Shame, Grace, & Cookies
I'm 3 days into my new "diet". You know, the one where you don't eat any of the bad foods, you eat only what's healthy, and you go to the gym every day. I'm feeling pretty good, aside from feeling hungry all the time, and I'm ready to lose the weight I haven't been able to lose and keep off.
At the office, I noticed someone brought some cookies to celebrate a birthday. I thought, "It's been 3 days since I started this healthy thing, I can't break now!" It's just one cookie. Oats and raisins are healthy anyways. Just eat it. My mind and my stomach joined forces. It became clear that I wasn't hungry, I was STARVING! And if I didn't eat that cookie, I would die. There was no. other. option... I ate the cookie... and 3 of it's friends, and they were nothing short of all I could ever hope and dream of!
A few minutes after I finished, though, the shame began to flood my thoughts. You couldn't stick to it even for 3 days. Why do you bother? You're not capable of being healthy. What made you think this time would be different? It spirals from there. I was reminded of all the times I tried to do this health thing and failed. I became disappointed with my health, my life, but mostly myself as a person. I picked up some pizza and Ben & Jerry's on the way home that day. And that was the end of my latest attempt at being healthy.
Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Perhaps it's a bit extreme for your experience, or maybe it's spot on. A lot of us have found ourselves in this kind of situation. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Knowing what I do about health and nutrition, I still find myself with a similar struggle. When I eat something I know is harmful to my body, sometimes I feel so guilty! But then I have to remind myself, that what we eat is a balance. It's not about what's "good" and what's "bad", it's about being in tune with our bodies and our purpose and making choices that support those things. And sometimes that means having a cookie to celebrate a friend!
At the core, I think this has a lot to do with how we extend grace and love to ourselves. Brene Brown is an incredible scholar, author, and speaker. She is an expert in shame, and has brought amazing insights to how people can experience freedom from shame in their life. These are some helpful and powerful quotes from her:
"Guilts says, 'I ate something bad.' Shame says, 'Because I ate that, I am a bad person.'"
"I’m just going to say it: I’m pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it’s about our behavior. It occurs when we compare something we’ve done – or failed to do – with our personal values."
"Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging."
"Shame erodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change."
"If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive."
"Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives."
Have you ever felt like you can't change? That you are unworthy of the time and effort it takes to love yourself or be loved and accepted by others?
If you have, you're not alone. I want to leave you with three simple ways you can begin to find some peace and freedom in this area of your life.
Recognize how shame is affecting your life.
Sometimes it can be tricky to pin point whether or not shame is a part of our mindset. Often times the first indication is a physical response. Notice how your body is feeling when you make a mistake or when you reflect on a hard conversation. Another way to see if shame is a factor is to write down a description of who you are. How did you describe yourself? Is that how you feel when you pursue health? When you're at work? When you're with your family?
Tell your story.
As Brene's quote says above, when we share our story and are met with empathy, we no longer feel shame. Find someone you know loves and accepts you to be vulnerable and honest with. Let them know what aspects of your life or who you are cause you to feel shame. Experience the relief of a good friend's compassion and understanding.
One of the most vulnerable and freeing things we can do is to lay everything out before God. When we become aware of the love and grace that he offers, we are given the key to freedom from our own unfulfilled expectations. Grace is twofold. Many know it to be what covers our mistakes with God's love and righteousness. What I think often gets forgotten is that grace also gives us what we need for freedom and transformation. Because of grace what we have done is covered, and because of grace, what we can do is possible.