Shame is an emotional terrorist—it holds us hostage. – Steve Arterburn
Do you struggle with negative thoughts about yourself? Maybe you had a difficult childhood. Or, perhaps you were in an abusive relationship. And now you feel like you’re a prisoner to these negative beliefs. Shame, no doubt, is a very dangerous negative emotion—it will hold you in bondage and take away your freedom.
Your thought life determines the direction in which you live your life. The Bible puts it this way, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, KJV). So when you struggle with shame, you are depriving yourself of intimacy, trust, relationships, and—ultimately—peace of mind.
Is it possible to live a life free from shame? Yes! Here are three steps you can take.
Step 1: Acknowledge Negative Thoughts
Whether you’ve struggled with shame for a few days or a few years, a good place to start is to acknowledge the negative thoughts and beliefs you’re struggling with. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. One way is to journal; journaling will help you notice any pattern of negative self-talk. Another way is to ask a close friend if they notice you putting yourself down. Negative self-talk can sound like this:
- “I’m ugly.”
- “I’m stupid.”
- “Nobody would ever want me.”
- “I’ll never be good enough.”
- “I’m a failure.”
When you hear yourself saying negative statements or beliefs about yourself, write them down in your journal. By acknowledging and being aware of negative self-talk, you are taking the first step to a shame-free life.
Step 2: Find the Source of Negative Thoughts
Talking with a safe person or in a safe environment is necessary to help you discover the source of your shame. For example, a licensed Christian counselor can help you. Also, a Life Recovery Group offers a safe place to talk about your painful emotions. Finally, make sure you have friends who will listen with compassion and understanding.
Once you have a safe person and place to talk, you’ll need to examine when and where it started. Ask God to reveal the source of your shame. Either your shame started in childhood, adolescence, or later on in life. There are three possible sources for your shame:
- A traumatic experience
While getting to the root of your shame isn’t easy, it is a necessary step to healing. But once you have discovered the sources of your shame, you’ll begin the process of stopping your negative beliefs about yourself.
Step 3: Replace Negative Thoughts
To live shame-free, you’ll need to replace your negative thoughts about yourself with positive ones. You have been looking at yourself through the distorted lens of shame. Instead, begin to see yourself as you truly are: You are valuable, acceptable, and worthy.
An encouraging Bible verse to read aloud is “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139:14).
God does not want you to be a hostage to shame anymore. You can break free from shame by acknowledging your negative thoughts, finding their source, and replacing them. Let the words of the prophet Isaiah inspire you to find freedom:
Instead of shame and dishonor,
you will enjoy a double share of honor.
You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours. (Isaiah 61:7, NLT)