Trading Shame for Serenity

“Lay down your burden, lay down your shame. All who are broken lift up your face. Oh wanderer, come home. You’re not too far, so lay down your hurt, lay down your heart, come as you are.” David Crowder Band


Last we met here, we began an exploration into awareness of our shame. 

I mentioned a few of the defenses we have against shame, and encouraged the search to discover our sources of shame. It’s a process that takes a long time, oh-so-much patience and effort. I hope you are staying on the road to seek out how shame is affecting you. Whether we know it or not, it most likely is. 

How can I be so sure?

Because shame is a part of the human condition. It’s inescapable. It is a reality for each and every one of us. How much power it holds in our lives has much to do with our willingness to accept its place in us so we can begin to change it.

Today as I write to you on the topic of changing our shame, that is where I will start: acceptance. It seems counterintuitive to say that if you want to change something, you have to accept it for what it is, but hasn’t this always been true about change? How can we ever grow or learn if we don’t come to an acute awareness of exactly where we are?

Shame is powerful. It’s not something we can just wish or even will away. We cannot simply decide one day to toughen up and ban shame from having any power over us. Instead we must acknowledge that shame is a part of who we are rather than something to be hated or feared. The most effective, maybe only effective, way to change our shame is to make friends with it.

Talk about counter-intuitive! Who wants a friend named Shame?

Remember in grade school when that one kid started mistreating you? For the sake of example, I am going to assume that each and every one of us had a bully at some point in our lives. (If you were one of the lucky few, you surely knew of someone.) Maybe they stole your lunch money, or made a game of ridiculing you in front of everyone they could, or maybe they just quietly tormented you with hurtful words whenever the teacher wasn’t looking. What one thing do you think every bully has in common? You guessed it. Shame. They were mired in shame. Why do you think they had to treat you so badly? They were desperate to feel better or more powerful within themselves!

If you had any success dealing with your bully, I’d bet my lunch money that it had something to do with you trying to make peace by making a decision to respect that bully in some way. It was unlikely by giving in to his demands, but more likely, recognizing that you and him weren’t all that different. Respecting him as a part of the same human race as you, so that you could try to discover a way to love him, or at least to recognize that love was the biggest need in him, whether or not you could give it to him.

Like the bullies of our childhoods, shame is a bully. We can’t wish it away or will it away. We can’t treat it with hate or fear if we ever hope to gain any mastery over it. We have to make peace with its’ being a part of who we are and loving ourselves enough to give it its rightful place… and nothing more.

What is shame’s place in our lives?

Shame is a messenger. It’s trying to tell us that something is wrong. If we are feeling shame, it is because there is something wrong in our life that we need to change.

Richard Pfeiffer, M. Div, LMFT offers a five-step process to work toward changing our shame from painful to positive. These steps aren’t how-to’s of shame elimination. They are goals that aid us in creating positive change to counter shame’s effect on us.

1. Get help.

2. Challenge the shame.

3. Set positive goals based on our humanity, humility, autonomy and competence.

4. Take mental and physical action to move toward those goals.

5. Review progress regularly.

Get help.  Just as isolating ourselves is a common response to feeling shame that only perpetuates the shame cycle, choosing to reach out and stop trying to do life alone stops the shame cycle in its tracks.

The more you’ve felt shame, the more you’ve kept inside and to yourself. The more you open up and invite trustworthy people into your shame, the less power it will have over you. Choose wisely, not everyone can handle your shame responsibly.

Challenge the shame.  Using some of the steps we talked about in the last post to recognize the shame in our lives, we can take that new awareness and turn it in its head. When you recognize that you are believing one of shame’s lies (like you are not good enough) because of a past or current situation is trying to define you, stop and say, aloud if need be, that is not true and I will no longer believe it or live according to it. I will define who I am and treat myself with respect.

Set positive goals based on 4 core principles: humanity, humility, autonomy and competence.  This sounds lofty, but it’s really not. This is simply making a decision to view life through a different lens. Humanity—we are all in this thing called life together. Humility—we are all created equal and God sees us all the same because we are truly all the same at the core. Autonomy—you and I have power and responsibility to live our life as we choose. Competence—you are good enough and you can contribute to the world in whatever way you decide to do so.

Set some new relationship goals based on these core principles. Write them down and refer to them often. Watch how your life begins to change, and how shame loses its grip on you.

Take mental and physical action to move toward those goals.  Pfeiffer recommends actually taking a piece of paper for each of the four core principles. Write the principle at the top, such as Humanity. On one side list the things that cause you to struggle with this principle (not to shame yourself, but to make yourself aware), and then for each struggle, name a solution or two. Next, select one or two of these at a time to work on. Don’t try to change everything all at once.

Review progress regularly.  Refer back to these journals and see how you are progressing. Remember, practice makes progress, not perfection. No one ever attains perfection in anything on this earth. That’s what heaven is for. Until then, we take life one day at a time and take our next best step toward progress.

Making it Personal  Will you invest the time to take these steps for changing your shame? If so, you can ever so slowly-but-surely start watching your life change and shame dissipate.

You will need help along the way. That help is available through a prayerful connection to God. Here’s a powerful prayer. You have no doubt heard at least part of this prayer. Ironically, the parts you likely have not heard may contain the fuel you need to make the familiar refrains possible.

Will you join me in praying this prayer daily? And journaling to start taking power back from the shame that we’ve explored, so we can start changing our lives?

I wish you the very best. I hope you make the time to share here about how you are training shame for serenity in your life. Visit back here after you’be had some time to make this trade, and let us know about your victories.


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