The Thing That Keeps Us DOWN (and what to do about it)

Nov 15, 2014 | Conflict

There’s been something lethal in the cool-aid I’ve been drinking my whole life. I recently realized it and began to extract the slow-killing poison out of my insides. Removing it is making a huge difference in my relationships, productivity, and overall well-being.

Famous sociologist, Brene Brown, says we’re all swimming in this stuff. And the more unwilling we are to admit it and talk about it, the more we have it.

What is this poison?


Brown says shame is “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.” We’re all “in each other’s faces” in this culture and terrified of not being accepted or fitting in, she reports.

Looking hard and long at shame, I see it as the source of my

Hiding out, isolating myself from others
Proud posturing, pretending to be someone I’m not
Dismissing my own interests and talents as unremarkable, nothing
Giving up in resignation.

We all sip shame, which strangles our lives, and don’t even realize it.

Don’t think you’ve got it? Let’s do a shame check.

When was the last time you:

– Had an idea but quickly dismissed it telling yourself, “I don’t have time, money, strength, know-how, contacts, or support. Plus someone else could do it better.”

– Compared how you look with the icon on the front cover of Cosmo or the ripped-ab guy modeling male underwear? “I wish I was thinner or had more hair.”

– Spent time in regret: “If only I hadn’t…or, if only I had…things would be different for me. I screwed up and now I’m paying the price.”

– Or how about these thoughts: Things will never change. People don’t like me because…I’m not included because…I’ve got to protect myself…I must act more confident, upbeat, outgoing, cool, nice…

When? This morning? Right now?

We tell ourselves we’re realistic, adhere to high standards, or have a great work ethic. What we really do is pour on and slurp down big gulps of shame.

“Shame is the most sinister, unrecognized, and cooperated-with enemy we imbibe on a continual basis and we will never live our meant-to-be-lived lives until we stop. Spit it out. Vomit it up. Do a major colon-cleanse on our heart, mind, and soul.”



1. Recognize when people use it. Shame is a common technique of bosses, religious leaders, political pundits, spouses, parents, or anyone with a following—even if only one. As a change agent, shame never works more than a minute; nevertheless, recognize when people use it and eject the shame from your soul–immediately.

2. Acknowledge when you shame yourself. All those little half-truths that flood your thoughts and keep you tentative, fearful and ill at ease. Call it out—“This is shame and I’m doing it to myself!”

3. Replace thoughts of shame with gentle acceptance, encouragement, hope, love, and perseverance. Nurture your ideas, desires, and dreams with extreme care.

4. Wait—there’s more. Shame is deeply ingrained in our hearts and souls. A penetrating antidote more powerful than shame must be administered and permeate every part of our being.

That remedy is grace.

Growing up in church, you’d think I’d have recognized my need for grace and applied it against shame way before now. I knew Jesus came and died so I could be free. But I didn’t get it. Perhaps church folks are stuck in shame as much as anyone else, so grace is somewhat hidden.

Perhaps grace goes against our human nature. We’re born and bred to earn everything. No getting off easy. You’ve got to pay the price, follow the steps, learn the disciplines, obey the rules, and so on and so on. I couldn’t easily embrace grace.

Perhaps it took a long time for me to admit that my self-effort is always going to fall short. And my self-effort-falling-short was a breeding ground for shame. I needed something more—something I couldn’t conjure up on my own.

Enter grace. I started giving myself up to it. I began to believe that God and love were there all the time—if I didn’t block them with my self-inflicted shame.

I reached for grace again and again and drank deeply.

Now I’m less burdened, negative, and inconsistent. Happier with who I am and what I accomplish on any given day, even if it’s minuscule.

I’m gracious—to me. You know what’s so amazing? Embracing grace for myself is causing me to be grace-filled for you too.

The liquid in the community dipper has taken on a deeper hue—it’s red, like wine. It calms and soothes and heals. Let us gather together, raise our glasses, and celebrate—grace.


  1. CJ

    Your words couldn’t have come at a better time! My self criticism and shame were just poked big time by my 89 year old mom. She’s one of my biggest triggers, and I’ve been feeling awful since reacting harshly to her negativity yesterday. I am now going to practice self forgiveness and grace, and stop the shaming!

  2. Gloria Rose

    Your are so wise–to recognize shame and to refuse to run with it. Thank you, thank you.



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