shameIt’s very interesting to me that as long as I’ve written this blog, I can’t ever recall touching on the topic of shame. I say that because shame has been a driving force in my life for as long as I can recall. If I remember correctly, I once heard the difference between guilt and shame described like this: Guilt means you believe you have done something wrong; shame means you believe you are something wrong. Even if I didn’t get that exactly right, I believe in the concept.

I went through a period of great shame when I lost my job last year. I didn’t feel I lost it because of what I did or didn’t do as much as because of who I was. That feeling carried over into other areas of my life as well. For example, I was invited to a men’s prayer group last year, but I never wound up going. My fear was that all people would see when they looked at me would be someone who was a failure. In a way, I still carry that same fear with me today.

I used to think a lot of my problems in talking to people were caused by social anxiety or extreme shyness. The older I get, however, I’m beginning to realize how much my perception of myself has cost me when it comes to relationships. Just this past week, I exchanged a very brief hello with someone I’ve known ever since elementary school. I should have engaged this person in a conversation, but I just felt so small for some reason, as if I couldn’t possibly have anything of worth to say to them.

I wish I could put my finger on where these feelings emanate from. Sure, I have experienced my fair share of failures in life, but I wouldn’t say I’ve experienced more than anyone else. I’ve done some stupid things, but I wouldn’t say I’m any worse of a person than the next guy. There’s just something there, though, that makes it all feel so much worse. Call it depression or mental illness or whatever, but there’s some sort of glitch in my thinking that causes me to bring the hammer down on myself hard.

I’ve heard a lot of teaching on getting over shame through the years, but I don’t believe much of it has stuck with me. Still, I know I have to cut myself more slack. I have to not care so much about the perceptions of others. I have to find some worth inside myself, regardless of what someone else may think of me. Most of all, though, I have to learn to forgive myself when I fail in these areas, because I will fail. One other thing shame can do? It can make you want to quit.

I am not sure what a life without shame feels like. I believed for a time that I had overcome it, but then certain people and events in my life made me question whether I had any value at all. Maybe it was a lesson in pride. Maybe I needed to be taken down a peg or two. Or maybe I won’t ever know the reason why.

That would be a real shame.
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