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Saturday, January 1, 2011
This is part 5 in a series on the effects of shame on marital intimacy. Go back here to start at the beginning of the series.

I have a few more shame sources that I’ll touch on in the last few posts of this series, but I wanted to pause today and talk about the role of shame in bringing about change in our lives. More to the point, I want to explain why shame is not a very good motivator for change.

Today is the day of new beginnings. The first day of the year. Time for a fresh start.

Did you resolve to make some changes in the coming year? If so, what was your motivation for making the change? It is an important question.

My nephew’s wife, Tovah, is a marriage and family therapist. When I read her recent blog post “New Years Resolution: Accept Everything Before You Change Anything.” I realized how important acceptance is in getting past shame and getting on to meaningful change in our lives. I really like what she had to say, so go check out her post.

Shame Motivation

The problem with shame as a motivator for change is that it keeps us trapped in our negative emotions and wrong way of thinking. Shame based motivation sounds like “I am such a bad person. I am so flawed and weak. I always ______ or I never ______. There must be something wrong with me.”

We convince ourselves that if we could just change that one thing about ourselves, then we would be acceptable. We imagine in this fantasy scenario that suddenly the clouds will part and all will be right with the world.

But it’s a lie.

The problem with believing this lie is that unless we get past the shame by believing that we are accepted and worthy of love just as we are, there will always be nagging fear and doubt hanging over our lives. We think that if we slip up (and we will) we will no longer be worthy of love; no longer be acceptable or accepted. Every mistake or misstep sends us right back into the pit of despair, filling us with self-loathing.

Further, as Dr. Brown posed in the video that started this series, when shame is at the core of our self concept, we will tend to act out in ways that mute our pain and hurt others. We will blame others for our own mistakes, we will pretend that our choices don’t impact those around us, we will struggle for control and certainty and put on masks in an attempt to hide who we really are. None of this behavior is a good formula for genuine change.

Acceptance Motivation

Starting down the path of change with acceptance rather than shame puts you way ahead of the game.

For Christians, this starts with the acceptance of God and the realization that he made us how we are and that loves us unconditionally. Accept that you are his creation, quirks and flaws and all, and that He is absolutely mad about you. He made you worth loving – he made you so he could love you, not so you would do something for him and conform to a list of behavioral expectations. And when we become Christ followers we can accept the forgiveness and perfect righteousness that is ours though Christ Jesus. We are a new creation.

And if we understand the bridal paradigm we know that the way Jesus loves and accepts us as his bride is the same way we are to love and accept one another. Does your spouse know that you love him or her unconditionally, just as Christ loves the church? Sure, it’s a tall order. Sometimes it feels impossible to love someone through their weakness, mistakes and flaws, but that is what we are called to do. The thing is, when your spouse feels your love and acceptance, you provide them with a much greater basis from which to try to change than if they feel the shame of your disapproval.

Real and Lasting Change

People fear an acceptance mentality (also called a grace mentality). They think that if people feel accepted then they will lose their motivation to change. It’s a fallacy. For all the reasons stated above, shame just is not a good foundation on which to build yourself into what and who you want to become.

Accepting your self in your current, albeit somewhat broken, condition, allows you to also feel the accepting grace of God, of your spouse and of others around you. Navigating your way forward is much easier with your head held up in confidence than bowed low in shame. Letting go of shame allows you to let your real self be seen, imperfections and all, no longer spending time and energy covering up, running away or hiding out.

So as you move into this New Year, resolutions and all, choose to lay aside shame and embrace the freedom, joy and peace that come from acceptance. You are worth it.

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