7 sneaky symptoms of shame

The more I study shame, the more convinced I become that basically everyone struggles with it.  And the more I study shame, the more apparent it becomes that while many of us have shame issues, very few of us are aware of that we have shame issues.

The nature of shame is that it longs to hide its nature.  Shame is ashamed of even itself. Very rarely does it make its presence known.  Instead, shame wraps itself up in other emotions, forcing you to play emotional Whac-A-Mole, keeping you engaged in a battle on one front while your opponent actually dwells somewhere else altogether.

But in Christ, we are promised deliverance once and for all from shame.  And that deliverance begins by standing so firmly in the security of the Gospel that we can admit it’s possible shame dwells in us. We are free to turn our hearts over and over, looking under every emotion to see if shame lurks beneath, knowing that wherever it is uncovered it will be greeted with grace and truth – not condemnation.

Here are seven places that shame likes to hide:

1. Anger

Anger is one of the clearest and most textbook coping mechanisms for deep shame.  Shame makes you feel small and vulnerable, so we make ourselves feel safe by flipping it into the empowering feeling of anger.  Consider your anger: is it triggered when you feel humiliated or belittled or disrespected? This might indicate a secondary response of anger or rage as a defense mechanism over a primary feeling of shame.

2. Embarrassment

I think one of the sneakiest things Satan has done is get us to start calling shame by other more ‘friendly’ names.  Exhibit A: embarrassment.

3. Humor in serious situations

This one hurt when I was learning about it. I’ve always thought this was a great quirk about me: my ability to make fun of myself in tough situations.  But turns out, it can often be a coping mechanism for shame.  Shame is terrified of vulnerability, and so if we are in a situation where our pain or hurt or struggle is visible, shame will convince us to cover up a little bit with humor or sarcasm.  That way we are able to share ourselves without really leaving the depths of our pain or need exposed.Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 11.49.26 AM

4. Shutting down

Your spouse gets home and they ask you about your day, and – even though just moments before they walked in you couldn’t wait to share what happened – now you feel your heart just shut down.  You find yourself answering their questions with monosyllabic words.  You want to respond to their touch, but you just can’t.

Where shame dwells, intimacy becomes impossible. Even though you want to be known and hunger for connection, shame steps in to protect you from vulnerability and potential for rejection by simply shutting you down.

5. Co-dependency/people-pleasing

I always thought that co-dependency would be easy and obvious to spot, but I tell you what – in the Church – it’s easy to confuse co-dependency with godliness.  Co-dependents are the people who always put others needs before their own, which sounds so great, except it’s fueled by a compulsion to put others needs before your own. Many who struggle with this don’t even feel their own needs or desires anymore.

Shame leads us to either lose sight of our own preferences, or belittle them so much that we start thinking they don’t matter and so it becomes easy to put others above our self.  Or, the soul infected with shame is so unsure of its worth (not having that matter settled between self and God) that it seeks to find value in being needed or serving others.

Want to know if this is you?  Is your service of others costly? If you recognize and value your own needs, then loving other will feel hard at times, like dying to self.  Do you feel less worthy if you are not ‘needed’?

6. Perfectionism

Shame is often a symptom of a worldview that bases your worth for love and acceptance in your a grid of works. It may be a grid of how good you are at teaching or how friendly you are to strangers or how honest you are, but if you break the grid, your worth is in jeopardy and if someone else breaks the grid you’re done with them: their worthiness is called into question.

7. Judgment of others/sense of superiority

I know it seems counter intuitive but shame often presents as an inflated sense of self.  Shame itself can be shameful, so people rewrite their identity in a way that erases it altogether.  Many of those who struggle with deep shame have over compensated. Watch your mind: is there any part of you that is putting others down mentally so that you can feel better/safer about your self?  Do you speak to yourself about your qualities and better-ness?  These things might be indicators of deep shame.

One thought on “7 sneaky symptoms of shame

  1. Great, very useful article! Especially the part about a mask of superiority covering up a deep sense of shame.

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