Hiding My Shame Behind A Mask

I Thought I Was a Christian

I can’t even begin to tell you the number of counseling clients I’ve met over the past decade or so who have sincerely said to me something like this: “I’ve always thought I was a Christian.  But, if I really am, why do I still struggle with so much shame and doubt deep inside me?  I thought God was supposed to take that away, wasn’t He?”

Woman with fake maskUnfortunately, this widespread assumption, coupled with generations of pretentiousness among average American churchgoers, has caused countless individuals to go “underground” with their real-life inner struggles.  Assuming the church doesn’t care about their hurts.  Or being dissuaded from trusting their relationship with Jesus, on the grounds “if I’m really saved, I shouldn’t have these struggles.”

Maybe we’re battling loneliness we’ve felt since a parent passed away prematurely.  Or feelings of unworthiness stemming from the emotional or physical absence of our father during childhood.  Or the shame of having been addicted or incarcerated or divorced.  Or maybe an overall inability to feel feelings at all, which is causing issues with intimacy in our marriage.  Or shame-based perfectionism that blankets every part of our life.  Or the compulsive need to be in control, even of the uncontrollable.

Without an emotionally safe, accepting environment where our deep, honest feelings can be expressed and validated, these become isolating “secrets” that we vow to never tell anyone.  False beliefs – our beliefs that have no basis in truth – begin to sprout like weeds in our mind.  They convince us it’s not safe to expose the “real” us, for fear others will reject us or not like us, or not love us, or not approve us, or not accept us anymore.  And that would feel worse than death itself.

As Claudia Black presents in her book It Will Never Happen to Me, these predictable responses are referred to as the “three dysfunctional family rules.”

  • Don’t talk. “There’s no way I could ever talk about what’s really going on in my life.  I have to pretend like everything is fine.  That way everyone will think I’m fine.  Because I know if I was really honest with people, they would just reject me.”
  • Don’t trust. “People can’t be trusted. If I ask them for anything, they’ll either not care, be emotionally absent, or break their promises.  So, it’s safer to just not trust.”
  • Don’t feel. “I refuse to acknowledge my feelings, because if I do, they will either be ignored, or who I express them to will become angry, place blame on me, or shame me for being weak.  So, it’s safer to just to stuff feelings down.  That way no one else can hurt me.”

Connecting the Dots

John Bradshaw (along with several other authors, teachers, and pastors) laid out a path for me.  Not the answer.  Not a guru.  But a path that would connect the unhealthiness of my soul with the presence of the spirit of Christ within me.  Prior to that, these had been two parallel roads that seemed to have no hope of ever intersecting.  That was 1988.  I’m still on that journey today – yet countless miles further along the path.  My sincere hope is to illuminate that path for you through the chapters of this book, so that you may have a roadmap of sorts to nudge you forward.

So, what’s the destination this transformational pathway leads to?  Surely, it’s perfection, right?  Or complete healing of the human soul?  Or deliverance from anything that’s painful? Or the erasing of uncomfortable memories from the past?  Nope.  The journey is the goal!  It’s much less about where the path is leading, and more about who I’m becoming while on that path. As Peter Scazzero put it in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “The critical issue on the journey with God is not “Am I happy?” but “Am I free?””

God’s intention is for us to be transformed from the unhealthy effects and unrealistic expectations of our past to the life He has created for each of us – a life that is “pleasing and perfect.”  He offers us true inner joy, acceptance, hope, and purpose.  His purpose!

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give yourselves fully to God because of all He has done for you. Let this be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 NLT).

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Soul health and spiritual maturity cannot be separated.  Our counselors are ordained Christian ministers as well as certified and licensed Christian counselors.  We are able to help you experience freedom from shame, anxiety, depression, or marriage / relationship conflict with methods that are purely Christ-centered.  Please click on this link to learn much more about how our ONLINE THERAPY can help you become a more authentic follower of Christ..

Life Training offers convenient sessions at our office in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as online counseling via Zoom or FaceTime.  Our non-profit counseling practice has an outstanding track record for over a decade helping men and women, individuals and couples who are ready to move beyond anxiety, depression, and conflicts in marriage or other relationships find hope and healing in their lives.  Contact us today at 502-717-5433, or by email at drdave@lifetrainingcounseling.org