes and giving yourself the grace to be human. Understand that from God’s perspective you are loved, valued, and worthy as you are, not based on what you do. You do not need to be perfect. You must believe in unconditional love.
5.) Learn to listen for God’s whispers: Whether that’s a song, him speaking to you directly, or scripture. Learn to ask yourself, “What is true and what is God saying?” When God spoke to Elijah in 1st Kings 19, he spoke in a whisper., Only when Elijah was far from everyone, alone, and able to fully focus on God did he receive the answer he desperately needed. We need to practice taking time alone and away from everyone to listen for God’s promptings in our own lives.
6.) Approach life with positivity: Many times, when we are in a shame spiral it’s easy to only see the negative, and that’s where shame thrives. It isolates us and pushes the negative worldview. Instead be positive and take an inventory of all that you are grateful for, understand that God wants to dote on his kids, so be optimistic on all that he has done and will do.
As you and your youth take steps towards enacting grace, vulnerability and positivity in your own life, you will find that it won’t be long until shame has been brought into the light, combatted, and silenced as you lean into deeper healthier connection with Christ and others as we walk through this battle together in search of healing and wholeness.