Shame and the “Good Boy”

Mark 5:25-34, And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Let me give you some background before we look at this passage. Jesus encounters a multitude and a man named Jarius, a ruler of a synagogue. Jarius begs Jesus to help his daughter who was about to die. While Jesus was on his way to Jarius’ home this incident with the woman happened. The writer Mark said the multitude was pressing him on every side.

We see that the woman has had a long-standing medical problem. For 12 years she has endured a slow hemorrhage that would not stop and could not be stopped. Twelve years is a long time to be sick.

We also see she was determined to find a cure for her ailment. Mark indicates she went to many doctors and had suffered a lot as a result of the treatments she received. He also states she spent everything she had on those visits and treatments.

Before we go any further lets consider what polar opposites Jarius and this un-named woman were in terms of their economic, social and religious background. Jarius was well recognized, important, and as the synagogue ruler a very prominent person in the community. The bleeding woman was a female in a male dominated society, physically ill, ritually unclean, destitute, and is not even named in the text signifying her status as a nobody in the community. In fact she was worse than a nobody since she was considered to be unclean due to her bleeding. If you want a better understanding of what it means to be unclean read Leviticus 15:25-33.

When I read this story and reflected on it caused me to recall when I had an issue that wouldn’t go away and how I made attempts to improve. The issue was an addiction to pornography. Now my attempt to improve was to become more disciplined in my life of reading the Bible and prayer. Ashamed of my struggle I tried to find healing apart from the life that community can provide.

My shame about my struggle and how others would view me, and my fear of man prevented me from living out of a place of truth. So rather than confess to another my struggle with pornography, I clothed myself with a false self that portrayed me as holy and righteous. One of the lies I believed was people will not be gracious towards me if I confess my sin to them. A person who is ashamed of their wounds and sin will shun the need for a doctor and internally decide they won’t cry out for help. Not connecting Jesus into the equation usually causes us to spiral downward. This prevents us from truly knowing the Father’s love, mercy and grace.

Let me give you some of my shame history. Most of my life I wanted to feel worthwhile in some special way. I yearned to feel that my life was useful, that what I did and who I was did matter. Yet I’d have times when doubt would creep inside of me and this inner voice would whisper despair. Suddenly, I’d find myself questioning my very worth and adequacy. It would come in a number of ways through that internal negative voice in my head, “You’re a failure,” “You’re inadequate as a man,” and “Nobody could possibly love you,” I as a person felt deficient, this is shame. BTW, those are a lot of internal negative beliefs that kept me from growing emotionally, relationally and spiritually.

One writer’s definition of shame is; shame, the shame that binds you is experienced as the all-pervasive sense that I am flawed and defective as a human being. It is a state of being, a core identity. Toxic shame gives you a sense of worthlessness, a sense of failing and falling short as a human being. It is like internal bleeding, you can’t see it, but you know it’s there.

To feel shame is to feel seen in a painfully diminished sense. Whether all eyes are upon me or only my own, I feel deficient in some vital way as a human being. And in the midst of shame, an urgent need to escape or hide may come upon me. This is called avoidant behavior.

Shame is an impotence-making experience because it feels as though there is no way to relieve the matter, no way to restore the balance of things. Feeling exposed opens the self to painful inner scrutiny. This can lead to a diseased introspection of oneself. It is as though the eyes inexplicably turn inward. We are suddenly watching ourselves, scrutinizing critically the minutest detail of our being. At this point I’m thinking everyone else in the room is doing the same thing. They are finding me lacking, and when I try to voice the inner pain and need, I feel immobilized, trapped, and alone in the ambivalence of my shame. I am paralyzed in my ability to be truly known by others.

The root of shame lies in sudden unexpected exposure, we stand exposed as lesser, painfully diminished in our own eyes and the eyes of others as well. Such loss of face is inherent to shame. To live with shame is to feel alienated and defeated, never quite good enough to belong, and secretly we feel to blame. The deficiency lies within us alone. We believe that “There is something wrong with me and I can’t do anything to fix it.” Herein lie my roots of shame.

To cover my shame I created a false self that I call the “good boy.” The good boy and girl work for approval and attention through their performance. Most of that is expressed outward. We believe the lie that we have to be perfect for others to love or accept us. We believe we have to say the right things, do the right things, and appear the right way.

My intrinsic feeling of being defective caused me to remain hidden and secretive in my dealings with people. If people knew how defective I was they’d ask me to leave. If people knew I had a habitual pattern of acting out with pornography they’d reject me so I must hide this from them.

My addiction and the shame that came with it kicked the “good boy” stuff into high gear. I believed I must continue to perform so everyone will think well of me. How many of us struggle with that lie? My shame caused me to hide from others the issue that I struggled with. Just thinking about the pain of sharing this with another brought a terror within me. So there was no way I was going to share this with anyone. Besides my false self was getting me the attention and approval I hungered for. When I look back at that time, I truly believe that I was being authentic with others. I thought my life was an open book, but honestly, I only shared surface stuff with people.

Externally I was projecting a picture of a person that had the appearance of healing. Internally I was dying, so we have to ask ourselves do I want the appearance of healing or actual healing?

Inviting God into these places of sin and shame is not an easy thing. For many of us this has become a place of comfort and of being accepted by others. We don’t want people to see the ugliness, weakness, and deep insecurities that we struggle with and are hiding.

So where does shame come from? Shame starts in the midst of our families, through some kind of relational disappointment, or breach, that we internalized. It can take many different forms, physical abandonment, divorce, the hospitalization of a parent at a very young age, or the loss of a parent in early childhood. This happens quite often where a parent is over involved with their work and physically unavailable to the child, sometimes a parent might be physically present but emotionally unavailable. This leaves a breach, a void that without a nurturing attachment can cause one to feel unloved.

My father’s emotional absence was very painful for me. Internalized it left me feeling worthless and unavailable. I was left wondering if he really loved me. Add to that his verbal abuse, his constant criticizing and humiliation of me, and growing up in an environment of rage, you have all the makings of a shame-based person.

My father’s misnaming of me left me feeling unwanted. I can remember him saying, “I wish your mother never had you,” “Don’t be so stupid!” “You’re never going to amount to anything,” “Why aren’t you more like your brother.” These words misnamed me for a very long time. More lies. I was devastated by his words. These kinds of words invoke in us that they’re really is something wrong with us. Later on when God didn’t come through for me, I’d think something must be really wrong with me.

So I had internalized most of my father’s words to me. This shut down my capacity to stand as a man. That internalized critical parent always reminded me that “I wasn’t good enough” or “you could’ve done better!” I didn’t need external events to kick up my shame, I could do it all by myself. This is called self-hatred. This is where we turn inward to condemn ourselves with words like, “You jerk! Why did you say that?” “Keep your mouth shut, you don’t have anything of worth to say.” Those tapes ran in my head, I believed them to be true for a long time. It seemed I was always apologizing for myself. I’m sorry that I exist. For those of us who walk in shame, we feel like we’re a violation on God’s perfect plan.

We can transfer those feelings onto any context. Shame is the gift that keeps on giving. You can take your shame with you anywhere. That internalized sense of being a blot, a mistake, unlikeable and unacceptable. Shame doesn’t go away until you face it.

My pain got so intense that I had to do something with it. The pain of always feeling defective is an extreme pain. So that is why I turned to pornography to medicate my pain. This is how I dealt with my pain problem to try and make it go away. Pornography makes us stop feeling, it numbs us out, shuts it right down, what feelings?

Because the pain is so intense, we act out. So I was using behavior as a way of expressing internal feelings. Other examples of this are overeating and spending money. So I cut off from my feelings by acting out. I always believed that I didn’t have a problem or that I could fix myself. The deeper I got into pornography, the more cut off I was from community. I truly believed I didn’t need anyone.

Much of my struggle with pornography was rooted in my inability to bond with others at a deep level. My shame and the internalized void were being comforted by two-dimensional images that couldn’t say no. When one lives out of a false self another cannot truly know you. Eventually I cut myself off from God. I believed nobody could be trusted, believed nobody really cared. Did anyone ever really love me? I was a lost soul.

That false belief (lie) that I was defective and had lived with for most of my life eventually was challenged by God’s truth. God’s truth began to break down the lies I had believed for so many years. God began to come into those places of sin and shame so that His light might bring the healing I needed. This was truly a work of grace as God began to expose the lies within. The shame I felt because of my sense of unworthiness and the terror I had of one day being rejected and exposed began to lose its power to control me.

The woman with the issue of blood desired to be healed. She knew she was sick and that she needed help. She wanted healing no matter what the cost. She took the courageous steps to lay hold of Jesus and the power of His cross. Jesus asks us today, “Do you want to get well?” We can make up excuses on why we can’t or we can touch the hem of his garment. I know some of you feel immobilized by your shame. I resisted the transforming power of the cross for many years because my fear of man was greater than my fear of God. But that kept me living a veiled life and still attached to those unhealthy support systems.

The woman with the issue of blood took the risk of being known. She was determined in her pursuit of healing. Most people that have struggled with something for twelve years accept the condition as incurable. After repeated failure and going broke it would’ve been easy to give up.

When this woman reached to touch Jesus, He calls her forth and with much trembling she shares her narrative. Remember the verse said, “…with trembling and fear told Him the whole truth.” How do you think that spoke to the multitude standing there that day? What a testimony! Confession or sharing our narrative without veils breaks the power of shame. Initially risking to share we will be trembling, fearful and probably terrified. But these are the things we must fight through to get healed. Healing is risky business. In the process of getting well the Lord our God brings us out into the open. Not to embarrass us but to express, transfer to others what we have received.

In this we face our fears of others finding out something about us we’ve kept hidden for years. But the great thing about it is there is nothing false about you. This is healing on Jesus terms and not yours.

This story shows that God will make time despite other seemingly pressing issues to answer our hearts cry when we earnestly seek Him.

I’ll leave you with the words of Psalm 34:4,5 and hope they challenge you as they did me so many ears ago. Here are those powerful words that jumped off the page and into my life. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”

In looking to God and believing he was not going to shame me I confessed to a trusted friend my struggle with pornography. This broke the power of shame in my life, and was my first step towards living out of my true self. And, was the beginning of my healing journey that has exposed many other issues that needed to be brought into the light of God’s healing presence.