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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I hope by now you’ve had a chance to listen to the great video by Dr. Brene Brown that I posted a few days ago.

One of the interesting conclusions she uncovered from her clinical qualitative research is that shame is essentially the fear of disconnection caused by a sense of unworthiness (“I am not ______ enough”). She further concludes that this fear creates in us unwillingness to be vulnerable, which meansbeing who we genuinely are, in an effort to gain acceptance. So we numb ourselves against vulnerability using a variety of anesthetics such as money, food, alcohol, promiscuity and other forms of “medication.” Further we act in ways that keep vulnerability and intimacy at a safe distance through blame, perfectionism, an pretense. But as we mute fear and shame with these things, we also mute joy, creativity and happiness. We kill any chance for genuine intimacy.

In the end shame, which is driven by our fear of disconnection, prevents us from experiencing the very intimacy we fear losing (or not getting in the first place). Shame is a dead end, guaranteed to leave you trapped in loneliness, without the genuine connection you long for. The ultimate conclusion I draw from this is that shame and intimacy simply cannot coexist.

For the most part I agree with her take on things; that is until it comes to her prescription. What she suggests is a humanistic solution: just believe in yourself and your own worth and muster the courage to be vulnerable and genuine. I suppose there are those who can overcome shame this way, but I believe there is a better way. It’s the way of encountering divine love and acceptance in God.

An Encounter with Love

Sadly, there are many who would resist this line of thinking, because unfortunately the church has often been one of the biggest purveyors of shame and fear. This wrong theology has promulgated a view of God as mostly mad, sad and frustrated instead of loving, passionate and full of zeal for us. The latter is the truth. The former is the deceit and accusation of the enemy.

I believe quite strongly that overcoming the shame that is blocking intimacy in your marriage needs to start with a revelation of the love of God for you (and consequently for your spouse). What I’m talking about goes way beyond a vague “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” kind of understanding. I’m talking about a personal and powerful revelation of just how deeply and endlessly Jesus loves you .

The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 3, explains that our journey into discovering “the length, height, width and depth” of the love of Christ is the key to a life of fullness. I agree! Get to know this unknowable love. Feeling the embrace of Jesus, his total acceptance of you, just as you are, is the beginning of overcoming shame and discovering the glory that you were made for.

Banishing Shame from Your Marriage

With a firm foundation of shame-free living before God, you can then turn toward your spouse and boldly be who you are, without shame and fear. This is what Dr. Brown calls being wholehearted, living with courage and compassion. It means being willing to love unconditionally, even without the guarantee of receiving the same kind of love and acceptance in return.

I know at least for me, this is the kind of love that I must first receive from God in order for me to give it to my wife.

I know getting past shame is a process and a life-long pursuit. We will fail and fall back into shame from time to time, both with God and with our spouses. Shame-free living doesn’t mean being perfect, it just means being willing to be real and honest with your mistakes, embracing forgiveness and being willing to stay vulnerable in the process. It means not disconnecting yourself from your spouse. It means being willing to admit that there are things you still need to work on, but not letting your imperfection keep you from intimacy.

In the next few posts I’m going to talk about some of the major sources of shame and discuss things couples can do to deal with them. Just know that in all of this the starting point in your battle with shame is a genuine revelation of the love and acceptance that is yours in Christ. If that isn’t something you feel you have a good handle on, I suggest you begin that journey first and pray for divine revelation in this realm. It is life changing!


GB said...

I just stumbled over the statement "This wrong theology has promulgated a view of God as mostly mad, sad and frustrated instead of loving, passionate and full of zeal for us."
As well as the danger of missing out on God's love for us, the flip-side of the coin is that we misunderstand how seriously God takes sin. Sin causes shame and wrecks intimacy. God hates sin: the Bible is clear about God's anger and I find it hard to think it doesn't make him sad. Fortunately he is never frustrated though! So I think that overcoming shame starts with revelation of the love of God followed by repentance. His initiative - our response.

Scott said...

Trying to avoid a deep theological discussion on the nature of grace and the efficacy of the cross, I'll just leave it at this. "It is his kindness that leads us to repentance." (Romans 2:4) not shame.

GB said...

Agreed. Romans 2:4 is a remarkable verse!
Thank you for taking the time to deal with these issues. They are so important and not addressed substantially by churches in my experience.

Anonymous said...

Don't know much about Christianity. From what I've experienced, it's all about shame and guilt.

Scott said...

Anon - you are not unique in having experienced the use of shame and guilt by some Christians. If you read what I wrote above, you'll know I don't agree with it.

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