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Shame is the inability to tolerate being known. There is no end to being known. Every day is new. Every day brings more ways you can know and be known. This can be threatening to the person who feels shame intensely.
Shame results from becoming confused about the truth after lies are introduced into your mind. The lies provide an alternative to the truth and therefore an alternative to trusting God.
People who feel shame will instinctively hide: from themselves, from others, and from God. This is exactly what Adam and Eve did after they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They acquired a sense of their inadequacy because they could no longer believe God.
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the LORD God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the LORD God among the trees.Genesis 3:4-8 NLT
The opposite of hiding in shame is being authentic. Here are three practical ways to reverse the effects of shame.
Know Yourself to Overcome Shame
Before you can share yourself with others, you must first be willing to know yourself.
Being willing to be known is a discipline. Sometimes the cost of being known isn’t worth the reward. Hiding seems better than facing the humiliation of being known. There are times when you won’t be ready for the exposure. That’s okay for the moment.
However, the more you hide, the more you remain hidden even from yourself. It’s not that you’ve forgotten who you are, but more like you’ve never given yourself a chance to understand who you are.
But hiding in shame isn’t really an option for the Christian. God won’t let you hide forever. You are salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). He calls each of us out of hiding and into a relationship with Him, others, and ourselves.
The more you know the truth about yourself, the more you’ll know how you can contribute to others. You don’t always have to receive; eventually, you’ll know what you can give.
Study and Journal to Overcome Shame
If you struggle to tolerate being known, keeping a private journal is the least risky way to begin. Make time to write consistently. As you journal and reread your writing, you begin to see yourself from an outside perspective.
What should you write about? Read the Bible and other helpful materials that teach you who you are. Then write about what the truths stir up in your heart.
Share Yourself with Others to Overcome Shame
Choose a trusted person and begin to share verbally. Practice putting into words what you’re feeling inside, entrusting your private life to another. Receive their acceptance and care.
Remember that God is a person too. Pay attention to how He speaks to you whether directly or indirectly through others.
Share publically, but discriminantly. Share more with everyone you know. This doesn’t mean being an open book to everyone. Healthy people discriminate how much they share with each person. However, as you heal, you should be able to share more freely with more people.
Share Yourself with God to Overcome Shame
Some parts of ourselves only God knows. Can you completely put your inner feelings of shame into clear words for others to understand? Maybe. Can you receive the truth of who you are completely through words alone? Unlikely.
As you grow in being genuine with others, you grow in readiness to receive healing from God. His acceptance is the only true antidote to shame. He can address your shame at the core through a deeply spiritual, relational transaction. Essentially, God reveals who He is to you in order to cure your shame.
Shame is difficult to overcome. It’s easy to fear the unknown. And it’s ten times harder when that unknown is you.
Where are you on your journey to overcoming shame?
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.