3 Ways Shame Holds You Hostage

Growing up, I went to Mass with my classmates once a week during the school year. A bonus all school Mass was thrown in for good measure if there was a special holy day. Our teachers were forever encouraging us to participate in the Mass, not just take a nap. Being the dutiful student, I did just what was asked, I participated. There was one week, in particular, that I vividly remember. 

It is hard to bloom when we are sitting with shame.

We had practiced the songs for the Mass in music class and we were all encouraged to sing loudly so that God could hear our voices. As the priest processed in, we started to sing. My little earnest self chimed in, possibly a little too forcefully and a little off key. After a few lines, the boy next to me elbowed me and told me to be quiet. He probably used more colorful language than that because I still remember how awful it felt to be shushed. 


For a little while after that, some of the cooler boys would give me the side eye or plug their ears dramatically if I dared sing above a whisper. I took the whole thing personally and thought that these boys knew something about me that I had yet to discover. This was really hard for a little girl with dreams of performing on stage. I was so ashamed of my singing, that I muffled my voice. 

Has anything like this ever happened to you? There is nothing worse than feeling all of the glaring eyes of your classmates bear down on you if you do something that they disapprove of. 

Shame holds us back.

Many of us have been holding parts of ourselves back because of a stray comment thrown out by a classmate years ago. These words instantly shut us down as soon as we think about trying something new. So we form excuses to explain away our reluctance to dive into life. Excuses like, “I’ve never been good at…”. “I can’t…”. 

If asked now, the classmate would not remember ever saying the words that are seared in our consciousness. Yet, we allow shame to bind us to mediocrity and sap our potential.

Shame often develops as a result of how others respond to what we do. Brene Brown, a best selling author and shame researcher in Houston, defines shame “as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” This feeling has a long lasting impact on how we show up in the world and how openly we can give and receive love. 

Shame is a Lier. God is the Voice of Love.

Whether we can stand up to our shame and call it the lier that it is will determine how we love God and others. Shame holds most of us hostage, convincing us that our gifts are not needed. Instead of facing the uncomfortable feeling of confronting and moving past shame, we remain in our comfort zone of pleasant, nice, yet mediocre lives grounded in inauthentic transactional relationships. 

It is time to call shame a lier and listen to the voice of love. 

God is calling you to use your life as a song of praise. (Psalm 33:3) He wants for each and every one of us to contribute in some way to building His Kingdom, today. So, what are we waiting for?

photo courtesy of Unsplash. @michelle

photo courtesy of Unsplash. @michelle

Waiting for an engraved invitation.

We stand on the sidelines waiting for a fancy invitation. Afraid to try something new, we imagine the last time the spotlight washed over us and we take a step backward. Anxiety creeps in at the thought of moving away from the crowd and into our own area of giftedness. We stay busy running in a million different directions trying to avoid shame instead of funneling all of our energy into the one area that would reveal God’s love to a hurting world. 

Shame affects all of us to some degree or another. Shame makes it difficult for us to be open in relationships and understand who it is that God created us to become because we are spending so much time trying to craft our image. 

Three ways shame holds you hostage: 

ONE: You deflect with false humility. When someone compliments you on a gift you have shared (think: talent, strength, etc.) you have a difficult time aligning your inner self talk with their compliment. 

TWO: You remain in the shallow end. Your self talk is filled with more, “No, because” than “Yes, and”. You don’t  fully participate or join in and bring your unique combination of gifts to your corner of the world. Instead, you are ready with an excuse that is based upon the script from your childhood.

THREE: You are “perfect” and no-one can live up to your standards. Instead of retreating, you block any feelings of shame with high standards which you maintain with busyness and an aura of control. 

God’s voice is drowned out by our excuses.

It is difficult to break free of the shackles of shame. When we are listening to the lies, we don’t come to know ourselves as God crafted us, because His voice is drowned out by our excuses.

Many years after my Mass experience, a group of us were entertaining each other on a long train ride. Everyone went around the circle and sang one song they knew by heart. I balked and tried to get out of my turn, but they gently encouraged me. I gave excuse after excuse about why I could not participate. After a while, they wore me down and I offered a feeble version of an old Willie Nelson tune.

No-one covered their ears, no-one excused themselves to go to the bathroom. They listened encouragingly and my song was well received. I breathed a sigh of relief. Since then, I have not been as worried about my singing voice.


If you struggle in this area, I want to give you hope that there is freedom on the other side of shame. As you identify the lies you repeat and replace them with God’s words of unfailing love, you come to see yourself as God sees you. You are beautiful. You are wise. You are compassionate. You are strong. Your voice is needed. No invitation is necessary. God’s life of authentic love is a come as you are party and you are always welcome.

Coming to accept this truth takes time, patience, and prayer. 

Pause a moment.

Breathe deeply.

Allow Him to sing over you. Ponder these words from Scripture:

Remain in My love…

I have told you this so that My joy may be in you

& your joy may be complete.

John 15:9b, 11.