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How has your self-esteem suffered because of shame? How do you counteract the effects of shame in your life?
Well, I am a grown-ass mom in a wonderful marriage, with wonderful grown kids, and I don't take shame off other people. If they're not in the arena with me, fighting lions with me, then they don't get to offer an opinion. But I had to get to this place, especially when the shaming came from people I love and trusted, like my family. I had to let their opinion go, not try to change it, because when I try to change it, I end up validating it. But I can't validate other people's shame of me. I just let it sit there till it blows away; meanwhile, I walk on into who I am and who I want to be!
The events of 1985 certainly caused me to be much more open and visible. I was 30 by this time. I had come out to family in 1981 (aged 26). My mother's reaction was amazing and very positive, as was one sister and her husband and a brother and his wife. Another brother effectively had a melt-down, because while he loved me he struggled to accept me because of his Christian understanding. It took a few years for reconciliation but in later years he and his wife became my most staunchest advocate. Love won them over. One thing my mother did say was that she was grateful I never came out when my father was still alive as he would have not coped at all well. I was never close to my father. Beatings were not uncommon. But even when he was alive my self-esteem was always insecure. My default position was to be compliant, subservient and be the best student I could be. Fortunately that wasn't hard for me and I would resort to being a polite and agreeable child. I do believe now that this was a reaction to disappointing my family.
My faith was always important to me and my parents modeled this so well. They were ministers and I saw them care for many disadvantaged in love. I just regret that it wasn't always shown at home by my father. It was shame that kept me quiet until I was 30, it was fear that drove me to pretend I was straight and I avoided any possible identification that I was gay. A family member once told me, I struggled to understand you were gay because you were not like other out and proud gay people I knew. That was driven by shame.
I counteracted the shame from the 1980s and earlier by flying under the radar and not being visible. But through this time I began studying scripture and praying not to be straight (an earlier prayer) but asking God to use me if he so desired. I now counteract shame with learning affirming verses of scripture and sharing an inclusive gospel with those who may try to shame me. I see my role is to be gracious and non-confrontational and I've been privileged to see so many LGBTQ friends work through issues that I experienced as I try to show love and support. I also am committed to helping friends and families come to terms with their loved ones coming out. And as I model this they too are given the strength and desire to address their shame. Sadly I've also lost numerous friends to self-harm. A common thread is the church's influence. In those moments God seems to open doors for sensitive and gracious conversations.
I now run a Facebook group for members of The Salvation Army who want support and advice. We have over 2500 members and along with my involvement with GCN/ QCF, I sense this is one thing I can do to reduce shame in my life and in those of others. I'm truly blessed.
There is often this belief that I still need permission from some sort of gatekeeper in order to take control of my life or do the things I want to do. I'm often looking for permission from someone, rather than finding that permission within myself and from God. I would have panic attacks in gyms because I felt like everyone was judging me, much like I did when I was still in the closet. I wouldn't wear certain things because I didn't want people to think I was weird because I was presenting more femme.
To move out of these mindsets starts with grace for myself. In the moments when I feel shame, I just note it, and I tell myself, "That's okay. People feel like this a lot. And this is just a moment." It's an act of radical self-compassion. And then I literally speak Love over myself. "I love you. I love the part of you that is hurting right now." And the more I notice myself talking poorly to my body and my spirit, the more love I speak over myself, the easier it is for me to counteract that shame.
Laura Beth Buchleiter
The belief that I could not be who God needed me to be while trying to function as a man (husband, son, father, etc) in the conservative, complementarian culture where I lived and worked drove me to the point where, as one therapist put it, I had no ego. The image of self that was portrayed to all those around me was little more than a construct created specifically for them: a mask designed to hide my lack of any knowledge of self. The effort to keep that up drove me to the point of wanting to take my own life: I was literally ashamed of my shame and the cycle only ended when I was willing to step away and affirm myself as wonderfully created the image of God.
It is reasonable and expected to do some things less than one’s best when stuck in a deep closet of secrets. Releasing secrets leads to seeing oneself more clearly and recognizing unhealthy patterns. This can bring an avalanche of shame. The past can’t be changed, but can be recognized and repaired whenever possible. Everyone is doing the best they can including yourself. Keep moving forward committing to know better and to do better as you become more whole!
I have countered the effects of shame by grounding myself in my identity as God’s own and by surrounding myself with supportive people, who operate as chosen family in my life. I also do my best to not allow shame to control what spaces I fully enter with my whole self. I try to remind myself that not everyone’s opinion matters. Lastly, I read a lot of Brene Brown!
It has taken years for me to overcome the effects of shame in my life. Like other gay men, since my middle school years until I was 26, I constantly policed myself, my voice and body, to make sure I was masculine enough. Now at the age of 31, I can say I am not ashamed of myself, body or voice: I’m a bit femme sometimes and a bit masculine sometimes and that is beautiful. I think I was able to counteract this shame by hearing others’ stories and being honest about mine...while meeting with a well qualified psychotherapist to confront my past trauma.
Oh goodness! Where to start? I have had a lifelong battle with shame. While a seminary professor, I thought I had a handle on shame, particularly teaching master’s-level students how to treat it. I would wake up every morning, wondering why it felt like God and the universe where against me. It was my assumption that I didn’t deserve good things and I felt like I had to make case for my own happiness. As a clinician, I took it very seriously (and still do) to walk the walk. So I hopped into therapy. I have an entire theory on shame, but I have traced the roots of shame to something called an ego split. When we can recover the innocence of our God-given cravings are we then able to undo the momentum of shame as it swings in and out of our behaviors.
As an Asian American, I am very familiar with the concept of shame. It’s prevalent in our more collectivist Eastern cultural values that place more emphasis on your place in a family or society rather than your individual voice or achievement. It’s also prevalent in American culture, which tends to erase, misrepresent, and silence the narratives of Asians. Because of this, I wrestle against this constant feeling of being caught between diametrically opposed worlds and never being good enough for anyone. Consistently preaching a gospel of grace and reconciliation to myself, as well as surrounding myself with a strong community of fellowship, has helped to remind myself of God’s goodness and value - as well as the continuous call to lay down my life to fight for the voices of others who have been oppressed, marginalized, and shamed.