No one wants to admit it, but we all feel ashamed sometimes. Per a CT article from a couple of years back (Shame, Guilt, and Fear: What 1,000 Americans Avoid Most), Bob Smietana concludes that many Americans are more worried about their reputation than their conscience.
According to a study from LifeWay Research, Americans worry less about guilt and fear and more about avoiding shame. Researchers have long been aware of the heightened ability of social media and smart phones to shame participants. There is internet bullying at one extreme, but daily on Facebook and Instagram, people are comparing themselves and their lives with dozens of others, strangers and friends and feel like they are missing out. What’s wrong with me?
“What’s our biggest cultural fear? Shame,” Smietana said. “What’s surprising is not that personal freedom, ambition, and doing the right thing are valued by Americans. It’s that risk to our reputation is what matters most.”
LifeWay Research wanted to know if churches addressing the issues Americans care about most? So researchers asked 1,000 Americans which of the feelings do you seek to avoid the most: fear, shame, or guilt. Overall, 38 percent of Americans say they avoid shame the most, while 31 percent say guilt and 30 percent say fear.
This is one of many evidences that in the last couple of decades, the US has shifted largely from being a guilt-based culture to a shame-based culture (like virtually the rest of the world).
So before you can learn how to preach the benefits of the Gospel of Jesus to a shamed and shaming world, you really should learn how to preach the Gospel to your own shame. This survey has been designed to help you see the DNA, the attributes of your own shame.
Not every shame is alike. According to Joseph Burgo, in his excellent book, “Shame”, there are four broad emotional families that encompass the main possibilities of “shame.” Certainly we will eventually feel each of the four in our lifetime. But Burgo argues that we each have a tendency to experience one of the four shame family of emotions the most. Or to put it a different way, each of us, due to our family of origin, our context and history, will mostly resonate with one of the four broad shame groupings.
The Gospel App Survey is design to help you determine which of the four categories most describe how you feel. Here they are.
This is the plot line for every Romcom out there. We feel shame and shame’s emotion when we have reached out to someone in love or with a gesture of friendship and it has not been returned. Burgo says, “To love and feel unloved in return is a shaming experience.” We have all experienced this, texts and emails unreturned, friend requests ignored, or unfriended, or ghosted, turned down invitations, affairs, or when our children withdraw from our parental affection and attention.
Burgo rightly observes that no one wants to use the name “shame.” It’s too shameful to admit. We would prefer other synonyms that describe how I may be feeling. When my love is ignored, I feel hurt, rejection, spurned, unlovable, or unworthy of love, ugly (not attractive or fit enough), not masculine, or feminine enough, humiliated, unwanted (unvalued or uncared for), ignored or slighted, unimportant, overlooked or forgotten.
The second category of shame is “exclusion.” I can feel a family of shame emotions when I feel excluded, or am afraid that I will be excluded from a group, family, or gathering, or team that I really feel that I should be a welcomed and honored member. Exclusion may cause me to wonder what’s wrong with me or why nobody likes me, or if I am a loser. I may get angry or enraged. If I am an externalizer, I may blame others and label them as enemies or betrayers.
Shaming related to exclusion has become epidemic with so many people using Social Media hours a day. Now with Instagram and Facebook, I have both more “friends” and more “communities” but along with that I am also left out much more often. Just do the math.
“Some of our friends are getting together without us… We now have greater opportunity to get involved and at the same time a greater chance of finding ourselves excluded.” (Burgo)
What is Exclusion Shame vocabulary when I don’t want to use the word shame? I feel…like an outsider or a loner, lonely and misunderstood like I don’t belong, unpopular, uncool, or unwelcomed, left out, shunned or excluded, weird or strange, second tier, less important that people are avoiding me, overlooked, forgotten, or invisible, and despised.
The third category of Shame is unwanted exposure. “Shame often has to do with matters of exposure when one is not prepared for such exposure.” (Brouek in Burgo)
We are all familiar with what happens physiologically when we are shamed this way. Our face gets hot, we blush, we avert gaze, we just long to disappear. Unwanted exposure can happen anywhere and anytime. Burgo is helpful:
You go to a meeting where everyone else seems to have gotten the memo.
You say something that is clearly wrong or mispronounced.
Your outfit is just out of place.
You accidently fall.
Your boss publicly singles you out for correction or criticism.
Personal info goes public.
Your reputation is sullied or mocked. It just might go viral. Damn!
Unwanted Exposure’s Shame Vocabulary? I feel…Self conscious, embarrassed, shy, or bashful, vulnerable and exposed, foolish, ridiculous, like an idiot, a dope or a jerk, mortified, as if I’m a laughing stock, stupid or uninformed, awkward, inept, or clumsy.
Lastly, Burgo’s fourth category of shame is unachieved expectations. “The greater the expectation, the greater the shame.” (Burgo)
Whenever we set a goal, we open the door to potential shame. Whenever we make a decision, we open ourselves up to shame. January at health clubs wreaks with shame. February at health clubs is even worse.
If you apply for an opening at work—potential shame. When you sign up for dating site, potential shame. Running for office, volunteering to run a ministry,
“To be in a state of shame I must compare my action against some standard, either my own or someone else’s. My failure, relative to the standard, results in a state of shame.” (Michael Lewis in Burgo)
Unachieved Expectations Shame vocabulary: I feel…Let down, sad or disappointed, defeated or discouraged, frustrated with myself like I can’t make the grade, like a wimp or a dud, inept, feeble, or ineffective, inadequate or incompetent like a failure or a loser, weak, undisciplined, or lacking in resolve, crestfallen, despondent.
Now I invite you to take the Gospel App Shame Survey. Download the pdf file and begin. It is a standard Likert scale: strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly disagree. For each statement, determine which Likert category best fits your response. Please don’t do the Jesus thing and answer the way you think that He would. Be honest. You are the only one who sees it. Then follow the instructions at the bottom of the second page.
What to do with the results?
First, Chill! This is only a snapshot analysis of where you are right now. It is not meant to be a source of shame. You are not alone.
Second, there is no right or wrong answer. It is your answer right now. None of the categories are better or worse than the others. This is just plain old self-analysis.
Third, I repeat, there is no need to feel shame. You just be you. If you have someone that you trust, share the results with them. This is the first step to beginning to diminish your shame just a little bit (see below).
Fourth, and this is important. Is there something you can do to diminish your shame a little bit right now?
Yes, of course. That is our passion at the Gospel App and The Forgiving Path. Jesus-Follower, you can preach the Gospel to your shame. This is modelled by Paul in Ephesians 3:14-21. The Gospel is the power to believe (Rom 1). Believe what? Well among the many things related to the Gospel, you can begin to believe just how much God adores you right now, as you are, not as you should be, or could be. He loves you as much as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. Right now. This is true whether you feel any or all of the broad shame spectrum of emotions above.
If through the power of God, by means of the Holy Spirit in your inner being, you actually are empowered to experience just a little of the height, width, length and depth of the love of Christ for you—I mean really feel it—your shame will have just a little less power over you right now.
Here is a prayer that you can pray to God related to diminishing your shame today, just a little.
Shame and Guilt Prayer
“God, my shame and guilt are pretty deeply rooted. I messed up again. I am a mess. What is wrong with me? I don’t feel right. I have given You a thousand reasons to be disappointed, or to turn Your back on me. However, 2000 years ago You poured out your anger, and justice, and disappointment, and criticism upon Jesus, Your own Son, in my place. So now You can’t be critical of me, or disappointed in me, ever again. Make me really get that in my head and heart so that my guilt has less power over me right now.
I see again that Jesus’ record of doing everything right is now, for some crazy reason, put into my biography, my resume—and everything His life earned—heaven, eternal life, Your love, forever. You can’t ever love me more than You do, as much as You love your Son and He loves You. You can’t love me any less, ever. You have to like me, no matter what I did or didn’t do last week, no matter what I suspect that others feel toward me. Your gaze can never be Still-Faced toward me. It may feel like it. Yet the messiness is on my end not Yours.
Give me power to undo my fear that I am not lovable, or likeable. Give me, through the Spirit of Christ in my inner being, the power to be able to overcome my shame, guilt and fear. Quick, before I go and mess up some other relationships, falling short of mine or other’s expectations again. Simply put, make me feel loved by You. Make me see Your smile and hear Your voice. Fill my beat-up, emptied cup. Now please.” (2 Cor 5:21, Eph 3:14-21)
Just say that prayer twice a day for 50 days. John writes that perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18). Shame and fear are very much related. The Gospel is very powerful and is a powerful remedy to your shame. Try it out.