This morning I did something really stupid. I overturned an entire Yeti tumbler of Diet Coke on our family room carpet. And immediately I heard the voices of my parents…
“What’d you do that for?”
“You jerk, you should be more careful!”
“Just move–get out of the way, I’ll clean it up myself.”
Yep, those were words I often heard as a kid. And look, I’m not a kid anymore; I’m 65 years old. My parents are dead. But those wounding words echoed in my head this morning as I rushed to get towels and wipe up the mess I’d made.
It was quite a revelation, hearing those voices again. And it made me think: No wonder! No wonder I feel ashamed and incompetent so often. No wonder, when I make a mistake or feel that I underperformed, I beat myself to a pulp. No wonder I feel intimidated by older, powerful people.
My parents did not hit me (well, Dad did once). But they shamed me. A lot. Shame was the sharpest tool in their parenting kit. And to this day I haven’t been able to shake it. I know God loves me. I have friends who love me. I often get affirmation and praise. But shame, like a 100-lb. medicine ball, weighs me down and keeps me from running with joy and abandon.
Here’s what shame feels like:
- Hating yourself
- Second-guessing your decisions and opinions
- Feeling you’re never enough
- Being skeptical of compliments
- Apologizing for things that aren’t your fault
- Taking responsibility for others’ comfort and happiness
- Refusing to forgive yourself
- Regretting the past
- Doubting the love and grace of God
You’ve just read a description of my medicine ball.
Remember my first sentence?– “This morning I did something really stupid.” There’s that voice again. But come on. Is spilling a Diet Coke “really stupid”? It was just an accident. It’s not a big deal. But when I was growing up, spilling things was a big deal. So was not perfectly mowing the lawn, slouching in my chair, having acne, stating my opinion, or talking about sex. During my childhood I learned that such things are not just unfortunate or inadvisable, but shameful. Bad.
Chuck DeGroat, in his book Toughest People to Love, says that we all drag a long, invisible bag behind us. As we grow up, we put things in that bag that we don’t want the world to see, things that our family, friends, or culture think are unacceptable. I remember the night I disagreed with my mother. I said she was crazy. You would have thought that I had just blasphemed the Holy Spirit. “Michael!” my dad shouted. He shamed me for voicing a counter opinion and (jokingly) calling my own mother crazy. That night something happened. I decided I was bad for thinking for myself. I felt ashamed for daring to disagree with an authority figure. So I pulled out my invisible bag and stuffed my bold dare into it. Throughout my childhood and into my teen years, I stuffed a lot of things into that bag. And it really wasn’t until my late 40s or early 50s that I began to reveal parts of my hidden self to other people.
While it hurts to revisit my past like this, it gives me understanding. It helps me understand why I do the things I do and feel the things I feel. And it helps me understand other people too. Because they are carrying around medicine balls of their own. Everybody has wounds no one else sees and hears voices no one else hears. Everybody drags a bag. Shame has dogged us ever since Adam and Eve hid in the Garden of Eden.
To battle shame we have to believe the other Voice. We have to believe the Word that says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (Isaiah 43:1, Romans 8:1, 1 John 3:1).
That’s the Voice of love. Listen to it, over and over again, and let go of the medicine ball of shame.