I remember it like it was yesterday. Sitting in second-period algebra class, during my freshman year of high school. We were reviewing factoring, and the teacher was going around the room calling on students. As the teacher got closer to me, she called my name.
Then something happened. I blanked. I panicked. I stared blankly at the sheet of paper in front of me. Then back up at the teacher. It felt like all eyes were on me now. I didn’t know the answer. And even worse I didn’t even remember the question she has asked amidst the panic. A few seconds seemed like hours. I was so embarrassed. I couldn’t even get a word out.
My teacher kept looking at me, and she said words I would never forget. “Mr. Casey, you had best be prepared next time I call on you again.”
A remember a few of my classmates snickering as my face turned beet red. My heart was racing. It felt like my chest was sinking in. And in that small moment, I was introduced to shame.
Just a taste of shame
I struggled through algebra the rest of that year. Although I had strong verbal and writing skills, my grades were abysmal in math. I had to stay after and get extra tutoring just to get a passing grade. And even then I struggled to grasp the concepts. But something else happened that year that I began to carry for many years to come.
I began to feel shame and fear in a lot of my schoolwork. I would relive that moment over and over again. Even the school work where I scored well. I was fearful of being called on again, but I also began to doubt my ability as a student and often dreaded going to school.
But rather than pushing me into a mode of perfectionism, I began to hide from academics. I often felt like I would never measure up in the classroom. I was the kid that would hide in the back of the classroom in high school. I would often procrastinate, not because I was lazy, but instead, I was fearful. I found myself doing just enough to get by, because of shame. I would often second guess myself and be afraid of giving my best effort. I struggled with self-confidence and still do at times when new opportunities arise for fear of failure. I struggle with change.
The lies of shame
It turns out; I’m not alone in this. Shame is something many people experience because of negative experiences or words, and negative self-talk fuels it. It tells us things over and over to hide our shame:
- I’m not talented/good looking/caring/creative/popular/successful enough
- I’m flawed
- I’m going to pretend everything is okay
- No one can find out about this
- I’ll never measure up
So how can we break this nasty cycle that holds so many of us back? How can we find ways to become more resilient. Men especially suffer in this area because we do not talk about it.
How to break chains
First, we need to recognize when we feel shame and have a reasoned response against it. We must identify the physical triggers when we experience those emotions.
Second, we need to share our stories with people we can trust. They say that empathy is an antidote to shame. One of the things that shame tries to do in our lives is tell us that we are the only ones that are going through this. So we isolate. By naming shame for what it is, it loses some of the toxic power it can have in our lives. Talking to a close and trusted friend opens the door to healing from shame.
Third, we need to recognize who we are in Christ. Be reminded of the promises found in Scripture. No matter what we have done, and how much shame that we have carried around, there is hope in Christ. Be reminded that God knows every shortcoming and every sin we have in our lives and yet still chooses to love us.
Romans 15:7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
About the Author: Sam Casey is the Managing Partner at Banyan Creative.
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