I wasn’t sure at first what I was experiencing. Palms sweating, heart racing. He looked down at me and spoke those words. The rest seemed like a blur. Heart beating louder, louder and louder. What was happening here? I could feel my face flushing and internally I began retreating. Cowering further and further — something I was not accustomed to. Being pushed away because of someone’s words felt worse than when my old high school boyfriend decided to shove me that one time.
Words. Not just any grammar, two nouns and a verb to be exact. “You intimidate people.” Was this truth? Why was I hearing this? C’mon, everyone knows me! Yes, of course I am a strong female, but that’s in my genes! I’ve also been told it’s a part of my charm (insert laughter here). What followed this phrase began making me feel incredibly small. Even worthless. Suddenly, changing myself into someone else seemed like what I needed to do; speak differently, act differently. To love people not in my own way, but inauthentically. It was as if I was being told to use a filter…all the time.
Trust me, I get filters. Filter is my middle name. I was barely 20 years old when we married and my dear husband quickly mentioned how much a soft filter would help my communication with him (sigh, I don’t blame him). My fierce personality at times can be exhausting, even when well intended. I have learned to not speak up first, and to definitely not say what I am initially thinking. There are times I wonder what it would be like to be surrounded by people who could handle it. Handle me with no filter. Raw, sharing opinions and convictions without inhibitions.
for the sake of staying on subject, listening to an endless stream of negativity from someone who I thought was safe felt wrong. My thoughts raced to whether this same conversation would be happening if I were a man. Strong men with intensity are accepted and applauded in our American culture; they are accepted as instant leaders. Women on the other hand, that’s a different story; acting too strong or assertive leads to a behind the scenes conversation about behavioral change. Relax…I am not a feminist in the true sense of the word. I support equality for women of all ages and do not believe men are superior leaders to women just because they’re men. Gifts are given to all of us as God sees fit. He does not discriminate based on gender. His design; not mine.
Word. I finally found my word for how this moment was making me feel. Shame. This five letter feeling was worse than any four letter word I’ve ever experienced. Author Brene Brown, Ph.D describes shame as: “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we’re all flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Contrast that with how she describes guilt. Guilt says, “You’ve done something bad” or “You’ve made a bad choice”. Shame says, “you are bad”. There is a big difference between, “you made a mistake” and “you are a mistake” (Caine, 2016). Shame. It’s the feeling when you not only feel badly for something you’ve done, but you feel badly for being alive. It’s the thing that makes you want to crawl in a corner or bed and take up the least amount of square footage as possible; because you don’t deserve any. You’re not perfect. You’re not good enough. You don’t belong. If you listen to those thoughts long enough, you begin believing them.
It took me months of internal processing to begin realizing that while I’m not perfect, the voices I was listening to weren’t either. Should I listen to them? Allow them to change me? I need to process this. The big, scary question is: have I ever caused anyone else to experience this feeling? Have I made someone feel lesser than, small or undeserving of respect? In all my years of church and ministry leadership, it’s possible. Possible that I’ve unintentionally used my influence to make someone feel as if they did not measure up; that they did not deserve grace, or that they weren’t enough. In these moments of self-examination, I vow to help the people around me feel valued, accepted and forgiven.
Words. After some time had passed, after listening to months of shame, I stood up. Achieving this demand for perfection was not in the cards for me; believing the lies was decidedly not in my future. I know who I am and who I am supposed to be — imperfections and all. My purpose would not be decided by shame. I walked away from this experience with some wounds for sure, but the next time I hear, “you can’t, you won’t, you’ll never be or you’ll always be”…I will know better and move faster.
Thank you Christine Caine for writing such an incredible, inspirational book that has changed my life and my future. You have challenged me to stand up to the voices of shame, forgive and move forward. Sitting poolside on our family vacation reading your book is a week I will never forget. If you haven’t already, go grab a copy of Unashamed today.
Caine, C. (2016). Unashamed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.