In an interview with the band, Tenth Avenue North, about their new album The Struggle, the band shared about the struggle we all face to be free. However, because of God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice, we, as followers of Christ, are already free and can be free to struggle knowing that if we fall, we fall into God’s capable hands and the infinite ocean of grace.
Unfortunately, countless Christians continue to live in darkness and shame because of sexual abuse, acts, or desires. Brene Brown, PhD, author of the book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are has spent years researching shame and how it interferes with developing connection and intimacy. Dr. Brown defines shame as the fear of disconnection; the feeling or belief that if I share this about myself or act in this way that you will not find me worthy of relationship. Based upon this definition, it becomes clear to see why those who have been victims of sexual abuse, engaged in certain sexual acts, or have family or culturally-condemned sexual desires struggle with self-acceptance and often feel as though they do not belong.
If you can relate to this struggle, know that there is hope for you and that you are not alone. From working with clients, below are some strategies that have been helpful in the battle against sexual shame.
- Talk About It: The best way to keep shame alive is to continue to be silent. Once you begin sharing about the sexual abuse, act, or desire, it begins to lose its power and grip on your life. It is important though to find someone that is not going to judge you or immediately tell you how to fix it. This is why talking to a counselor, who is trained in expressing unconditional positive regard, is the preferred course of action. If you do not have the means to see a therapist, you can speak to your pastor about finding a local ministry or small group that is going to be validating and supportive. We were not designed to go through life alone and sharing our burdens is part of Christ’s law. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (NLT)
- Step Out of Fear & Into Faith: Shame is a form of fear and there is a reason the Bible tells us to not fear 365 times, one for every day of the year! We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them… Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. 1 John 4:16, 18 (NLT). It is important to be on guard and aware of how fear is influencing your decisions because if you are following fear, you are not following God and you are then missing out on the freedom God wants for you. In my work with numerous clients, I have witnessed the consequences of allowing fear to guide your life’s decisions. Fear ruins relationships, causes people to miss out on God’s blessings, robs people of joy and gratitude, and fuels addiction. Ask yourself what fear wants you to do and begin doing the opposite. If fear is keeping you from sharing your sexual shame, it is time to move from dark to light and begin talking about it.
- Challenge Your Beliefs: We all struggle with shame in one form or another. We all have an “Inner Critic” that tells us we are not good enough. My Inner Critic at this moment is telling me that I am writing this for nothing and that no one is going to read this or be helped by this. Instead of accepting every thought or feeling as truth, begin putting those thoughts and feelings to the test of God’s Word. This includes your beliefs about sex. The Bible has plenty to say about sex in some areas, but is unfortunately lacking in other areas (e.g. masturbation). One thing the Bible is not short on though is verses about God’s view of you and who He created you to be. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10. Begin to become aware of when your Inner Critic is speaking to you and instead of accepting its words as Truth, declare God’s Word in your heart and mind to fight against the shame. It is then that you begin to realize that who you are is so much more than the sexual abuse you experienced, the sexual acts you’ve committed, or the desires you’ve had and God does not define or judge you by them. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. Psalm 103:12.
- Nurture & Self-care: We live in a society and a day and age that is always demanding more of us. Constantly trying to live up to these expectations can lead us to declare defeat and conclude that our Inner Critic is right; “I am not good enough, so why try?” Sometimes the Church can be one of the biggest sources of demand and expectation in our lives. Jesus knew the importance of nurture and having self-care disciplines in his life. Many times, Jesus would give himself time to be alone in prayer and to rest. He also set boundaries in his life so that He would not be taken away from His true purpose and ministry. In Mark 1:35-38, Jesus even declines to help more people in need after his disciples tell Him that there are people in town looking for Him. Jesus knew that if He went back to help more, it would keep Him from fulfilling God’s purpose. Attempting to live up to the expectations of others is a shame-based behavior, so this means that we need to learn to become comfortable with saying no and disappointing others for the sake of maintaining balance in our lives. Allow yourself to focus on the present moment rather than dwell on the burdens of tomorrow or the regrets of yesterday. Buy a carton of strawberries and enjoy the flavor and the color. Find a spot outside and enjoy the scenery and the sounds of nature. Turn on your A/C and wrap up in a warm blanket with a good book or watch a show that will make you laugh. If you have any negative thoughts (“you’re wasting time”) or feelings of guilt, just allow them to pass and try to stay in the moment. Sexual shame can be daunting and can feel like an elephant on your chest (it is often the elephant in the room in my work with couples). This is why it is important to learn to nurture yourself and treat yourself as worthy and deserving because that is exactly how God views you.
I pray that the reading of this article would be the start of you becoming freed from the shackles placed on you by sexual shame and that you would begin to walk in the abundant grace of Christ. It is time to realize that there is a way out and that you are meant for something greater. The fear you have may be intense and powerful, but The Spirit that lives in you is greater than the spirit that lives in this world 1 John 4:4. God bless.
Jonathan S. Statt, M.C., LAMFT
Jonathan Statt is a Marriage & Family Therapist for Renewal Centers, Inc. in Tucson, AZ www.renewalcenters.net Jonathan has been practicing as a therapist since January 2008 and brings with him a wide array of knowledge and life experience pertaining to marriage, families, and children. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Family Studies and Human Development and a Master’s Degree in Counseling with an emphasis on Marriage, Family and Child Therapy. He is also a state certified K-12 School Guidance Counselor. Jonathan has had many experiences with children and families from working as a youth pastor for over 6 years to being a Jr. High Life Skills Instructor for 5 years. In counseling, Jonathan has a passion for working with individuals, families, and couples on a variety of issues including anxiety, depression, life transitions, personal growth, school difficulties, addiction, marital discord, parent-teen relationships, men’s health, sexuality, grief, and spiritual conflicts. When not working in the community or counseling, he enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife and 2 daughters and still enjoys the occasional video game. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Jonathan, you can contact him at 520-791-9974 or firstname.lastname@example.org