I wish this wasn’t so apt for me! All my life I have struggled with comfort eating as a default stress response and jam doughnuts are one of my favourite comfort foods. Sometimes there is a bit of a shame trigger in there too.
I am also impressed with a catchy marketing line!
I am aware of what I do and most of the time can catch myself and be a little more mindful in my choices if I have the energy.
That’s one of my everyday vulnerabilities and helps me to have more compassion for others who struggle we with ways of coping which may not be the healthiest.
What are your good coping mechanisms to help me make better choices?
I am immensely grateful to Daniel Corcoran, a fellow clergy person, for suggesting how important it is to ask ‘how is this understood?’ in relation to shame and church. It is a key question to ask in many contexts, not just church.
Despite having been to church for most of my life I can go to some places and not have a clue what to do. Others seem to know when to sit, kneel or stand but not always me. Shame is about feeling I am a bad or worthless or flawed person and for those of us who are shame prone it is not difficult to make us want to disappear and hide because we feel stupid and out of place. There are so many contexts where unwritten rules or mores exist where we don’t know what to do if we come new to a situation and when we get it wrong others can be very condemning or dismissive and this can impact how we see ourselves.
If you are planning an activity, an event, welcoming a new person into a family or group of friends then consider what it is you need to ask of ‘how is this understood?’ and be aware of what you need to explain to people, warn them of or prepare them for. Shame can be immensely debilitating, it can often be avoided if we consciously think about how we can be less shaming.
My book Shame and the Church is available from a range of places and I am doing a series of talks in different places applying my PhD research into varying contexts. Contact me if interested firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am doing some speaking and writing on shame this month and next and appreciating the opportunity to continue the dialogue with myself and others which began over fifty years ago with being shamed at school. Ever since then I have been a little wary of institutions and their propensity to shame me. I wrote about shame because I want to raise awareness of what Lewis Smedes calls the shame we don’t deserve, disgrace shame which is often culturally mediated and has nothing to do with what is needed to follow Jesus. I have had too many conversations with people who have been shamed over so many different things by institutions which should be caring for them and wanting the best for them not condemning them. I believe we can become shame free through what Jesus has done for us although that may need significant accompanying by those who accept and affirm us and help us to feel we belong.
Sally Nash Shame and the Church: Exploring and Transforming Practice London SCM 2020
In lockdown I had hoped for more opportunities to be creative and reflect on what is going on in me and more widely. I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had to do this and have needed the external stimulus. I am part of a group called Transforming Shame, we have a Facebook page where we share different things and recently we had a meeting where we discussed shame and Covid 19. When I got an opportunity to contribute to the Dangerous Liturgy project I thought that shame was something I would like to write about. This is what I wrote and is in the most recent edition. In mental health awareness week it is good to be real about some of the thoughts that go through our heads but as a Christian I also need to try to listen to what God says too…
On being no longer good enough…
I have long believed in ‘good enough’.
But now there are days when I can’t even get to ‘good enough’.
Lists still exist, no crossing off.
The books unopened, unread.
The clutter still cluttering.
The good intentions weighing me down.
I look in the mirror and see shame on my face.
Shame, that I am not a ‘good enough’ person today.
Shame, debilitating, demoralizing, de-energising.
It’s a vicious spiral downwards on those days when
who I am is not ‘good enough’.
This strange new world has challenged my equilibrium,
as I navigate new paths, with twists and turns I can’t anticipate.
But deep within, beyond these feelings there’s a small voice
trying to be heard over all the clamouring conflicting thoughts in my head.
It’s a voice which says, come to me,
come to me, my beloved weary one, I will give you rest.
But it’s so hard to hear, to obey when so much of my faith
has been about doing, and now I can’t always do, it’s hard.
Striving to be ‘good enough’ needs to cease,
I need to embrace this moment and remember that
who I see in the mirror is not who I am and that to God
This book represents 10 years work, 6 on researching and writing a PhD and a further 4 doing a little more research and making it accessible for anyone to read. Shame is horrible, it is a global perception that who you are is flawed or unworthy and so often we are made to feel this over things we shouldn’t. This book largely addresses this issue and contains my experiences as well as those of many others who shares their story with me, often anonymously in response to an email or social media post with a link to a questionnaire. I am also very grateful to those who contributed liturgy for the book. It was hard and painful to write but one of those messages I felt compelled to share. It is available from the publisher and bookshops, online or real!
Sally Nash (2020) Shame and the church: exploring and transforming practice. London:. SCM Press.
Term starts Monday and as always our year begins with community week where all the students come together for three days. I have loved Snoopy for many years and collect lots of these memes on Pinterest. This one is a useful reminder, particularly when I end up tired and my thought pattern isn’t as helpful as it might be! I have studied and written about shame which is what we feel when we think we are a bad person rather than thinking we have done something wrong. This list helps mitigate shame for me and that is beneficial.
Since I began studying shame I keep coming across it in all sorts of books where I am not expecting it. I continue to ponder on this quotation:
“One long-standing conviction in particular recurs again and again as a refrain in this pursuit—namely, that to the extent seminarians and ministers find the courage and resources necessary to explore their own debilitating childhood shame, they gain empathy and skill for assisting others in their pastoral care.”
I know that I was only able to study shame and ask others about it once I had grappled with my own story. Finding safe places and safe people where we can process some of the baggage we carry from our childhood would benefit from being considered as part of a formation process and facilitated if it has not previously taken place.
“Finding Ourselves Lost: Ministry in the Age of Overwhelm” by Robert C. Dykstra Cascade – read on Kindle so don’t have page number.
I am part of a recently formed group of people who have an interest of the topic of shame in the church. We have set up a Facebook Group called Transforming Shame where we hope to be able to share resources and engage in discussion.
I have very nearly finished my book on shame and share the passion to help people understand what it is, what may trigger it, and how we might support those who are experiencing shame as well as encourage less disgrace shaming in the church. Do think about liking the page if you are interested in the topic too and let us know if there are particular things you would like us to discuss.
Jon Ronson wrote an excellent book about shame which explored some of the ways people are shamed on social media, So you’ve been publicly shamed where he describes shame like this:
Shame is an incredibly inarticulate emotion, it’s something you bathe in, it’s not something you wax eloquent about. It’s such a deep, dark, ugly thing, there are few words for it (p271).
We want to help shame to be named, understood and transformed.
I am finishing off my book on shame at the moment and am coming across different pieces of writing I did as I studied shame. One of the things I looked at a bit was institutional shame. The extract talks about some of the big religious scandals but applies more widely. I am posting this extract today as I ponder voting tomorrow. I have never not voted since I turned 18 and I regard it as a responsibility and privilege. However, it can be really hard to know who to vote for and how to vote. I am seeing a little too much of this in our political institutions at the moment – a game called MBA, me before anyone. I pray for humble, servant leaders, who will make decisions as to what is best for the country, particularly those on the margins, who have been hurt most by austerity. People should be treated with respect and dignity and have a minimum standard of living which enables them to participate in society. This is not a party political statement and I am making no comment as to how to vote but character is important and who are leaders are is significant as well as what they do.
Mitroff and Pauchant (1990) discuss games playing in organizations. One which they think relates to some of the big religion based scandals is what they call MBA, me before anyone (Mitroff and Pauchant 1990:38-39). People involved in playing this game are interested in being seen as the saviour of the world and are involved in a game where they need to look good. When involved in crisis situations people playing such games can react in ways which are detrimental to the organization rather than beneficial. A difficulty of this game is that while there are some high profile cases others that play the game can be a little difficult to identify and address the issues (Mitroff and Pauchant 1990).
Mitroff and Pauchant note that human problems can be seen at the level of individual, organization and society and that “the ‘craziness’ found at each level is essentially the same” (1990:xii). They argue that crises occur in organizations because of emotional and ethical limitations (Mitroff and Pauchant 1990). They argue that “paradoxically, institutional dumbness occurs precisely because individuals are rather intelligent, not stupid. It occurs because, though we may be somewhat smart, emotionally we are all rather undeveloped” (Mitroff and Pauchant 1990:14). This observation resonates with my experience of church at times. They use the term “bounded emotionality” (Mitroff and Pauchant 1990:18) to describe this lack of capacity to engage with feelings and sustain the emotional pain long enough to get through the problem.
Mitroff, I. I. and Pauchant, T. We’re So Big And Powerful Nothing Bad Can Happen To Us (New York: Birch Lane Press, 1990).
It is sometimes scary being a teacher because you have no idea what your words or actions may trigger. I graduated yesterday having written 80,000 words on shame in the church, but I would never have written them if it had not been for a teacher nearly half a century ago. I don’t remember the name of the teacher and if you have heard me speak about my research you almost certainly heard me tell the story.
But the (negative) actions of that teacher sparked something in me that over the years I have reflected on and began to realize that I needed to think more deeply about. Shame is horrible, shame which should never have been evoked is particularly horrible but shaming is prevalent in our culture. You only have to buy a tabloid newspaper to understand that. I devised a typology of shame and now see more clearly how shame happens in a range of contexts at different levels and I try to be priest who does not shame individuals, I may not always succeed but try to be mindful of the power inherent in my role and the call to be loving.