Every single day, every single one of us faces both the good and the hard that we see in ourselves.
And, we have a choice about which of two voices we’ll listen to.
The first voice is shame.
Shame tells us that we’re “bad”, that we’re disgusting and not worthy. Shame can feel so very true. But, do not let its voice allure you. Shame keeps us isolated and alone. If we listen to the voice of shame, we risk moving down a path toward alienation from ourselves and isolation from the relationships we crave. Shame whispers lies that lead to destruction (Proverbs 12:19)
The second voice is compassion.
Compassion tells us that we’re wonderful and wounded, that both can be true. Compassion can be hard to believe, but it is the truth—it tells you that there is still so much good to fight for in you, even when you’ve made a complete mess of things—or when others have made a mess of you. Compassion allows you to face your wounds honestly, which leads to a healthier soul and to authentic connection with other people. Compassion whispers truth that sets you free (John 8:32).
You can turn toward compassion and face your beauty and your brokenness honestly. This is the path toward healing, the path toward freedom, toward health inside your own self and with other people.
Or you can let shame pull you down its path toward toxicity.
The choice is up to each of us. I’m not saying that it’s easy. But,it’s the most important choice we make each and every day.
Will we turn toward the truth that we are loved, even in our brokenness?
Or, will we turn toward the alluring voice of shame?
The Cost of Shame
The allure of shame presents itself in tiny, seemingly insignificant ways. However, the truth is:
The accumulation of the tiny choices that we make compounds over time.
If you have been connected to a spouse, friend, boss, or leader who has consistently chosen poorly, you know exactly what I mean. Take Pastor Bob, for example. He wants to be a great pastor. He also struggles deep inside. He never felt good-enough. Now that he’s in charge, it’s his time to shine. Publicly he expounds on how much he cares. Secretly, he is desperate to prove his own worth. When confronted with even a minor grievance, his ego takes over. “I didn’t do that. You’re crazy. You’re out to get me!”
I have heard this story one too many times. Someone is hurting other people. You confront them. They don’t want to face their own humanity. The shame would be too great. So, instead of moving toward what is true, they start to cover up their tracks. They can’t face themselves honestly—both what’s good and what’s still broken. The voice of shame leads them down a road toward isolation and self-sabotage or blaming others, manipulation, and abusive actions.
Listening to shame causes damage within our own souls, and it hurts our relationships with other people.
We all have wounds that get the best of us sometimes. We want to care for others, but most of all we want to feel like we are OK, that we have value and worth. We feel a tug toward wanting to hide any part of us that conjures up a sense of vulnerability, unworthiness, or self-hatred—that dreaded voice of shame.
This tug itself is not the problem. It’s a reminder that we’re human. We ALL long for a sense of worth, a sense that we’re OK. We long to be seen as our very best selves. This longing in and of itself is not the problem.
The problem presents itself in how we respond to that longing. If we face what tugs at our souls honestly, we move toward health and freedom. However, if we deceive ourselves, we embolden the worst of who we are to take over. We start doing everything we can to prove our worth—everything, that is, accept showing up authentically as the beautiful, and broken, humans that we are.
Shame or Compassion?
Think back to Pastor Bob. Part of him wants to help other people, to honor God. But, part of him desperately wants to be seen as good, worthy, even amazing.
It’s human, right? Remember, the tug is not the problem. It’s how we respond to it.
You give him feedback he doesn’t like. Shame sneaks in and says:
- You’re bad.
- You can’t admit that.
- No one could love a person like that!
He listens to the shame. As a result, he has no choice but to lie—to himself, to God, and to other people. He starts by over-emphasizing how wonderful he is. He argues convincingly:
- I am all about YOU.
- I would never do anything like that!
- I’m not like other people.
You believe him. You think that maybe you got it wrong. But, over time, a thousand tiny lies lead to full-blown toxicity. You start to notice the following:
- You must agree with his narrative or face his wrath.
- If you question anything, you will be made to look bad.
- Your job is to support his need to feel OK.
Suddenly, you don’t exist at all in this relationship. You can’t figure out how this happened.
Now, imagine the opposite.
You confront him. Shame sneaks in, but this time, he is prepared for it. He says to the voice of shame: “I see that you’re here, but I do not have to listen to you.”
He then turns to the gentle, honest voice of compassion:
- It hurts to realize that you fell short.
- You don’t have to hide. You are loved, even in your brokenness.
- I’m so proud of you—not because you don’t make mistakes, but because you are learning to face them.
Imagine he faces his shortcomings honestly. He is honest with God. He starts to get honest with other people. Maybe he seeks a few trusted people to talk with about the struggles he faces. His friends don’t shame him. They listen and encourage his honest self-reflection. They help him get to know the part of him that fears rejection, the part of him that struggles with all kinds of wounds within.
He starts to heal.
He doesn’t move toward perfection. Instead, he moves toward authentic connection. He starts living from a place of integrity, a place of deep understanding of both his beauty and his blind spots. He lives from a sense of knowing how beloved he already is. And, ironically, he becomes the kind of person he always longed to be.
The truth is that he may always struggle with feeling unworthy. But, because he is honest with himself, he also becomes someone who can:
- receive honest feedback
- face setbacks with integrity
- honor those who disagree with him
- lead with humility
Do you see the difference?
We all deal with something.
The difference between toxicity and health is whether or not you are honest about the struggles that you face. The only way to face ourselves honestly is through the lens of compassion.
Shame says: I’m bad. I’m not worthy. I can’t let other people see this.
Compassion says: I’m both beautiful and wounded. I’m a soul that is healing.
Which voice will you listen to today?
Please dear reader, listen to the voice of compassion—it’s the voice of the One who beckons you to freedom.
“Listen closely, I have set before you today life and prosperity (good), and death and adversity (evil).” —Deuteronomy 30:15