Breaking the trap of shame involves more than positive statements and trying to get ourselves to believe positive things. Yet, we’re prone to grasp every mantra that sounds good and rings true, hoping we can somehow start living that way.

We need positive change. But lasting, impactful change often requires less-than-positive experiences. It may require stepping into the very thing we’re afraid of, and it doesn’t feel great working through what’s hard.

Will we allow God to work within us? What if the way God wants to bring about change means facing shame so we can be free of it?

When I’m afraid of being seen as less than the persona I want to present, I can use a positive mantra to pretend it doesn’t bother me. But will I surrender my attempts to get it right on my own and receive rest with God? Can I rest here? Even when shame prompts me to rely on myself instead?

I hope so. It’s hard, but healing.


Face the Impact of Shame

Shame enters when we realize we’ve done something wrong or we’re perceived as wrong. When we struggle to receive God’s grace, truth, and love, we’ll experience shame because we’re looking for something else to give us what our hearts need. 

2024 NOTE: These words are far from what I would say today. I am grieved and sorry if my messages caused anyone greater pain and shame because they felt they weren’t trusting God. Today, I see truth in our need to live from the value of God’s design in us AND truth in understanding how shame heals in relational connection – with God AND others.

When I blurt out words or actions that are the opposite of what I want to do, or how I want to be seen, I cringe in shame because I’m looking for someone else to affirm value for who I am. I’m trusting myself to get it all right, all the time. I need God’s determination of value to permeate my soul, not how I make myself valuable by doing better.

2024 NOTE: Today, I would add to the words above to say this. When we look to others to affirm our value, there’s a reason. Our ability to see ourselves with the value God sees is limited by nuances I didn’t yet understand when I wrote this.  Past experiences, attachment wounds, and other variables play a role.

As the trap of shame breaks, I’m able to care more about how my life impacts another than how they’re disapproval impacts me. I’m also positioned to own what’s mine to own and free to let them own what’s theirs.

Shame impacts our lives whether we realize it or not. It causes us to cover up, hide, and pretend. This keeps us from living as the person God’s created us to be. It also impacts our ability to connect with God, self, and others, which keeps us isolated and fragmented.

If we deny shame’s existence, or shove it aside and pretend the pain of shame isn’t what it is, we deny ourselves of richer relationships and more abundant living. We miss the benefits of God’s Life within us.

Do you want something different? Me too.

Let’s explore four ways we can break the trap of shame.


Allow Awareness to Reveal Shame’s Destructive Presence

Shame prompts hiding.

With hiding, comes denial, defenses, and a whole host of self-protective and self-reliant measures to keep the pain of shame at bay.

They’re ineffective, yet we engage in them regularly.

We can’t break the power of shame without recognizing shame’s presence and how it prompts us to live in our false selves. Unfortunately, our temptation to hide and cover up fuels denial to the point of being completely unaware of its existence.

Self and Spirit-led Reflection Questions to Prompt Awareness:

To break the destructive patterns of shame, we need awareness. Thankfully, with the Holy Spirit’s help we can become aware.

Consider a few questions that help reveal shame’s presence and impact.

  • Where is shame showing up in your body? Do you notice a change of feeling in one or more areas when you face rejection, disapproval, or falling short of your ideal self? Describe the sensation. Consider its presence and what it might tell you.
  • Do you defend your position(s) when you don’t need to? When we sense others don’t approve, we might prove we’re right or good. It prompts unhealthy defensive actions.
  • When you’re embarrassed, how might you hide the truth or try to prove rightness to yourself and others? Do you make excuses? Blame someone else? Act like it’s no big deal?
  • What truth are you denying about present realities? For example, what’s true about your current situation that you don’t want to admit? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what’s hard to accept, and give you the courage to do so.
  • How do you project your actions, beliefs, and desires onto someone else? This looks like protests over someone’s behavior when it’s really more about you and something you’re engaging in. Whether your protest is warranted or not, by considering what’s true about you, you’ll refuse denial from creeping in.
  • How are you justifying or minimizing? What do you see as a small sin or not as big a deal as someone else see’s it? Are you minimizing your actions, beliefs, desires, or even your value by saying, “I just…” “They just..”?

Notice what shame reveals about your motivations and beliefs.

If you’re comfortable doing so, bring what you notice to God who offers WITHness in the shame.

Acknowledge What’s True

Awareness helps us know something needs attention. But, if we don’t take any steps after becoming aware it only fuels more denial. We train ourselves to stop listening.

Denial loses its grip when we acknowledge what’s true. This includes what’s true about God; what He says, how He works, and the nature of His character. It includes what’s true about who we are, and how God sees us. And what’s true about how we’re not yet who we’re being changed to be.

Also, truth includes what’s honest about our thoughts, choices, feelings, and attitudes. Bringing these to light helps us experience more of who we are as God sees us.

We’re all on a journey of growth. That is, we are if we allow God to change us. If we choose a life of surrender and allow Him to lead us through the process.

Where we hold fast to what we want to believe, over what is true, we miss out on the fruit of God cultivating life within us.

As you become aware of what’s true, acknowledge what you notice.

If your actions are sinful, wrong, harmful, or just plain hurtful for another but not necessarily sinful, acknowledge that. Own the part that’s yours to own, not the part that’s theirs. Admit the truth to yourself, then to God and a safe person.

As God reveals truth about Him, you, or your circumstances, what happens? It may feel challenging to receive truth, whether the truth is about something we need to change or about something good God wants us to accept.

Consider journaling what you notice and praying through what you need to acknowledge. Unleash: Heart & Soul Care Sheets provide a helpful structure for working through this process.

Actively Participate with God’s Growth Pattern

Shame doesn’t disappear overnight and it isn’t ever fully eradicated from our lives.

If we set out trying to rid ourselves of shame, we might put ourselves in a position to feel even more of it. Why? The goal isn’t to perfect our lives and make them free of shame; it’s to allow God to shape and mold our hearts continually. Shame can’t thrive where God’s love resides.

God’s pattern of growth is sometimes quick, but not usually. It’s more likely to occur through a process that takes place over time.

Don’t let discouragement take over because shame crept in again. Instead, ask God what He’s up to and how you can respond to the work He’s already doing. Choose one step today. 

Here’s where things may get tougher, because what God uses to bring about change doesn’t always feel good. Even so, it is good.

He doesn’t turn us into what He wants us to be absent of our participation in the process. We get to choose to respond to Him.

Does it feel possible for God to be good as he seeks your heart? Could you trust in what God sees as you turn toward goodness?

Assimilate the Good with the Bad

When we acknowledge shame, we need to face it. Sometimes, it feels overwhelming to do because what we need to face seems all bad.

More often than not, there’s good mixed in with bad. But, it’s hard to see the two together, so we tend to break them apart and keep them at odds. Healing occurs through a process of integration when we hold opposing realities, like the truth of someone’s good attributes with the truth of how they’ve caused us pain.

When you listen to what shame reveals, you can see the truth of what you want to believe and the truth of what is. They intersect.

For example, you may feel shame when you notice others expressing displeasure with you, or not showing pleasure and providing positive feedback. You may feel shame when you say or do something that isn’t accepted by others, and it seems that what you said or did must be “wrong” (bad). If getting it right is the only thing that seems good, getting it wrong feels all bad.

These seemingly insignificant moments can feel much bigger when shame has a hold on you. Notice your limited view of what’s good, as defined by getting it right. Admit what was either bad or felt bad.

Don’t deny what really is bad because it might be the thing you need to accept. Likewise, don’t deny what’s good, like what God says about you because its truth is something your heart needs.

To break the trap of shame, notice any tendencies to split your thoughts (about you, others, God, and circumstances) into all good or all bad. Notice what shame tells you about what’s good and what’s bad in the situation.

Ask God to help you acknowledge both.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had their eyes opened to good and evil. They became aware of their wrong and hid in shame.

What if we allowed our awareness of what’s good and not good to turn into awareness of God’s grace and guidance?

How might our lives be changed if we turned towards God’s invitation and presence instead of away?