Last week, Ruth wrote an AWESOME article in which she interviewed Leanne Brown about her book, Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day. In Ruth’s interview, the author talks about her research into the world of food stamp recipients, and the struggles food stamp recipients often go through as they work to eat within the food stamp budget they’re given and at the same time deal with the shame that often comes upon people surviving on government assistance.
Dealing With Shame
I feel like I’ve struggled with shame lots in my life. As a kid, we were pretty poor growing up, and that poverty escalated after my parents divorce. Our family spent 2 years or so on government assistance (which we needed even with my dad’s faithful child support payments) as my mom learned some office skills so she could get a job. I was ashamed of being poor. Ashamed of what we had, and of what we didn’t have. That shame transferred to other things during my adult years. I accumulated stuff – awesome stuff – in my attempt to not feel shamed anymore. But along with that stuff came a ridiculous amount of debt, for which I spent many years being (you guessed it) ashamed of. Often times I’ve felt ashamed of my Christian faith as other ridiculed me for it, or ashamed of home schooling when others reacted negatively toward the concept. As such, I’ve learned a few things about shame that I’d like to share today with others who may be struggling with this emotion. I believe that there is a way for everyone out of the destructive cycle of shame. Here are the tips I’ve used to overcome living with shame.
1. Refuse to let your identity be rooted in what others think. One of my favorite sayings is “Be proud of who you are; not ashamed of how others see you.” We humans need to stop working to find our identities in other people’s opinions of us. One of my favorite biblical sayings exists in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 10, vs 12. It says:
For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
In other words, to judge yourself by the success of others is a plain waste of life. I’m not saying this to make anyone feel badly, but the thing about “comparing ourselves among ourselves” is that it breeds jealousy, contention, self-pity and pride. Once we stop comparing ourselves to others, we learn to be happy for others’ successes and grateful (instead of prideful) about our own successes as well. This mindset shift breeds confidence, which breeds continued success. It helps us to work to learn from and emulate others’ successes instead of being envious of them. And most importantly, it helps us to be confident in our own right, smashing shame to bits.
2. Set goals and walk with integrity. Sometimes shame comes because we face real and necessary convictions in our hearts regarding a lack of effort or proper behavior about things we want or need to change in our lives. For instance, regarding debt: if we haven’t really made a plan to reduce that debt, or if we have a plan but aren’t making a real effort at it, shame can come-a-knockin’.
The easiest way to deal with that type of shame is to commit to real effort to change the behaviors that are causing the destruction or hindrances in your life. With each step that you take toward making the changes that you need to make in your life, and with each step you take toward walking in integrity, your heart denounces shame. It denounces shame because it knows you are making a real and concerted effort at doing your best.
3. Commit to helping others. When we choose to set a percentage of our time aside to help others less fortunate than us, we get a real picture of how good we have it. All of us, if we look hard enough, can find people who are worse off than we are. By spending some time focusing on those folks and helping them get a leg up, we get a real picture sense of how good we truly have it, and we get the focus off of ourselves and our problems. When we take our focus off of ourselves, we give shame the boot at the same time.
4. Be grateful and have patience. When working on a big goal such as paying off debt or trying to find a job and get off of government assistance, it’s important to remember two things:
- Be grateful for each and every step you take in the right direction. Be grateful for every job application you put in or every dollar of debt you pay off.
- Have patience. Reaching the goal counts, but making the efforts to get there counts just as much. Don’t focus on how far you have to go; focus instead on the fact that you are moving forward.
Dealing with shame is a much better option than suffering from it. No matter what your problems are, you are a wonderful person in the sight of Almighty God. Don’t let the lie of shame convince you otherwise. Instead, press on toward that goal – whatever it is – and know that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other that you’ll cross the finish line eventually. 🙂