Breaking the Chains of Trauma Shame: Week #3
So, I want to talk to you this week about one of the roots of trauma that keeps us stuck, and that is shame. This message is called, “Breaking the Chains of Trauma Shame.”
The roots of shame are deep and extensive, like toxic tentacles running through an entire root system. We can cover it up with appearances, like “perfect” lives on Facebook or overachievement, but it still poisons our lives if we don’t address it.
I don’t know if you know Brene Brown, but she is a research professor at the University of Houston whose done a ton of research on shame and vulnerability.
She says this about shame, “When perfectionism is driving us, shame is riding shotgun and fear is that annoying backseat driver.”
Perfectionism we think is a good thing, because it gives us something to strive for. But shame and fear hide behind it. Fear of being found out. Fear of people knowing we’re flawed or broken. Fear of people judging us. Fear of people knowing what happened to us that makes us so “flawed.” Fear of even acknowledging what happened. Sometimes that’s not just emotional, that’s physiological. Our bodies and minds just can’t go there. So go gently as I share the rest of this.
Brenee Brown also says this about shame, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
Because of what we went through, we think we don’t deserve the love, or life others seem to have. That’s a lie of the enemy and we’re going to try to break it down some for you.
I found a research study on shame published online in September 2015 called, “The influence of shame on post trauma disorders: have we failed to see the obvious?”
The background on the abstract says this, “While fear is known to be the dominant affect associated with PTSD, the presence and possible influence of other emotions is less well explored. Recent changes to diagnostic criteria have added anger, guilt and shame alongside fear as significant emotional states associated with the disorder. This article suggests that shame is frequent, often poorly recognized sequel to trauma, occurring as a result of the meaning the individual places on the traumatic experience and subsequent and environmental events.”
If you’ve been through trauma, you know this is nothing new. You know your emotions around the event are powerful and fear, guilt and shame often surround it. But it’s not something the rest of the world really wants to acknowledge. So we just sit with it, because God forbid someone find out we have it or we actually work through it.
I don’t think there is a human being alive who hasn’t had shame. It’s a human condition.
This is why being vulnerable – with the right people – is so important, because we have to have a safe space to BREAK that shame cycle.
It’s also why we so desperately need Jesus in trauma recovery, because shame is virtually impossible to face by ourselves.
Good thing, there is a beautiful other side to shame when you are wiling to be vulnerable:
Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”
There is HOPE on the other side of shame.
Let me give you a metaphor. It has to do with trees.
Specifically the oak tree and we’ll reference again later.
If you look at an oak tree, all you see is the tree itself, the branches and leaves. You often see the tops of the roots exposed at the ground, but by looking at it you don’t see the roots. You don’t see how far the roots grow. You don’t see whether they are healthy or sick. You just see the tree.
It’s kinda like us. If we haven’t worked through the shame associated with our trauma, we may look just fine on the outside. If we’re really good at pushing towards that perfectionism, you would have no idea we’ve got it. And if we’re working through it, we may “feel” super vulnerable on the surface, so we protect ourselves so no one sees that struggle (which is okay!). And if we’ve come through it and to the other side of healing, others may look at us and think we’re fine, but they don’t know what we’ve worked through. They don’t know where we’ve been.
In fact, by watching my videos or listening to this podcast, you probably wouldn’t know the deep shame I felt when I was at the end of myself. It was bad. I literally wanted out of my body. That’s why I tried to use things like eating and drinking and running to just escape my mind, to not be in my body. But I eventually hit a point where the shame I had about who I’d become was overtaking me. Those things couldn’t numb it anymore. I was repeatedly trying to not be in my body in response that initial event, and had no idea. I couldn’t have named it if I tried. What’s interesting though is I had shame about the behaviors I was using to escape and I was afraid to treat them, but there was a whole other level of shame deep down inside I was feeling in response to that initial event.
In his book, “The Body Keeps the Score” by Doctor Bessel Van Der Kolk, talks in his chapter titled, “Running for your Life: The Anatomy of Survival” about how when we’re traumatized we become stuck. He says, “Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma was still going on – unchanged and immutable – as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past. After trauma, the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their life. These attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in a WIDE RANGE OF PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other autoimmune disease. This explains why it is critical for trauma treatment to engage the entire organism, body, mind and brain.”
This is why addicts have to put down the substance or the behavior entirely – because if you are still in it, you can’t see it. You can’t address it. But we have to stop running fro that shame to arrest it.
Doctor Van Der Kolk also says, “The more people try to push away and ignore the internal warning signs, the more likely they are to take over and leave them bewildered, confused, and ASHAMED. (That’s where I was!) People who cannot comfortably notice what is going on inside become vulnerable to respond to any sensory shift either by shutting down or going into panic- they develop a fear of fear itself.”
I literally had panic attacks every single day when I was working at the White House. I was constantly having this trauma response and it was becoming a daily thing. And the event happened over 10 years before. I was miserable.
One last thing from Doctor Bessel Van Der Kolk. He says, “Trauma, by definition, is unbearable and intolerable…It takes tremendous energy to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror, and the SHAME of utter weakness and vulnerability…These postraumatic reactions feel incomprehensible and overwhelming. Feeling out of control, survivors of trauma often begin to fear that they are damaged to the core and – (get this) BEYOND REDEMPTION.”
It does take a TON of energy to keep reacting to life like this! These reactions ARE incomprehensible and overwhelming because you can’t figure out where they are coming from or how to make them stop!!
And of course we think we’re beyond redemption!
I love that he uses the word REDEMPTION HERE BECAUSE YOU KNOW WHAT I SEE?
I see Jesus saying, “THAT’S WHERE I COME IN!”
It makes me think of the song “Break Every Chain” by Jesus Culture that I kept listening to while writing this message. “THERE IS POWER IN THE NAME OF JESUS to break every chain!”
Our shame is like chains! And Jesus wants to break them!
Let me take you back to the oak tree for a minute.
Did you know trees have a taproot?
Webster defines it as the primary root that grows vertically downward and gives off small lateral roots. I also read that it’s usually thick and goes deep down into the soil.
When I visualize that, I think of the cross and how God intersects our life to strengthen us and change us from the inside out.
It also makes me think of John chapter 15: 5,
“I am the vine; and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
I can do nothing without Jesus. I cannot work through a drop of this shame without Jesus.
He is the vine. He is the taproot.
Let me read you another verse that really speaks about how Jesus was this root that didn’t look like anything special, but He came to save us.
Isaiah 53:2-3 say, “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
Hmm, he was familiar with pain, despised and rejected. Have you ever felt like that with your shame?
But look what he did FOR us in verse 4,
“Surely he TOOK up our pain and BORE our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.”
He took up our pain and BORE our suffering. When it feels to great to bear, he died to help us bear it.
“But he was PIERCED for our transgressions, he was CRUSHED for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and BY HIS WOUNDS WE ARE HEALED.”
It’s like he came as nothing. He was rejected and killed. But he died so we could be healed. All this suffering we go through in response to this trauma. He died for. That’s huge.
What’s also huge about this passage is something I spoke about last week in that Jesus understood great pain. He understood wanting to take it away. It’s just a reminder when you feel alone in that pain, Jesus is not only there but he understands it.
That’s powerful stuff.
Now. I want to give you some more hope. So let me just jump forward a few chapters in Isaiah to 61. This chapter is the Messiah speaking through the prophet Isaiah. I cannot tell you how much this has helped me address, walk through, and overcome the shame from my trauma. It is the HOPE we all need to hear and know, when we’re constantly reacting to that trauma or trying to recover from it.
Mind you, I am well aware that many of you need professional help for how this trauma has affected you, much like I did. (I will talk more about that next week). But it’s the Word that has the power to heal even beyond the help we receive. So just remember these words as you move forward, and know you aren’t alone if words don’t feel like enough or God seems distant, because you are still clouded by or running from that memory. It’s okay. Be gentle on yourself and just listen to these words as I speak them.
Imagine Jesus is speaking this over you, Isaiah 61 verses 1-4,
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has ANOINTED me to
PROCLAIM GOOD NEWS to the poor.
He has sent me to BIND UP THE BROKENHEARTED,
to PROCLAIM FREEDOM FOR THE CAPTIVES,
and RELEASE FROM DARKNESS FOR THE PRISONERS
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God,
to COMFORT ALL WHO MOURN
And PROVIDE for those WHO GRIEVE IN ZION –
to BESTOW on them a crown of BEAUTY INSTEAD OF ASHES,
THE OIL OF JOY INSTEAD OF MOURNING,
AND A GARMENT OF PRAISE instead of a spirit of despair,”
My friend, have you been BROKENHEARTED, have you felt like a CAPTIVE with this trauma, have our felt contained by darkness?
This my friends is called RESTORATION. THIS IS REDEMPTION.
Let’s just add to it continuing verse 3,
“THEY WILL BE CALLED OAKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS,
a PLANTING OF THE LORD for the DISPLAY OF HIS SPLENDOR.”
Verse 4, “They will REBUILD the ancient ruins
and RESTORE the places long devastated;
they will RENEW the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”
That’s saying the Lord will bestow beauty for our ashes, joy instead of mourning and he will use US to rebuild, restore and renew ruined cities.
He doesn’t want to just RESTORE us and REDEEM us, he wants to use us for HIS glory to shine his bright light in the world.
Here’s the other beautiful thing. This chapter actually addresses shame in verse 7,
“INSTEAD OF YOUR SHAME you will receive a DOUBLE PORTION,
and INSTEAD OF DISGRACE you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.”
Here’s another thing that’s interesting. If you go to 1st Corinthians 1:26-29 you’ll see the word shame come up again but in a different way,
“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called…”
Now this is when we surrender ourselves and give our lives to Christ….
“Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But GOD chose the foolish things of the world to SHAME THE WISE; God CHOSE the weak things of the world to SHAME the strong. God chose the LOWLY things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of HIM that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness AND REDEMPTION. Therefore it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
It’s like he uses the shame we formerly had to shame those who think they’ve got it all together. Yet, when we have been healed, it’s not because of us. We may take the steps forward to seek the healing and be willing, but it is GOD who heals us and because of that – we could never boast like we did it ourselves. HE is where we get our REDEMPTION.
So we have to connect to Jesus – the one who can heal our deep roots of shame with our trauma. He is our taproot, our vine, our source of life. He will redeem our stories and use them for his glory. He will make us channels for his grace and peace.
Thank you JESUS.
Let me just share one more thing with you on being connected to that source.
Here’s what happens. This revelation came to me a few years ago when I was hiking by a waterfall in Sabino Canyon in Tucson, Arizona. It’s from Jeremiah 17, verses 7 and 8,
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
This scripture revealed to me that I WAS Healing and my roots WERE growing strong again. I am not afraid of the winds, because I have been connected to my SOURCE.
I pray that for you. I pray that as you listen to these messages, that you get into the Word yourself if you aren’t already. I share with you what Jesus reveals to me, but in order to really know Him, you’ve got to get into his Word yourself. I just encourage you to do that. I will continue to be a vessel for His grace, but I encourage you to seek Him too.
When you’ve been through trauma, you desperately need Jesus. You CAN trust him. He WILL heal you. He will give you a double portion for that shame. He WILL give you everlasting joy. He will give you beauty for ashes. He will heal your roots and make you an oak of righteousness.
But you’ve got to trust Him.
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