Thursday, October 17, 2013

What is it about Shame, Acceptance, and Self-Perception?

It was a small incident compared to some things, but it had given me a negative message. My pastor called me into his office to talk about something. I had no idea what was up. It sounded like I was in trouble. I was nervous. My mother came with me, she had taken the call and seemed to think it was something not good. I suppose he asked her to come with me. I was in my early twenties, a first-year teacher. My infraction? "That dress you wore last week when you sang your solo in church was way out of line, way too short!" My pastor looked up from behind his desk, his eyes piercing me, waiting for me to speak. I couldn't say anything. I was surprised by his words. I began to cry.  Inside I felt humiliated, especially now as a school teacher in a Christian school and graduate from a Christian college.  It was like I had no standing or reputation with him. On the way home I rehashed my reaction, embarrassed by how I'd responded by crying like a school girl instead of being collected. Always a good-girl, it was the first time ever for me to be called on the carpet for something. I didn't even think was quite true, my dress was knee length. Yet, I respected his position and authority, keeping my upset feelings to myself. I had a lot to learn. 

I recalled that event while I was washing dishes and preparing a meal for luncheon guests earlier today. As I thought about it and my inward reaction, that unpleasant unworthy feeling, I understood it's meaning for what it was, like a light bulb turning on, what that emotion had been that had transmitted a negative feeling into my psyche. I felt "shamed," and that it was an undeserved scolding, an unnecessary confrontation.  The dress that had gotten me into trouble had been a favorite of mine, a jersey print of turquoise, looking great with my bronzed tan. I'd sewn the dress myself. Thinking back on it, quite possibly if my pastor had approached it from a different angle it wouldn't have been so humiliating or embarrassing to me. We know someone cares when they care. It was the only time while under his ministry that he ever talked to me in a one-to-one conversation other than a greeting. If you can call that a conversation. A positive context would have balanced and evened it out.

As a teacher, I've seen many children shamed by teachers, principals, and parents. I've even had to take action when I've seen it go too far, over the top with the punishments and demeaning actions of an adult to a child, that of a bully with the cornered defenseless weaker subject. One year I took it to the top, to the superintendent, wondering if I was witnessing emotional abuse on my school campus. I spoke up for the children, fearing job repercussions. After much inner debate, doing it anyway. Why? Someone had to--children were not being treated with dignity and respect--I had wondered who would do something about it, and that someone ended up being me. Un-pleasable out-of-line adults can destroy self-concepts quick-like in public shamings. I figured I was seeing this adult as someone who once was shamed by the demons in her past. I'm glad to say, my actions did make a difference. This adult began to manage her behavior with a less-aggressive attitude toward the students. I assumed that the-powers-that-be had a talk with her. Everyone on campus noticed a difference.

When my pastor called me in, I felt like a little kid going to the principal's office. After hearing my misdeed, it felt like I wasn't spiritual enough. Outward conformity to a set of rules was how the people in that church were judged, a formula that we adhered to in order to participate in the spiritual realm (I'm not speaking of moral or biblical mandates). Today such thinking is still happening in many churches, schools, and homes. Many times I find myself redirecting a conversation when I see the darts being thrown at the absent person, the one who is being disapproved of in some way. I saw it last week in two conversations with people who are dear Christians.  They are unaware of their attitudes, the lack of true love and acceptance. The performance checklist that keeps track of behaviors. The link of "performance" to "spirituality" is often a "log" in the eye. This should not be. Sometimes I find myself doing it as well. My thinking darts tend to be thrown at the self-righteous who are so rigid that they forget to love unconditionally, keeping score, ignoring that it really is God who does the work in another's spiritual life, that we are called to be faithful to the task. This pious attitude irks me. But, it isn't right either. Love, true love, has acceptance and caring in its base. Standards do matter, holiness is to be desired and lived out, but God is the one who is the righteous judge. We are the servants, the proclaimers of the message, the believers in the truth that sets men and women free.

How does it happen? The list is long and hurtful. We've all felt some of these.
Pain . Shame . Dislike . Guilt . Hurt . Sorrow . Unfair treatment . Put-downs . Mistreatment . Harsh words . Abuse . Anger . Unloved . Unwanted . Neglect . Ignored . Bullied . Conflicts . distance . criticisms . disrespect . ???
NEGATIVE SELF PERCEPTION=>not good enough, faulty, unworthy, deficient, undesirable

~Feelings of being unwanted and unloved are a destructive force within the heart and soul of a person. 
~Feelings of being unaccepted and excluded are a destructive force within the heart and soul of a person.
Approval and acceptance for who and what we are is essential in creating a dynamic that asserts value to our person. Last Sunday in my church, a man who is thirty years of age, spoke about his childhood. He was raised in a city that has a negative reputation. His first time in trouble was when he harmed another child when he was a third-grader. As the years progressed, he became more and more violent, getting expelled from school. When he was in high school, two different adults took an interest in him. Because of them, he started seeing himself differently, seeing that he had worth and value, that he could have a future. During his junior year in high school, he gave his life to the Lord. The change was dramatic. He was brought into the admin office. They asked him what had happened, what had made him change so much. He said that he now had God in his life. The school asked him to share what had changed his life before three thousand public school students. He said he probably wouldn't have changed if someone hadn't seen his potential and valued him for who he was, seeing who he was and could be rather than his violent ways. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found. T'was blind but now I see.

Our emotional life needs the positive energy that comes from being valued. If it is lacking, there is little reason to go on. Life is too hard without the sense of worth. So often, people who have messed up will turn around when given a reason from someone else who sees their potential. Sometimes it wasn't much but it was enough. I've read the stories. To God, we ALL are of GREAT value. We were worth His son coming to earth to provide a way of salvation for all who believe.
Hope . Love . Acceptance . Health . Fair treatment . Built-up . Good treatment . Kind words . Courtesy . Calm . Wanted . Cared for . Listened to . Inclusion . Peace . Liked . Resolution . Cherished . Honored . ???
POSITIVE SELF PERCEPTION=>good enough, acceptable, worthy, capable, desirable

~Feelings of being wanted and loved are a positive force within the heart and soul of a person.
~Feelings of being accepted and included are a positive force within the heart and soul of a person.
There are some people in my life who approve of me. They are the ones I go to when I'm down. Why? They love me unconditionally. I don't have to perform for them. They like me for me even when I fail or do things in a different way than they do. And, it's enough. I want my children and grandchildren to know I love them this way. It can be hard with family. There is an expectation-factor. In Christian families it can be quite pronounced. So, family members who are struggling in some way tend to hide who they really are because it is easier than disappointing their parents and feeling the disapproval. It's painful. I understand the hidden expectation. As a parent, I have them, and they mean a lot to me. BUT.  I must put my hopes, wishes, and performance expectations aside when it comes to deep down really really caring and loving without conditions, caring about the person more than the deed. I don't want my family to think that they must earn my affection. My personal pride can't or shouldn't be tied to their performance. They already know what I think anyway. Is it easy? No. It's not. Barriers or conditions prevent open honesty.

The other day I saw a man  around my age walking with his father in a store parking lot. His father was telling this man how he needed to park his car a certain way, his voice had that solicitous patient sound like you use with a little kid when they should be paying attention. I found myself feeling sorry for the son, that as a grown man he is not given the respect he deserves by a father who has failed to bring the dignity of adulthood into the conversation, a lack of equality in the relationship. Sometimes, it is as simple as not giving your opinion when it's not solicited. I have learned to pray instead of preach. To love instead of condemn. To acknowledge my stuff instead of acting like I'm perfect. When God provides the opportunities, I jump in and speak because I know He provided them. There is a big difference between the two. Much more gets accomplished when I do it God's way.

Look for ways to transmit positives into other lives. When you see pain in someone's life, be there for them. Help if you can. Even those in error need to be listened to without being argued under the table. Silence is often a greater communicator than unwelcome advice.
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Written in connection with, "When a Woman Finds Her Voice," by JoAnn Fore

Available for purchase:  Amazon Book Link is HERE

#When a Woman Finds Her Voice
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  1. Bless you for sharing this. The shame of being shamed is that it can come with us, unwanted baggage, for years and years. And the habit of shaming can also carry forward when people believe it is their right and duty to do it. Thankful for grace and for your words. What a blessing.

  2. Thank you, Norma. As we share our shame with oneanother, He heals us!