Evangelicals Experiencing Shame
D. H. Lawrence said a writer sheds his sickness in his writing. Preachers tend to do it too. As a pastoral counselor, I couldn’t help but notice the recurring themes that popped up in the sermons of pastors at the churches I used to attend. I kept my thoughts to myself.
I have also noticed that those of us who blog tend to use our posts to work out stuff. If you pay attention you can sometimes discern the unresolved issues the blogger is working out at your reading expense.
Of course, if you want to play armchair therapist with your favorite blogger, you do need to pay attention to your own countertransference. Countertransference is a therapist’s emotional entanglement with a client. It requires the therapist to discern what her reactions are telling her about the client’s psychology and what they are telling her about her own. If you want a good therapeutic outcome, distinguishing between personal and diagnostic countertransference is essential. If it sounds complex and difficult, it is because it is.
All of that to say it’s probably better if you don’t make too much of the themes you may or may not discern in the sermons of your preacher or the posts of the blogger you follow. What you “discern” might be more about you than it is about them.
It’s better if a blogger tells you outright about his or her unresolved issues. I tend to do that. A lot of you read this blog because I am painfully honest about the transgender experience. Of course, the truth is a lot of my issues have nothing to do with being trans. They have to do with being human.
This past week I allowed myself to become triangulated. Triangulation is when you become the third person in a two-person conversation. It is virtually never appropriate. I tend to triangulate out of concern for a person, and I’m inclined to do it when I think the issue is urgent. I almost never triangulate when I have had a chance to sleep on it. There might be a lesson there.
Once I have triangulated I tend toward self-condemnation and shame. Which is not helpful, because what is called for is an apology. The self-condemnation is self-referential and not helpful. But hey, once a fundamentalist…
We do not get to stop being human. Until that final breath we do stupid stuff that makes us feel as though it’s time to turn in our maturity badge. Fortunately, being human is not a condition to be corrected, but celebrated. God loves us just as we are, no improvements demanded, no conditions stipulated.
Unfortunately those of us who grew up fundamentalist have a hard time letting go of our transactional understanding of our relationship with God. This is the reason we hold our shame so deeply. When you are convinced God’s love for you is dependent on your performance, how else could you respond?
I felt guilt when I triangulated. That was appropriate. I apologized to the people involved. Guilt asks for an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and an apology. Guilt says, “I did something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.” Guilt serves a purpose. Shame does not.
The whole triangulating episode was confusing. I’m still not sure exactly what happened. But the shame that keeps trying to poke its head through the door? Yeah, I keep shoving it out. I’m not having it. I am human, and stuff’s gonna happen. If I was perfect, you wouldn’t be able to live with me.
And so it goes.