“Shame is not just an emotion, it’s a physical experience.” - Michael John Cusick
On this edition of Restoring the Soul, Michael picks up where we left off a few weeks ago - delving into the debilitating emotion of shame in hopes to chart a restorative path to health. This is Part 1 of 5, in addition to the introduction, that sets the stage for this informative series designed to help you live loved and free.
Kelley Gray joins Michael for this conversation. She is on staff at Restoring the Soul as an Intensive Clinical Soul Care Specialist. Kelley is a Licensed Professional Counselor with nearly 20 years of experience. She is deeply passionate about therapy, growth and laughing and believes growth, healing and integration are profoundly beautiful human processes in which we are all invited to participate.
I want to start with a quote. This is from Steven Snyder MD, who is actually a sex therapist in Manhattan. His great book called love worth making, how to have ridiculously great sex in a long lasting relationship. He says in this book because you can't talk about sex without talking about shame. We mental health practitioners think of shame the same way that dental hygienists think of plaque. Everybody gets it, some more than others. But if you let it get out of hand, it can cause you all sorts of problems. It's not a very general but just a fresh way of looking at it. It's just
a very normalizing quote. It makes you not have to freak out that you are going to find a little shame lying around probably most days.
I went to the dentist yesterday and I always feel shame when I go to the dentist because I'm the person that starts flossing exactly two days before the appointment to convince them that I've been faithful of that and I've I've learned through a dentist's friend that they can spot you right away that you do that because your gums are all inflamed. So when I read this quote, I was having a little bit of trauma, a little bit of shame from that experience yesterday. But what I like about this, not just the normalization that you talked about, but how if we don't address it, that it can get out of hand and cause problems. And so, the title if you're looking for one of today, in this series of five ways, shame fuels addiction, the number one way that shame fuels addiction is that it creates distance and disconnection shame creates distance, and disconnection. So we are going to basically bat the surround back and forth and Kelly, you've got some questions to ask.
Mm hmm. Yeah. So I mean, I am very curious just to hear more. I like to just get you going on a topic. That's kind of a fun thing to do. But I would like to hear more about these aspects of, of the distance and the and the disconnection and in particular how they fuel addiction. Very curious about that.
In the very first episode of the series, I did a overview where it was probably just a download of everything I know, and might have been overwhelming, but I defined shame. And both as a woman and as a person who does a different kind of work with people where you don't work with the same kind of presenting problems per se. How do you talk about shame? How do you define it? And just help people to understand it from your perspective.
So yes, I do agree that we all have it and that many of us can feel it very quickly, very acutely at the surface, and other people. It takes them a little bit of time to figure out that it's actually shame that they feel because they might have anger or despair. offensiveness coming up first. But if you scratch the surface a little bit, they can get down to that much more vulnerable feeling of shame. I say that shame is a very global experience that is diminished, diminishing your worth, that you are believing that your worth is being harmed, that you are worthless that you have lower worth. Shame seems to attack the worth. It's not like a guilty feeling. Exactly. That's different. And it's not like a conviction feeling of I need to change this and I can change this and that's what's right and good. It's this very global heavy burden, some experience.
So as as often said, instead of I've done bad, I am bad. Mm hmm.
Yeah, I totally agree with that.
So I appreciate that definition in that perspective. How do you see That conclusion and that belief of I don't have worth or I have diminished worth playing out in people.
Great question. Um, I say and I have a lot of other vernacular around this, but I say it really leads people to very much living out of false self and trying to either perform and look like they deserve or look like they have worth. Or they really constrict and withdraw and retreat and truly behave like they have no worth and really perpetuate that in their relationships. They can act out in so many different ways, against self or against others, but they just truly it draws them away from being who they truly are, and rooted and grounded in their truest, just worth and essence of who they are.
And so I want to get back to the question that you asked me after I asked you one more question as we're talking About worth specifically this worth, or unworthiness. Do you see people saying, but shouldn't I feel worthless? Or Shouldn't I understand myself as not having worth and value apart from Jesus?
Mm hmm. Yeah. And I always like to hear you talk about this as well. But I mean to two reasons for that, that I see. One is the some, just some sad theology that we have been taught that says that we're bad to our core, we're inherently bad that there is no goodness inside of us other than God's presence within us. And I truly believe that God made us in His image as these beautiful little reflections of himself and he is so multifaceted that it takes billions of people reflecting back one element at a time. So I believe that there really is true goodness there but a lot of people are walking around with a theology that says I'm bad and I need to just reject myself. All the time. And then another reason why is just because people have done things that done bad things. They've hurt people, they've hurt themselves. And they feel like Well, my track records bad. So I'm very I'm just screwed. I'm totally screwed up.
So they're looking at objective evidence. Yeah, that's kind of adds up in the column, oh, bug bad. He talked about how theology can lead to shame. But I also think it's important to say, because I'm often poking at theology, that theology gets formed through shame, and through our woundedness, that it's interesting, if you look across the spectrum of, you know, liberal, moderate, conservative, whatever title you throw on it, to look at, I wonder what the context was of that being formed? Yes, I had a friend who was getting PhD and they looked at the life stories of different theologians and psychologists fascinating to a person you could see how in their life story it actually formed, what they came to believe. Yeah, and the The kind of convictions underneath that model
fascinating. I see that just as an enneagram. nerd, I see that in parenting and marriage books now. I can guess the number of the person who is writing me this advice about how to parent My child, it tells me almost more about the author than about how I should parent my child. So yes, we do we write from our own set of lenses. So of course, the LG would have a mirror of that.
And sometimes I can read a book or something and guess what denomination or tradition that somebody is coming from. And not that, you know, one is right and the other is wrong. But you know, that people that come out of reformed traditions like as I became a new Christian, I was deeply immersed in the Presbyterian world. I was an elder. And so that reformed view affected a lot and it it reinforced the shame that was inside because I was totally depraved. And I was bad and unless Jesus came along and sprinkled the white sugary powder on top. underneath. I was still a turd.
Yeah, yeah, my shorter answer to that my longer answer earlier, my shame just throws us off, off track. It just throws us off track and we can stay off track for decades and that breaks my heart. So empower us, please, please speak to how does this distance and disconnection of shame? How does that fuel addiction?
First of all, shame puts a barrier up. And if we go back to the narrative in Genesis three, there is suddenly this knowledge and it's not just a knowledge of what is good. And that trust and vulnerability are good because I'll be taken care of and I'll be seen and I'll be sued and I am fundamentally secure in the world in which I live. But now there's something when their eyes are opened, that they now know evil, they now know that there can be such a thing as harm as wounding as broken Trust as betrayal as the possibility that goodness can slip out from underneath me like a funhouse floor. And then that leads to fear. And that fear is, I suspect part of what led to grasping for something beyond God, this this fruit that was both pleasing to the eye, and that would be good for food and nourishing. So we see that one of the first things that happened after this, quote, fall, and I've said on this program before that I would rather call what happened in the Garden of Eden the turn rather than the fall, because the turn puts it into much more relational terms, whereas the fall feels like gravity. Yeah. And there is a gravity to the turn. But it's something that was, you know, even as God sent them out of the garden as a blessing and a protection, that it was all relational and that there was Wasn't a rupture in the relationship, the way that we might think of it. So they cover themselves with fig leaves. And let's say that that fig leaf is one 100th of an inch thick. It's probably less than that. That covering is not just a level of separation between Adam and Eve or Eve to Adam. But it's actually a covering in that covering creates distance. And what it says is, it's not okay for you to see me. And for you, it's not okay for me to see you. And therefore there's a part of me that has to hide beneath those fig leaves, or through performance, or through as Bernie Brown says, I either have to get big and do something that will make me stronger, better, more powerful than I am, or I have to get small and I have to dial down who I am and I can't be who I really am. Nelson Mandela said in that that our greatest fear is not failure. Our greatest fear is our glory. And being someone who would have a profound impact on the world, I'm not getting that goodness,
yes, I'm scared of our bigness. Right.
So we dialed down Lorie
right of shining. Exactly. Sometimes for theological reasons, sometimes for the narrative in our story where we're told we can't do that. Having said that, shame can play out when we get big, which can be protective in a false self, or shame can play out when we're small. But the very first way to be concrete about it that shame fuels addiction, is that it opens this void within us. If I feel ashamed, and there's a judgment that I'm not enough, I have to either withdraw and avoid or I have to escalate things in control. Mm hmm. And that's how to have this place of powerlessness of I cannot do anything about being seen and seen in a way where I lack where I am inadequate. And we'll talk about this in a forthcoming episode, but because shame is so embodied in us, it's an experience that's overwhelming. Shame is not just an emotion, it's a physical experience. That's why people describe things like, you know, I just feel nauseous or I felt redness in my face or my heart started beating. And so I call that the void. In that void, we need something. And what we desperately longed for, and I believe in our core want to believe is that we could be exposed and seen for who we really are, and for someone to remain for someone to Embrace for someone to bless for someone. And of course, in Genesis, the story is God. And it's ever so subtle, but we, we might actually know the narrative of the story in Genesis three, but we, we tend to think that they covered themselves with fig leaves. And when God shows up, saying, Adam, where are you that he's mad, that he's somehow like the school teacher with the glasses way down on the edge of the nose looking with a scowl, or some kind of a shaming stare. And that's not God's posture at all. His asking permission, what do you see there? What do I see is a God who shows up saying, I've, I've come for you. I've come to you. Yeah, I see your fear. I see the shame. And I'm going to come and speak into this and I'm going to show you that you Your nakedness can't be covered by fig leaves. Your fear can't be addressed by running to hide in the woods. Your sense of inadequacy can't be met Adam, by blaming your wife, by historically, you know, men blaming women, for their sense of feeling expose your shame, which in part is really a lie about the serpent saying, you can be like God,
I want to come and speak into that. And God does that, with words of asking these questions. And I think the, the power of the questions that God asks in Genesis three are less about him needing answers, because of course he's omniscient, and more about the questions, awakening and revealing things in their heart. That each of those questions was an opportunity to engage and so I think the story of the gospel, if we look at it beyond just john 316, but from Genesis to Revelation is that God comes for us. He comes for us. He comes for us always in our nakedness. Genesis 227 that Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. Well, the most profound historical way that God came for us is in the cross. And God was naked. I am going to come for you and not as this cloud like he did over the desert while the Israelites wander around. I'm going to come for you with skin. And I'm going to enter into broken humanity, if you will, I'm going to enter into shame. And I'm going to take that shame upon myself. And, gosh, if we go to Isaiah 53, we actually see if you read through that carefully, that it's more than just sin that God takes on says he bore infirmities that by his stripes, we are here There's actually a healing process there. And it fundamentally begins with this identification with God in Jesus upon the cross, saying, I will be stripped naked, I will be accused as a criminal, I will be seen as unworthy. From a from a disciple perspective, the failure of this whole three year mission has now collapsed. Hmm, yes, you want to say something?
Well, that was really good. Um, I wanted to go back and ask what are those questions that God asks? on the spot?
Yeah, the first question, I don't have the text in front of me I can pull it up is Adam, where are you? There's an old rabbinic story where the student asked the the rabbi, why is it that if God knows everything, why did he asked Adam, where are you? And the rabbi said, it's, it's not that God didn't know is that Adam didn't know where he was. Adam And Eve did not know their place as God's beloved children. Because the voice of shame said you're unworthy to be a beloved child. Well, that's the gospel right there. The second question that God asks, and I believe it's in this order, so please don't email me and say that I have a Bible where, you know, this has been edited out. But he says, Who told you that you were naked? Yes, that's right. No one told them that they were naked, it was their eyes. So shame is always about the eyes. It's always about a sense of being exposed as being laid bare from the eyes of another.
What I love about that question is examine the origin of where this came from. Yes. Who told you you're naked? Because you're just running off with this idea that you're naked and you're acting it out. Let's just go back Who told you Can we sit and explore that because then when you can unhook that you're free again. You don't want to just run off acting it all out again,
right? Which is a great apology in the sense of apologist or apologetics. That's a great apology for understanding our story. You know, we hear the so often of well, it's not biblical to look your past because in Philippians, three, God says, or Paul says, You know, I forget what is behind me. But it's through looking back, that we understand the roots of these kinds of issues. Absolutely. So who told them they were naked? Again, it was the deception. You can't trust God? Did he really say, and immediately I'm vulnerable. And that vulnerability, makes it so that someone needs to see me someone that I can trust needs to be there with me. But the second lie I've been told is I can be like God, and I can be self sufficient. So therefore, it's not good or right to actually trust the other because now I know that I'm capable of not trusting, so This, this telling them that they were naked came from this knowledge of good and evil they knew good. And the knowledge of evil is there's another realm and another possibility of living that I can step into. And a word for evil might be the disconnection from life. Right? I know I'm really going off track here. So we'll maybe extend this episode. Or maybe we'll just let it go as it is. But there's a there's an old story about evil, where m Scott Peck had written the book, the road less traveled, there was a best seller for 10 years. In the interim before his next book, he became a Christian. And he writes about this in his book, The people, people who live understanding the problem of evil and he wrote from it. He wrote about evil from the perspective of a psychiatrist and MD scientific view. And he talked about how he would be mocked and humiliated by his profession, in writing about evil Because it's meta physical, and medicinally operates with the world of what's observable. So he's writing this book on evil. Late one night in his study, his little daughter wanders and Daddy, what are you writing about? And he says, I'm writing about evil. She looked at him curious and said, What's evil? And he said, uh, let me think about it. And I'll tell you tomorrow. So the next day she walked back into the study, she says, Daddy, I know what evil is. Oh, really tell me. She said evil is live spelled backwards. Wow. Li ve EV i L. And he said, It was then that I had utter clarity. Evil opposes life. Evil opposes proliferation, john 10. Evil comes to steal to kill and destroy that which is good and beautiful and bright and lovely and pure and connected and collaborative and generative and divine.
That which is holy. And therefore, this idea of Life is connection. It's the Trinitarian reality of with for sufficiency, abundance, vitality, overflow, trust, vulnerability being a good thing. So this void, this void opens up. And that exposure in the sense of I can no longer be present with you and be worthy and in effect Be Love means I have to pull away. And in that pulling away, I now have an emptiness. I have a pain inside of me, it's a pain of not being seen and loved. And most of us have not thought very much about that. But we all bear a kind of wound of not being seen for who we really are. That we either have to be more than who we are, or we can't be who we are. We have to down down but there's just This idea as well, that's neurobiological that when we're alone and disconnected when our nervous system wakes up reacts, maybe there was a saber toothed Tiger in the Garden of Eden, that after the fall, they would have seen his ferocious teeth, or her ferocious teeth. And they're nervous. Yep. I want to give equal time to female saber toothed tigers, thank you. And in that to have a reaction because they were no longer safe. So in that void of pain, in the absence of connection, I have to turn to someone or some thing to soothe that pain, yes, to fill the emptiness. And so this is the very long answer to your question about how shame fuels addiction. I defined addiction in a number of ways last time, but I landed on john Bradshaw's addiction definition and he says that an addiction is an unhealthy mood altering relationship with a person substance or process. So a relationship is something where you're either connected or disconnected. And if shame causes a disconnect, the relationship is broken. We're created as relational, dependent and interdependent beings. And when we don't have that, then we will experience this, this human compulsion of I've got to turn to something. And whatever we turn to a person, a substance or a behavior is what really becomes our compulsion or addiction, or God,
since I'm a shrink, can I tell you what I've heard you saying? Yes, great. I am hearing that distance and disconnection fuels addiction, because we have got to fill up that emptiness with something and it needs to be something less intimidating than that. bearing of our brokenness and what we are embarrassed of and what we have failed at, bearing that to another human being and Looking in their eyes and letting them respond to us and the risk that that is and in the hopes, of course of being accepted and loved for all of who you are, because that is such an intimidating process and addiction is about settling for a lesser substitute that can fill the void.
Yes, well said. The less intimidating is if it's a substance, that substance can't let me down
know if you will, is available, right not criticize you.
If it's a behavior that won't let me down in surfing for God, I wrote that. pornographic images Don't tell me to cut my toenails or that I left the toilet seat up or something like that, you know, it's just there and it requires nothing of me. So really one way of discussing an addiction and the Next thing with shame is that in our insufficiency and inadequacy and unworthiness, we turn to something that doesn't require anything of us. And we are suddenly perfectly worthy for that moment, for that moment, because the nature of that addiction is that it's never enough. From a chemical perspective, tolerance is a reality. We need more and more taking same result. And eventually you can't get more and more of it, which is why Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jim Morrison and you know, the legacy of people and the anonymous ones that we don't know through history, why they overdose. I just got to get a little bit more.
Yeah. And then it literally kills you.
Absolutely. And that just makes it crystal clear to me that that there's one good thing that will fill that void, and that is true intimacy, love being seen and known and one last thing I want to say is as you were Talking, it felt clear to me. One of the most impossible things to accept as a human and then as Christians often is that because we it makes so much sense to us naturally that we would have to be perfect to connect with a perfect God. And so then when the failures begin, and when they pile up to be told, no, just bring those failures here and show them, let me see all your failures, and so to God and then to other safe people. And to then you are in whole, amazing union and relationship. But that's a very, I mean, that is not a natural price that we want to pay. And so it is truly an invitation to take it a different direction.
Right. And, you know, as you said, there's one place that we can go. I know you well enough that you weren't going to see this but the Sunday school answer is Jesus. Mm hmm. So that where we go with this is Jesus. Well, that's true, but A big part of my thinking is that we can't connect with God to be attached to him and really rest in that until we've experienced that on a human level. And for some people to experience on human level, they have to have really gracious experiences of God that allows them and it becomes a two way street. But that the answer of Jesus is a cop out there. Sometimes the answer is Jesus, but we have to experience that kind of I can be just as I am, to quote the old hymn with you. And that begins to shape something inside of me where that vulnerability with God can happen. Absolutely. We begin to live Yeah, naked and unashamed.
Yeah, it's it's intimacy and its vulnerability, whether that's with God or others and it has to be it really I mean, the craving is for both because God did say to go back to Genesis, it's not good for man to be alone. So this one relationship with me is not enough as a human being I want you to have more
and if it's not good for me to be alone, when I am When I feel that way, I feel shame and the ensuing pain and I develop a relationship back to the definition of addiction with a person, a substance or process that will not require something of me or that will require everything of me, but in a way that's not actually consistent with who I am. Yeah. Let's wrap up. This is so much more could be said. But I always think that I need to say everything that I know until I fall across the finish line exhausted but we'll come back for another episode. So, so glad we could talk today, Kelly.
Yeah, loved it. Thanks so much, Michael.
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