A teenage girl approached me at an event where I was speaking about my experiences with sexting and pornography. She handed me a sticky note. On the front of the note it said,
“I sent nudes to my boyfriend. Then he broke up with me. To get back at him, I sent them to his two best friends.”
On the back of the note she had written four words,
“I FEEL SO LOST.”
If others really knew what I’ve done, and what I am, they wouldn’t love me.
This is the core message of shame: people cannot love the real you.
You live in a world shaped by shame, whether it’s the expectations of your family and the peer pressure of your social groups, or the filters on the social media you use to share photos.
Have you ever felt you needed to be someone or something other than who you really are in order to be accepted?
That’s just shame by another name.
You go to great efforts to hide your flaws and failures. You’re not alone.
You want to be known, but you’re afraid of being known for who you truly are. You’re not alone.
You put up walls to keep people from knowing who you really are. You’re not alone.
Shame is fundamentally a crisis of identity. People believe, at their core that they are unworthy of love and incapable of good.
When it comes to shame caused by our sexual struggles, a lot of it has to do with the ways we are taught about sex. Here’s the thing:
Healthy sexuality cannot be rooted in shame. It’s not possible.
Healthy sexuality is rooted in intimacy which requires a sense of safety. Intimacy is to know and trust another person deeply. Shame is exactly the opposite. Shame and intimacy cannot co-exist.
To experience a full, vibrant and healthy sexuality, you have to wage war on shame.
When you struggle or make bad choices, shame says, “hide”. Shame says, “protect yourself, pretend.”
This is how it’s been since humans started struggling. In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s instruction, their immediate response was shame. They literally hid from God. Humans have been doing likewise ever since, especially when it comes to sexuality.
Sexual shame enters our lives in many ways. Sometimes it’s because of choices we’ve made, but it also can be caused by the actions of others.
Did you grow up in a family where sex was talked about as something dirty or dangerous? Was it talked about at all? If not, that silence taught you that sex was too taboo or shameful to discuss.
Maybe you’ve experienced sexual abuse. As a result of someone else’s shameful actions you may be left wondering if you can ever be truly loved because you’re damaged goods.
What does shame do to you?
- Shame tells you the people around you can never know who you really are, and sets you on a journey of masking or isolating yourself.
- Shame is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You assume people won’t accept you, so you protect yourself from being known in order to avoid rejection.
- Shame makes you resist intimacy, sexual or otherwise. When people walk away, you can feel justified in not trusting them.
Healthy sexuality relationships require authentic intimacy. Otherwise, sex is just an empty physical act, designed to pursue temporary pleasure or a false sense of security.
Intimacy and shame cannot coexist.
Sometimes people try to just erase their shame by removing themselves from church, family and other places that remind them of their negative feelings.
Shame by its nature is already isolating. You cannot overcome shame by isolating yourself.
Shame is overcome by honest relationship with others.
If you struggle with shame rooted in your own sexual choices or the actions of others, the first step toward healing is being honest. Tell someone. That can be a terrifying prospect so it’s vital to seek out a safe person to tell.
How do you recognize a safe person or community?
- Confidentiality. This can be formal, like a confidentiality agreement in a sexual recovery group. Or informal, like a reassurance from someone that they won’t share your struggle. Think twice before confiding in someone who is never vulnerable with you about themself.If you choose to approach a counselor or church leader, confidentially should be expected but you may want to clarify any exceptions they might make (for example, if your behavior is potentially illegal or endangering yourself or others).
- Commitment. Healing from sexual struggles is never as simple as a one-time confession. You need someone or a group of people who will walk through the process with you over a longer period of time. Some people refer to that as accountability. Two quick phone calls isn’t going to cut it, this takes time.
- Honesty. Shame fears honesty. In your shame, you might look for a community where you can just “vent” and feel validated. What you need is a place where you can process your thoughts and feelings in a way that leads you towards genuine healing. Are the people in your community honest about themselves? Are they willing to be honest with you, even if you might not like it? If not, you might need to find a new community.
A sense of safety is non-negotiable for people to be real with each other. Is your chosen community made up of safe people? Do they trust each other with the real stuff? If they do, you can be confident of trusting them too.
Shame is overcome by being honest about your pain and the specifics of your struggles. Don’t try to go through this alone.
Originally posted at Cru.org.