We feel shame when our longings surface and we are failed or we fail...condemning our own soul for being so foolish as to hope, want, or risk. –Dr. Dan B. Allender*Shame is heavy baggage that those who were sexually abused as children carry. Even though as adults we can acknowledge that we were sinned against, we continue to carry the shame, the child inside unconvinced that she was not somehow responsible. We wanted affection, closeness, emotional intimacy, love. Instead we got a monstrous wound that resurfaces whenever our legitimate longings dare to rise to consciousness.
The fear [of shame] is greater than simply losing relationship. It is the terror that if our dark soul is discovered, we will never be enjoyed nor desired, nor pursued by anyone.
The terror is real. It shapes all our interactions and is compounded by the hidden sins we have committed (not just those done against us) in an effort to meet our longings in ways that have not included God. For too long I have been controlled by this terror.
Shame is an excellent path to exposing how we really feel about ourselves, what we demand of ourselves and others, and where we believe life can be found. It unearths the strategies we use to deal with a world that is not under our control....
Trust is a giving of our soul to another with the hope that we will not be harmfully used. Such trust invests in another the power to determine whether or not we are acceptable and desirable. When trust...is absent, shame is usually not experienced, even with exposure of our dignity or depravity....
For example, I likely would not feel shame when I am caught performing a vulgar act, unless I cared about your opinion of me....Shame is experienced before the one I’ve entitled or given the right to judge me....To give that privilege—in essence, the opportunity to bestow or retract life—to anyone other than God is idolatry.Shame is based on me trusting someone else to affirm me, to declare me acceptable, desirable, loveable. To whom do I give that power? From where am I searching for life? For too long, I have sought that life and given that power to nearly anyone and everyone who crossed my path. I want to change but old habits and ways of thinking are hard to shift. Fear and terror are hard to shrug off. “Longings that are raw and exposed make a person feel naked and shamefully alone.” And so I have hidden, projecting (not always consciously) an image of myself that fits what I believe is expected or wanted.
The message was clear: ‘I’ve been violated once, and I will never again feel myself lose control. I will never feel that powerless again in the presence of another person.’I have recently begun to realize that I have erected huge barriers of self-protection—probably in an attempt to hide my longings and vulnerability and to hang onto control of a world that threatens to destroy me—at least in my mind. These barriers were likely begun unconsciously in a time I don’t remember and strengthened with each wound that followed until now they are so high and so thick I don’t know how to dismantle them. They have become false gods.
Central to a false god is the assurance that we will be protected by their ministrations, and when they fail us or we perceive that we have disappointed them, the combined shame of rebellious independence and naked aloneness floods our soul.I felt that naked aloneness yesterday in a social setting where there were a few people I know and many I don’t. Afraid that I would cry and someone would notice, I fled the building.
Allender says that many men become risk takers in an effort to deflect any perception of powerlessness—to themselves or others. Is that why I take risks? Is it a way to build my bravado and hide my vulnerability? Is it a false way of proving to myself that I’m not afraid? There was a time when I believed I had no fear. God has been pulling me out of that self-delusion.
Trust involves relying on [God] for what is most essential to our being: the intactness of our soul. A return to the Father ensures that no one can shame or disgrace or possess our soul...no matter what is done to our body, reputation, or temporal security.God, I’m learning to trust you but there is still so much I clutch to in self-protection instead of letting go and trusting you to keep me safe. I have doubted your ability to do that, haven’t I God? And still I doubt. Still I fear the darkness of the chasm that threatens to swallow me if I do let go. My fingers seem locked, unwilling to be released. I huddle and cower, scared to death to reach for the very thing I’ve asked for for so long. Help me God! I cannot do this.
*All quotes from Dr. Dan B. Allender in The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse. NavPress: Colorado Springs. (1995). pages 60-75.