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Tuesday, January 4, 2011
This is part 6 in a series on the effects of shame on marital intimacy. Go back here to start at the beginning of the series.

By now you are hopefully pretty much getting the picture that shame runs in direct opposition to intimacy. It blocks intimacy because it prevents you from experience the joy of being completely known and yet totally loved.

Today I’m going to touch on another shame generator that is quite common: failure. As humans we have an amazing propensity to screw things up. I’ve done more than my share. It’s just part of the human condition. Failure can come in many forms, and some people are more prone to shame over certain kinds of failures than others.

Consider some of these:
  • Financial mistakes involving loss of money, home or financial stability
  • Career mistakes, which may even result in loss of employment
  • Moral mistakes, one aspect of which I discussed in my previous post on Sexual Shame but which certainly are not limited to that
  • Relational mistakes, causing pain or anguish to others, either intentionally or not

In general I think men are more apt to experience shame over financial and career failures due to their inherent need to be a good provider. Women, in general, are more likely to feel shame over mistakes that involve hurting other people (and/or being hurt by them). Of course, these are generalities. Don’t quibble, because it’s not really my point.


It Starts with Forgiveness

Regardless of the source, the key to getting past shame from past (or present) failures is forgiveness.

Coincidently, Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs (of Love and Respect notoriety) posted today about the importance of forgiveness in halting what he calls the Crazy Cycle, a downward spiral that puts you on what I call The Path of Separation, the opposite of The Path of Intimacy. For the most part he addresses forgiving your spouse for past hurts, despite feeling entitled to hold onto the hurt.

If your mistakes have hurt your spouse, your marriage or your family, it is important o seek forgiveness from them. Admission of wrongdoing is the start to repairing any damage to the relationship.  Although receiving the forgiveness of your spouse is very helpful in getting past shame, don’t let your progress toward overcoming shame be totally dependent upon the reaction of your spouse. There is another, more important component.

Forgive Yourself

If you can’t forgive yourself, you can’t really give yourself. What I mean by that is that if you remain trapped in guilt and shame over your mistakes, you will not be able to fully give yourself to another, specifically to your spouse, in the way that God calls us to give ourselves. You will feel that what you have to give isn’t worth giving, and you will be tempted either to hide yourself or to fake it by being something else other that what you think you are. That is not a very good formula for intimacy.

Grace is nothing more than unmerited forgiveness, love and blessing. We have in Jesus an unlimited supply of grace when we mess things up. God’s love for us is as unconditional as it is unmerited. He is neither surprised nor shocked by our mistakes. I’m not saying mistakes and sin don’t matter. What I’m saying is that these thing in no way affect the love and acceptance God lavishes upon us. It is his nature. He can’t help it.That's what Jesus died for.

What you may need in order to forgive yourself is simply to see yourself and your mistakes from God’s perspective. Have the same measure of grace toward your self as God has toward you.

Accept Yourself

The next step after forgiving yourself is accepting your self. I posted last time about how acceptance is the necessary foundation for any meaningful change. You can’t be very effective at making changes in your life if you make them from the place of shame and guilt.

Instead, accept yourself for who you really are – who God created you to be. Don’t let your mistakes and missteps define you. That’s not who you are and not you are intended to be. Accept that mistakes are a part of living in a fallen creation, but also accept that you can recover from any circumstance and that God can use all things for good.

Love Yourself

Next, move beyond merely accepting yourself to truly loving yourself. Now, I’m not talking about conceit or vanity. I’m talking about soberly saying to your self, “I am loved, and I am worth loving.” God made you so he could love you, so by definition the fact that you exist means that you are worth loving. Discover and embrace the knowledge that you are worth loving because God says so.

It is true that as long as you don’t love yourself, you will put a low ceiling on how much you can love others.

Give Yourself

Lastly, and most importantly, toward the goal of attaining intimacy, give yourself. Embrace your imperfection and acknowledge your mistakes, but don’t let that keep you from letting your spouse in or from giving your true self to your spouse. Intimacy is all about being fully seen, totally naked if you will, but without shame. Especially in the swirl that can follow from serious screw ups, giving your self can feel very vulnerable. But it is the thing that can propel your marriage forward more than anything else.


So the next time you are overwhelmed with shame from something you’ve done wrong follow these steps to get back the intimacy you may have lost.

Forgive yourself – Accept yourself – Love yourself – Give yourself


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