You ever feel this way or is it just me? Maybe it seems like nothing you do will ever be enough. The tapes that play in your head say that if people REALLY knew what was going on inside you, they would lose respect for you. If they knew you ate that second donut after your spat with your husband, they’d think what a loser you were. If they heard your inside voice when that gorgeous woman showed up beside you at the store, then, whoa…
Maybe you keep trying to pretend you’ve got it all together, so that you can try to make everybody happy, including God, and you are exhausted, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
And for women, even more so, there is pressure to conform to a certain image, to look a certain way, to be a certain size, and to act a certain way. But deep down, we all know that we will never measure up, and so we try harder and harder to keep up the mask of what we think we should be. And in today’s world, women are celebrated for being confident, “take-charge” women, and so we hide our insecurities behind this “Wonder Woman” persona. I know I do. I even have a Wonder Woman cup to prove it.
But deep down, we know that we’re all just one step away from failure or being discovered as a fraud, and so we are filled with – actually, CONTROLLED by – hidden insecurity and fear. Some of you reading this do everything in your power to mask that insecurity, even from yourself. You deny it and even scoff at the idea that it could possibly affect you. You are Woman, hear me roar.
But I see it for what it is: it’s a mask – it’s your survival instincts to protect yourself. I see you.
EVERYONE struggles with this, because we live in a broken world that does not tell us of our infinite worth in God’s eyes, and in fact, does everything in its power to steal that from us. But because of our fear and insecurity, we learn early on to hide our vulnerabilities and fears. We deeply struggle with feelings of shame because we know our mess-ups and failures, and we are so afraid of rejection if others REALLY knew what was going on in our lives. And so we hide.
The age-old battle with shame. And the problem with shame is that it isolates, it makes us go underground, it keeps us hidden – and unfortunately, it prevents us from healing, from reaching out to others and God. It makes us feel all alone, like no one would ever understand the darkness in our hearts – if they REALLY knew me…
From the work that I do as a psychologist – and from my own personal experience – I am realizing more and more the devastating bondage of shame in our lives. I am also realizing that shame isn’t just about the awful feeling of failure because of our sins that hurt us or others – but that shame is based on the negative messages we get growing up – through abuse, abandonment, rejection, failure – that there is something WRONG with us, that we aren’t lovable, that it’s somehow always our fault because our personhood, our identities, are deeply flawed.
You feel worthless, YOU are bad and therefore without hope, since your shame becomes a part of WHO you are. You feel like you’re flawed, worthless, useless, so you need to hide who you are. But when I hide in shame, it keeps me from being known, from receiving the grace of God. Shame feels so bad that I feel I must work to earn others’ love and God’s.
Wrong behaviour can be confessed and forgiven. But shame is a root problem, hidden below the surface that bears the fruit of self-contempt. But because shame is so difficult to experience, many of us deny and push it aside rather than walk through the painful events that lead to our insecurities and current struggles.
I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned as a shame recoverer in the hopes that my experiences can encourage you and bring you a sense of hope in your own struggles. I’ve learnt that there are 3 important truths that are critical for you to know about yourself in your journey of healing.
First of all, you matter.
There is something within the heart of every one of us that longs for acceptance, approval and affirmation. This is a core need for all of us.
Instead, from birth, we are assaulted with hurtful experiences and wounding words that tear away at our sense of worth, or from emotional vacuums that fill us with emptiness and a sense of being forgotten. When affirmation and attention is given to us, it is usually in response to our accomplishments, or for being “good”, or for our external looks, so we learn from an early age the importance of performance and personal effort in receiving the love and affirmation we so desperately want.
And so we pour ourselves out in the different roles we play, while deep down feeling like we have no identity apart from what we do for others. Any of this sound familiar to any of you?
Lost in our secret fears and doubts — which we’ve all learned to cover up lest it leads to more rejection or judgement — we enter the world, only to be assaulted by the messages of our performance-based and success-driven culture. Perfectionism is at an all time high, as we struggle to measure up to some invisible standard of acceptability in the world’s eyes.
And so, we struggle with feeling like we are a failure, because we can’t seem to keep up with everyone else. Or we literally work ourselves to death to keep up, ending up with a host of physical, emotional and relational problems that we try to mask with medication, shopping, electronics or other distractions.
We are children of the Most High King – and yet many of us live as if we’re not. Or we believe that we have to EARN our place in his affection, and so we push ourselves and push ourselves in the mistaken belief that our efforts are what earn my identity as His child.
Well, Jesus wants to say to all of you today, “YOU MATTER”. You matter deeply to him. He came to this earth for YOU personally, and when he was dying on the cross, YOUR FACE was in his mind’s eye, your name was whispered under his breath. Can we choose to accept this truth about our worth to the Most High King?
The 2nd truth that is core to understanding and accepting our deep value as God’s children is, you make a difference.
When I was a child, my mother told me that I was an accident, that I was an unplanned pregnancy. She went on to tell me about the incredible stress she was under trying to raise my older two siblings and all that was going on in my family’s life at that time, and how she tried everything short of abortion to get rid of me. As an adult now, I can understand the strain that she must have been under to have felt so desperate, but as a child, that conversation marked me for life.
If my conception was an accident, then was my whole life an accident? Am I just here taking up space in this world? Does this mean that my life really doesn’t count for anything? Some of you may be feeling the same way if you’ve had similar messages of invalidation growing up. We may have drawn wrong conclusions about our lives based on our experiences, and the lies spoken over us.
You may feel like your life is just a blip in the radar screen of the universe, especially as your life today seems to be only about repetitive and meaningless tasks that seem so insignificant in the bigger picture. For others of you who are more on the introverted and shy side, you may feel like you tend to fade into the background when you’re in groups, and so you start to feel like you’re really kind of insignificant. Like, who are you that God could ever use you to do anything remarkable or impactful?
One of my greatest sorrows in working with people is to see how many of them fail to reach their God-given potential because they have listened to the lies of the enemy and don’t believe the truth about themselves. My heart breaks at the many lost opportunities for healing and change, as people hold back in fear, self-doubt and inability to give their pain to their Father and trust Him with their lives.
I wonder at our Father’s sorrow, too, as He watches his beloved children struggle because of believing lies. How His heart must break to see us move away from his purposes for our lives. I know, I know, I know, that he never intended for us to suffer as a result of believing lies about ourselves.
The last truth that I want to share with you is this: You are known. When you grow up like I did feeling like a forgotten child, and you really don’t know who you are deep inside, the thought that you are deeply known by your Father may be hard to grasp. Even if you were rarely affirmed as a little girl growing up, or you lost sight of who you were apart from the roles you play and all the people you try to care for and please, your Father has never lost sight of who you are.
You may be sitting there reading this, thinking that I must be so sure of who I am, that I’m a confident woman who is comfortable in my own skin, that somehow I have it all together. While there’s a part of me who is slowly getting there, there’s another part of me that still struggles with the age-old question of, “Who am I?”
But a number of years ago, God really challenged me to take a good honest look at the masks I wear. During a time of utter weariness when I was serving in 6 different ministries (yes, it’s true), moving very quickly to burn out – and also feeling short-tempered and unable to cope with the challenges of my life, he led me to a book that has been transforming for me. It’s called, “Posers, Fakers and Wannabes” by Brennan Manning.
It felt like a giant kick to my gut, but at the same time in some weird twisted way, it was also a time of deep encouragement for me. It led to the start of a journey that has been so freeing for me in my life. I realized that I would never discover my true identity as God’s Daughter unless I began identifying and laying down my masks. And so began a process of stripping away the defenses that I had built up over the years, but at the same time, the walls that had prevented me from growing in an intimacy with God that could only come from meeting with him as the true ME.
As I began to let down my masks and my fears and I began to let go of what I perceived to be others’ expectations of me and the roles I thought I had to play, out of that grew a freedom to experience God in a deeper and more intimate way that I ever thought was possible. I began to understand how I could go to him in all my raw, true self and receive his complete acceptance, grace and perfect love for me, flawed and sinful as I am. I began to little by little accept how truly beloved I was, and how treasured I was.
I learned that God DOES REALLY know me – the total me, that he already foreknew all of my sins, my bad choices, my failures before I was even conceived – and that upon that basis, God chose to put his hand on my life and make me a beloved and chosen daughter of his.
I learned that I needed to allow God to define me – not my sins or my failures, but in my identity as his chosen daughter. I also realized that I needed to let God and others pursue me in my shame. After God exposed Adam and Eve’s sin, he covered them with garments made of the skins of animals that he sacrificed – he offered them grace and clothed them with dignity so that they wouldn’t feel ashamed.
Just like back then, if you allow him to, God will enter your shame and pursue you to love you, forgive you, clothe you in dignity and restore in you an awareness of who you really are in Christ. He will also bring people into your life who will see the real you and love you anyway, the people who will enter your shame with you and offer you grace.
Do you know that when God sees you now, he sees you as holy and blameless, clothed in righteousness because of Jesus in you? No matter how much you fail, no matter how many times you fall and sin, no matter how many times you mess up – NOTHING will ever take away from you the love of God.
But you have to open yourself up to true love – because true love heals – true love knows who you are and sees everything about you. That means coming before the Lord unmasked and honest, laying it all down before him. Not because he doesn’t already know, but because YOU need to experience his love and grace in the face of your shame and brokenness. Counterfeit love, on the other hand, is based on my masks, what I can do for others, how holy I can try and be – there is no power in counterfeit love to heal.
Our Father is a very personal Father, and he has carefully crafted each one of us before the beginning of time. He thought about your personality, your physical body and every tiny detail of you. And when he was finished creating you, he sat back and was pleased with what he created. Even though he knew that his precious creation was going to sin – and to continue to struggle with sin every day of their lives this side of heaven – he was still pleased with his creation. Just like when you create a work of art, you are deeply familiar with every stroke, word or intricate detail of your creation – so God knows every single hair on your head. His thoughts of YOU are more than the grains of sands. (Psalm 139).
So what does God want to say to you today? Will you choose to invite him into your shame and allow his grace and love to bring healing in your life?
Dr. Merry C Lin is a registered clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience in counselling individuals, couples and families on a variety of personal issues. She specializes in helping people overcome depression, anxiety and fear, abuse and trauma, stress, grief, marital and relationship struggles, parenting and family issues, and other life stressors. Her passion is to help people of all ages discover their full potential and to realize their purpose and joy in life. She is also passionate about helping clients develop healthy relationships with their spouse, children, family, friends and co-workers. www.drmerrylin.com