Unhealthy Shame


I've met men in prison who showed a great interest in Christianity but always kept it at arms length because in their words 'I'm not good enough'.With some of them, when we had talked together at some length about their problems in life, I found out that the root of their problem was what I refer to as 'unhealthy shame'.

I look upon 'shame', of the normal kind, as being a healthy thing.What I mean is that shame is a reaction to the good that is within every one of us, it helps us keep on the straight and narrow.Shame informs our consciences that we are, or we have been doing, something that we instinctively know is wrong.

When we feel ashamed then we are also sad and unhappy and loose whatever self respect we have.But one of the problems with shame is that it rises and falls dependant upon what we are doing.If we're busy with something else then we can put it at the back of our minds and forget it for a while.A further problem with this is that as days go by it can eventually fade away altogether and become something we can live with.

But that's enough about what I've called healthy shame, what I want to write about here is 'unhealthy' shame.To help me describe the difference let me use an example - I think you'll agree that most young men are the same the whole world over, I wasn't much different, so when boys start chasing after girls they are after what they can get.It becomes a competition to see who's the most successful and they are more than willing to share with their friends just how proud they are of their 'successes'.

But what I want to write about here are those times when it's the guy himself who has been abused sexually by say an older brother, father or perhaps a close family relation.This is something that they will very rarely ever talked about, even with their best and closest friend.This is the killer, this abuse and the secrecy that follows generates an unhealthy shame of what's been done to them and it festers inside their hearts 24 hours a day 7 days a week.It's something that may go away for an hour or two but always finds a way to come back to the surface of the mind, especially when they can't sleep at night.

The difference between these two types of shame can be described in another way - when we've done something to be ashamed of then there is always a possibility that we can do something to make amends and thus take some of the shame away.But when its us who has been violated, made to feel dirty and ashamed of ourselves, what can we do or go? Such unhealthy shame leads those effected to start believing that they are unlovable, they think that if their secret where to get out then they will be rejected.This makes it difficult for them to make long term friendships, they prefer to end a relationship early rather than face the possibility of themselves being rejected.

Reader, you may think that I'm talking about examples that are infrequent but let me tell you of an occasion one Sunday when a visiting preacher, to the prison I was helping at, tackled this subject.I was at the back of the Chapel looking at the back of the men's heads and more than half of them ended up staring down at the floor by the time he was finished.The hurt ones, those of you in pain hearing what I'm saying now, you know that what I'm talking about is true.But what can be done about this unhealthy shame? that's the question, who can take it away? who can the victim turn too?

I've heard it said that the definition of a good friend is someone who knows all about us and still remains our friend.Well there is someone who knows ever secret of all our lives and his name is Jesus and he wants to be everybody's friend but only if he is asked.This need to be ask follows God's principle of 'freewill', something that in many ways can act like a two edged sword.What I mean is that God could have made us human beings like robots similar to all the other creatures in the world who can't think for themselves (check out my notes on Choices)Instead he chose to set us free to become who we want to be and unfortunately this also allows the bullies of this world to take advantage over the weak.This 'freewill' also allowed the authorities, some 2,000 years ago, to falsely accuse Jesus of things he didn't do and even crucify him on a cross.You may well ask why doesn't God intervene whenever evil is being done but this principle of 'freewill' is so strong that God the Father didn't even save his own son from suffering or even save himself the pain in having to stand by and watch.Those of you readers who are suffering from this unhealthy shame can be sure that Jesus and God the Father were with you at the time and were suffering with you then and they have been wanting to help you ever since.

This whole subject of suffering is a mystery in itself, a subject that I've already done my best to answer elsewhere (check out my notes on Suffering)††

The Good News is that you need not continue the way you are.The prophet Isaiah said many years ago that 'The people who walk in darkness shall see a great Light'Many years later Jesus said 'I am the Light of the world. So if you follow me, you wonít be stumbling through the darkness, for living light will flood your path' (John 8:12 Living Bible)†† Jesus also promised those who were interested in becoming his followers 'I am the Bread of Life. No one coming to me will ever be hungry again. Those believing in me will never thirst. But the trouble is, as I have told you before, you havenít believed even though you have seen me. But some will come to meóthose the Father has given meóand I will never, never reject them. ' (John 6:35 to 37 Living Bible)

Jesus never rejects anybody who seeks him.Remember what I said earlier about a good friend being someone who knows all about you but stands by you.That's the way Jesus is, if you read about him in the Bible you will find that he never ever made anybody feel ashamed no matter what they had done or had had done to them.He'll do the same for you reader if you want him too.He's the only hope I know of for those suffering with unhealthy shame.

But for those who do seek help there may well be a great stumbling block to first of all climb, it's the subject of unforgiveness.Check out my earlier notes on this subject and find that this is something that does far more damage to the victim than it does to the offender and also learn the difference between saying - I won't forgive and I can't forgive.

As in most aspects of Christianity the choice is always yours Reader - you can stay as you are suffering from unhealthy shame for the rest of your life or you can seek a friendship with Jesus who loves you more than you will ever understand.

Let me finish with a prayer - Lord Jesus you know yourself from first hand experience what it's like to suffer pain and rejection.I pray now for all those who suffer in today's world.I pray especially for those who, through no fault of their own, suffer from unhealthy shame.I pray that they will soften their hearts now and invite your presence into their lives and thus begin a journey towards healing and wholeness.Amen.


Contents are © Copyright 2007 Ken Mainey

Taken from www.jesuslovesprisoners.co.uk or www.jesusrenewsprisoners.co.uk