The Problem with Toxic Shame
In His goodness, God has turned the shame I carried all my life into His fame. He has made me into a survivor with a purpose: to let men and women everywhere know that no matter what they have gone through, healing is available and possible to all God’s children. I can finally say that I’m thankful for my scars.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. It took me years to understand and realize how shame was hijacking my happiness and stealing my joy.
Jesus invites you to bring the things you are most ashamed of into His healing light and His love. He gave this power to His priests through His church in the sacrament of confession (Jn 20:23). Jesus is longing to show you His merciful love, especially in those dark places where shame has taken root.
As a trauma survivor, the biggest problem I see with this type of toxic shame, is that most of us don’t know that it doesn’t come from God. Shame comes from the evil one, who hates all God’s children and would do just about anything to keep us away from God, and from experiencing His love and mercy.
Guilt versus Shame
There’s also a big misunderstanding that needs to be clarified: The belief that guilt and shame are one in the same. The biggest difference is that guilt needs to be forgiven and shame needs to be healed.
The first, from God, is guilt. Guilt is remorse for having committed some offense or wrong, real or imagined. Guilt is able to separate the act from the person. We shouldn't feel any less of a person for sinning, for we know that we are imperfect. We are weak and in need of God’s grace to avoid sin.
The second, which is so often confused with guilt, is shame. Shame has its roots in Satan, for he was the one who first tempted our first parents to sin and till this day he continues to shame us everytime we sin. Shame tells us we are unforgivable and unlovable. Shame also tells us everyone would be ashamed of us if they knew of our deep wounds from sin. Shame makes us hide not only from God but also from our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Destruction Caused by Shame
Shame is a powerful, sometimes debilitating emotion that can cause us to withdraw from others. From my own experience, shame is what kept me from talking about the abuse I suffered as a little girl and finding the help I so desperately needed.
Shame is also what led me to believe that God didn’t love me and that I would never find happiness. This belief led me to think that I didn’t deserve to be happy. In my late twenties is when I finally began to realize how I was sabotaging my own happiness by being drawn to people who would hurt me. Does that sound familiar?
Most of us have been deeply scarred by shame. Some more than others. Shame can also lead to some devastating self-destructive behavior, such as self pity, self-hatred, lack of self-confidence and so on.
This toxic shame becomes the lies we carry around with us everywhere we go, and it creeps into every relationship we have with other people. And consequently, these lies become chains. These chains can then separate us from the love of Christ.
Christ Can Heal His Children
The good news is that with God’s grace we can learn how to let go of this type of toxic shame. Our God is a God of restoration and He desires to show us how to replace these lies of shame with His truth and mercy. All we need is to sincerely turn to him in prayer.
How do we get these truths to go from our heads to our hearts? As with everything we look to Scripture for our answer. The apostle Paul talks a lot about the power of prayer, and in Ephesians 1:17 he says that he prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.”
The spirit of wisdom is one that gives us insight. The gift of revelation will help you see like never before- the truth will be unveiled.
By praying that God give us the gift of wisdom and revelation, we are essentially asking God that all His truth about who He is, and who we are in relation to Him, will move from our heads and into our hearts. Be patient with yourself, since this will most likely take time and practice.
Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39).
Our wounds and past sins do not separate us from the love God the Father has for us. But, if we allow it, our past can become huge obstacles in us loving Him.
Once you welcome God into those deep wounds and ask Him to remove the toxic shame you have been carrying, you will then begin to feel free to accept the love He has for you, and accept His merciful healing.
At this point shame will no longer have a hold on you and keep you captive.
I don’t pretend to know what type of shame you are holding on to. One thing I know for sure is that you matter. Your story matters. Your wounds matter. God wants to come into those places in your heart that shame has taken root and uproot those nasty lies caused by shame.
It is helpful to remember that sometimes our hearts are broken by sinning against our Lord, ourselves, and others. In His endless mercy and through the sacrament of confession, the good Lord brings forgiveness to our broken hearts.
Open your hearts wide and be ready to receive it!
Dear Lord, teach me how to let go of any toxic shame I have been holding on to. Help me to trust in your endless love and mercy. Amen