by Heather Bock
After you’ve done something wrong, and you’ve asked and gained forgiveness, do you still feel the shame of the wrongdoing brooding over you? Do you let it linger there for days, weeks, or maybe even years? Do you carry body shame with you, maybe feeling relief when winter with its ample clothes arrives? Do you deal with shame that someone else’s sin has caused that you just can’t seem to shake?
Heather Davis Nelson, author of Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame, believes that all of us deal with some level of shame in some area even though most of us don’t talk about it. However, if we are Christians, we don’t need to carry that shame anymore. Jesus has already taken our shame (Heb. 12:2).
Sometimes I have trouble differentiating between guilt and shame. Nelson addresses this in the book, explaining the difference by saying, “Guilt is associated with actions while shame taints your entire identity” (21). Her mentor, Brené Brown puts it this way: “Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad” (21). Nelson explains that as we journey out of shame, we need to separate these two. For example, “When I feel shame for getting impatient with my husband, it masks the guilt that rightly says I need forgiveness” (102). Once we do repent and obtain forgiveness from God and the person wronged, “shame would insist that I continue to berate myself with the lies that I’m a bad wife for being impatient; that this is how I’ll always be; that one day my husband will get fed up and stop loving me; that God himself is tired of forgiving me” (102).
I can relate to this. My husband is a gracious, forgiving man, and whenever I wrong him, I almost want him to get back at me in some way because of the shame I feel. When he doesn’t, as he almost never does, I berate myself inwardly and sometimes punish myself in one way or another. I do the same with God’s forgiveness.
Shame can come from yourself, but Nelson points out it often comes from how we think others judge us. Body shame (feeling ashamed about imperfections in our bodies) in particular stems from this, but social shame (feeling ridiculed and excluded) and performance shame (feeling our worth is tied to what we do) focuses outward, too. Yet, as she says, “even if [others’] thoughts of us were as condemning as we fear, we are living for the wrong audience” (111). God should be our only audience that counts, and Romans 8:31-35 makes it clear that He is for us, and no one else can condemn us.
What I love about this book is that Nelson calls us to be courageous and speak about our shame with safe people. The more we talk about our failures and struggles with shame in our small groups, community groups, and churches, the more others will feel welcome and understood. Groups will become true community, and we will stop pretending we have it all together. If we’re committed to listen to others’ stories with empathy, we will show grace to each other. All of this is exactly what shamed people need for healing. I find it to be very hard to open up about shame because there are people who will reject you for it, but I believe the positive outcomes far outweigh the scary negative.
The most challenging part of this book for me was the chapter about how to parent my children without giving shame. I have been repeatedly guilty of this, especially in how I respond to my kids when I’m upset or angry at them. Nelson gives what she calls “shame-resilient” words to replace the “shame-laden” ones I sometimes use. For example, instead of, “Don’t you know better?” I can say, “It’s frustrating to me that you keep doing what I’ve asked you not to do. Why do you think that is?” Also, I’ve heard this before, but it was a good reminder to focus on and point out the positive attributes of my kids more than the negative behavior.
In addition, I can sometimes dismiss strong feelings when they seem too dramatic. However, doing that doesn’t make my child feel heard and instead can bring shame. What I need to do, according to Nelson, is listen and ask questions. I will probably have to stifle the eye rolling, too.
Although I don’t feel I struggle with a lot of shame at this point in my life, this straightforward book was helpful to me, and I know it would be much more so to someone dealing with this on a daily basis. I hope that anyone reading this book will be able to say, “Instead of shame and dishonor, [I] will enjoy a double share of honor” (Isa. 61:7).
If you’re interested in reading more about shame, I did a word study a while back about this very topic. You can find it in my post called From Shame to Joy.
I get to give away one copy of this book I’ve reviewed: Unashamed by Heather Davis Nelson! If you subscribe by email to my blog (upper right column), you will get one entry to the drawing for this book (don’t forget to check your email inbox/spam folder afterwards for verification). If you’re already a subscriber or just want more chances, you will get one entry each time you share this post via Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook. Just make sure to tag me so I know you’ve shared it. It’s a good book dealing with an important topic–I’m excited to give it away to one of you!