Stories of shame: part 7/the shame spiral

stories of shame blog button (1)

{Part 7 of a 10-part series entitled, “stories of shame.” Read the rest here.}

I knew the risks for a recovering people-pleaser in publishing a book. And a book about shame of all topics. I wrote about it in the final paragraph of Unashamed:

This book is a fruit of my own journey away from shame into the freedom of being clothed in Christ’s beauty. I am a people-pleaser by nature and practice, and writing publicly terrifies me because of the fear of criticism and judgment. I want my words to be beautiful and perfect. And yet – like every other part of my life – they won’t be and they cannot be. It is in offering my imperfect thoughts that I am practicing my freedom. It is in offering some of my failures and imperfect portions of my story that I hope to encourage you to do the same. Above all else, it is my unshakeable hope in the power of Jesus Christ to heal shame at its source that emboldens me to risk. For if you begin to taste the freedom of the unashamed in even one relationship, it becomes a seed that can transform your community. We need more neighborhoods, churches, homes, and workplaces where we live unashamed and give others space to live unashamed as well. Let’s be part of the movement away from shame into freedom, honor, and glory.

As in so much of life, nothing can prepare you for what will be hardest ahead of you in your journey – even if you can see it coming, know it’s there, and have walked through something similar in the past. When I stumbled upon a couple less-than-stellar reviews in the past few weeks, I went into a bit of a shame spiral.

spiral-staircase

photo from Unsplash

  • I froze up initially. Meaning I physically froze. Time stopped. My morbid curiosity meant that I kept reading even when I knew it was a negative review. In that moment, everything else faded.

Curt Thompson in The Soul of Shame  describes the neurophysiological impact of experiencing shame: “…although the description of our experience of shame is often couched in words, its essence is first felt. Though I may say, ‘I should have been better at that’ or ‘I’m not good enough,’ the power of those moments lies in our emotional response to the evoking stimulus, be that a comment, a glance, or recollection of that day in third grade when your teacher pointed out in front of the rest of the class that you weren’t that bright. … A deep sense of self-consciousness emerges; cognition becomes fuzzy as our thoughts are disabled; words may be hard to find …; and the mind becomes caught in a vortex of images, sensations and thoughts that recycle and feed on each other at light speed, reinforcing the experience.” (pp. 24, 66)

  • I assumed my worst fears were realized. The mental soundtrack was like this: I’m a first-time author who doesn’t know what she’s talking about; I wasn’t honest/vulnerable enough in my book; I was too honest and vulnerable to be helpful; I’m not addressing a biblically nuanced view of shame.  And the list goes on from there.
  • I wanted to isolate and withdraw from community and relationship. Spending a day at home alone in my pjs became my definition of paradise.

Here’s the beautiful interruption to this shame spiral: It stopped there. I did something brave and risky – what I encourage my readers to do when experiencing shame: I talked about it. I started with my safest people: God, then my husband, and an email to a few close friends asking for their perspective.

What I didn’t do was to keep on reading and re-reading and analyzing the negative reviews. (I wanted to!) I shifted my focus. There was laundry to be done, so I threw myself into that task. I organized some long-unorganized corners of our home. I went for a walk. I read a good book. I played with my kids and read stories to them. I needed to shift my focus away from the shame to the many, many good gifts in my daily life that God’s given me. This helped tremendously.

Then, I took a bigger risk. I shared these experiences with a group of women who I trusted to be empathetic, truth-giving, and compassionate. I shared about the negative reviews in general terms. These women’s response brought even more healing. It wasn’t just what they said, but it was also the way they said it. They leaned in, listened closely, looked at me while they affirmed and encouraged God’s gift and calling he’s given to me of writing. One woman said, “I think that’s really brave of you to write – I couldn’t ever do it!” (And I would say the same thing about her in what she’s been facing lately in her life.)

And isn’t that the beauty of the community of Christ? We offer space, words, respect, affirmation, prayers, and “Jesus with skin on” to one another.

My final step for today is to write this post and to keep living my life with freedom and grace. To “stay in my lane” as Brené Brown says, referring to staying in your own lane when swimming in a race. She uses this phrase to remind us to focus on our path, our next steps, what’s ahead of us and in our lives, instead of anxiously looking around and/or getting worried that we’re not “swimming” [or working, writing, parenting, praying, cleaning, counseling, praying, etc] as well as the person next to us.

And Brown wasn’t the first one (although she is the most recent) to talk about focusing on running the race set before us. The author of Hebrews spoke about in decades ago when encouraging the new church:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 

Hebrews 12:1-3

What about you? How do you know you’re in a shame spiral, and what helps you to get out of it? 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Stories of shame: part 7/the shame spiral

  1. Writing publically always brings out my most deep insecurities. It’s a very personal and yet public exercise. It’s both healing and fuels my anxiety. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. I’m right there with you. What helps me is to just not read reviews or criticism until the newness and rawness of my writing has worn off. If I just published or wrote something I can’t read critique from the public. I limit input to only close friends and editors. It isn’t until later, until I am not as attached to it, that I can read public comments and reviews. That’s just a safe boundary that I put in place to keep me from spiraling into shame. It’s so tempting to want to read and eat up everything that everyone has to say about my writing. But it can be very damaging. Hang in there and just keep writing. You’re doing great.

  2. Leaving a community where I felt known and loved- and moving across the country to a new one has been bringing out my shame of being too much of a mess to be a “good christian” Which is something I’ve struggled with since high school. Reaching out to friends helped- but can I tell you- reading the chapter in your book on social shame helped me to refocus on Christ’s love for me and my belonging in His kingdom. I wrote down a passage in my journal and I go back and read it pretty much every time I come back from an interaction with a new social group. Thank you for being so real and vulnerable.

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