The Shame Cycle
I have been working on my PTSD for the past 6 years now. One thing that really stands out, no matter how much I try, is the shame. Shame is where you believe you ARE the bad thing. Not that you DID a bad thing or a bad thing was done to you. Shame is a bad thing and the act of Shaming someone is also a bad thing. Often times we who struggle with shame get trapped in something we call the Shame Cycle. So, what is this Shame Cycle?
We start with a stressor. This could be something as small as stubbing your toe to losing a job and much more. Stressors are sometimes hard to see and sometimes they are plain as day. I’ll give an example from my life. I come to work, and I am the only one in the queue, but I’m also expected to complete projects at the same time. This is a stressor for me. I am now customer-facing, and back-end facing. The stressor has no stopgap, it happens. From here, we enter the feeling cycle covered here. The stress is the event, to the action urge. Instead of working through the feeling cycle, I choose to act out. Sometimes the stressor is someone acting out on us.
If we can’t process or choose not to process the stressors, we act out. This could be eating a pint of ice cream, smoking a cigarette, having unprotected sex with a stranger, shooting up, and much more. The act out is the negative action we take to soothe stress. For me, it was a combo of fantasy worlds where I was the hero and porn. One I have recently noticed among people in my field is work.
Then comes shame and guilt. Guilt is where you have done something wrong, but you are not that something, While shame says you are the wrong. Shame is a lie. You are not the wrong, I am not the sex monster. The thing about shame is it’s not just an emotion. It’s a full-body experience. Like running is a very painful full-body experience. The major difference here is running is healthy, while shaming is deadly.
Try Harder <> Give Up
From the shame, we come to the conclusion that we have to be a better person. We work harder. We say to ourselves, one more day without porn. WE GOT THIS! The brain produces chemicals that say, keep it going. However, the core of shame is still there. The belief that they are a bad person because we acted out is still there. After a while, a stressor occurs again, and guess what happens. Right back to acting out, then to shame. After a while, the body no longer produces the same chemicals. We go from trying harder to, give up. Sometimes we find motivation and go back to try harder. I will give you an example from my life. While I was doing my acting out, I tried harder and harder. I would get to the point where I was a few months out. Then I would drop back into porn. I felt like I was dying inside. I felt that I was the Sin. I felt I was evil, and I started to believe those around me will suffer my sickness. At that point, I gave up. I let the depression take hold. I became the addict in my mind. I tried to kill myself, thinking it would save everyone else. I gave up and acted out.
Shame <> Acting Out
During that time of my life, the shame was enough stress to cause me to act out again. I was bypassing the stressor. I was bypassing the event, interpretation, the feeling, the action urge, and going straight to the action. I was wallowing in my pitty. It wasn’t until I was in a recovery center did this break. People will enter this stage. The shame triggers acting out and acting out triggers shame. If you are at this stage, seek help.
Shame at it’s core is telling us we are the bad thing. We are unlovable, porn addicts, a sickness, worthless, and more. This is what is so damaging about shame. Shame is a lie. Guilt is truth, Shame is a lie. Repeat that. Guilt is Truth, Shame is a lie. Guilt tells us we did something wrong. To break this cycle, you have to come to the point where you choose not to see yourself as The Shame. I am not a sickness to others. I am not unlovable. I am not a porn addict. So, what is the truth?
You were created in God’s image.
Wow, think about that for a second. God, the creator of the universe. He made you out of his image. Look at every animal, we are some of the most unique among them. We walk, swim, invent, dance, socialize, and much more. You reading this blog should say that we are unique creatures on our planet. According to the bible we are set apart from the other animals. We are God’s image.
Sin has come into this image tho and distorted it some. The acting out does distract from the perfection of his image. Sin does destroy this. But God loves you even then. Yet we were still sinners, Christ died for us. See God loves you. This means you are not unlovable. If you have accepted Christ this means you are a child of God. Which is amazing. This means you are not an addict. This means you are a child who struggles.
Christian, You are a Child of God
My son is just like my wife and me. His go-to emotion is anger. I have two choices to see him at this point. I can see him as a hateful and angry person. Or I can see him as my son who has great potential. That anger one day will be used for greatness. This is how God sees you, my brothers and sisters. This is how He sees me. He sees my hurt, and He has used it for His glory. Strangely enough, by doing so, He shows how much He cares for me. When my son chooses compassion over anger, my heart is joyed. Our father is the same way. Each time we say no to sin, His heart is joyed. Not because He sees us as the low-down trash sinners, but instead, He sees us as His own kids.
This is how I broke free. I use to see myself as the sickness in the family because I struggled with acting out sexually. I kept knocking myself down peg by peg each time I acted out. Because of my weakened state, I wasn’t ready for a life-changing stressor. This lead me to a rehab center for two weeks. I wasn’t able to act out anymore. I was trapped in a schedule where I had to confront my thoughts and feelings. It was there, I started to dig into my bible. It was there, I was reminded of the holy spirit inside of me. Just like in 1 Kings 19. He heard the still small voice. The whisper in the wind and he went outside to meet God. That same voice called me, and told me, “I want you.” God wanted me. I was 9 years old and He wanted me. I became still and knew He was God while at that center 27 years later. Whenever I am shaming myself, I remind myself, I am a creation of God. I am a Child of God.
Key Items to Help
You will have to fight the negative thoughts that come into your head. They will say you are xyz. The truth will destroy these. I oftentimes have the thought, “You are a worthless sex addict.” Should be replaced by “I am a Child of God who struggles with sexual behavior.”
Question the Shame:
- How is the shame acting out? Physical, Mental, or both?
- How would this help you survive as a kid?
- Where is this coming from?
- Is it Giving or taking away?
- Am I comparing myself
How is the shame acting out? Physical, Mental, or both?
Is this physical, mental, or both? Sometimes shame acts out very subtly. Slumped shoulders, self-care, and much more. Your outward appearance shows it. Sometimes the shame acts out mentally. Things like quick anger, self-loathing, suicide, and more. Most of the time it comes out as both. The key here is to see how your shame is acting out. Remember shame is a body experience. Thus, your body will show it.
How would this help you survive as a kid?
How would this help you survive as a kid/adult? My mom grew up with the “Kids are to be seen but not heard” mindset. This caused her to struggle to express her emotions. She struggled to talk about what she needed. As a small child, I also experienced this. This of course changed as I got older. The idea of having a mental health issue was still a big no-no in our house growing up. One of my family members attempted suicide. If we spoke about it, we were yelled and/or shut down almost immediately. It was too much for my parents to handle. Thus, to protect me, I didn’t talk about mental health. As I grew older, this became a problem. I felt shame for having depression. I felt more shame for even thinking about seeking help. I felt like I was the bad guy for being depressed.
Where is this coming from?
Where is this coming from? I grew up in a small baptist church that grew. I saw times where blue jeans were evil and I saw times where the guitar was wrong. I also saw where God broke that mindset. Often times by taking the shamers home. When I met my wife, she grew up in a church that didn’t break those traditionalisms. Thus she struggled with some of the basics. She became self-cautious about how she dressed. She became self-cautious of how she spoke making sure she wasn’t “out of line,” and much more. Give another example, one man felt shame because He voted republican. As he told me, he felt the conservative path would prolong America. His friends shunned him. His own parents disowned him. Both of these examples show people who shamed others because they didn’t follow their belief systems. Knowing where it comes from, allows you to address it better. You can answer questions like, is this giving or taking easier. My biggest point of external shame now is the work place.
Is it giving?
Is it Giving? Is the thought giving to you? For example, think about the time you spent with your friends last week having fun playing card games. Is that giving? For me yes. An example from my personal life this past week I was looking at pictures of my kids growing up. I am a proud daddyo. My daughter went from being a butt bumper, military crawler, to a singing dancer. Just the other day she stood in front of the church and sang Happy birthday Jesus. Is this thought-giving? YES! Then let’s keep it.
Is it taking away?
Is it Taking away? Is this thought taking away from you? For example, telling yourself you are bad person because you made a mistake. That’s taking away. An example from my personal life. A while back, I was having a stressful day. I acted out with porn. My first thought was, I am a porn addict. Which lead to, I will never be free of this. This lead to the shame cycle which lead to acting out on more porn. Which lead to more negative thoughts. Finally, I caught myself and said, NO! I am a child of God. I am not a porn addict. This is a struggle. By not address the truth first, I am a Child of God, I focused on a lie. I am a sex addict. I placed myself into a shame cycle. I am a bad thing. Not I did a bad thing. Thus this thought was taking away from me. It was draining me.
Comparing Vs Goal Setting
Am I comparing myself vs goal setting? I’m not the president. I am not Bill Gather. I am not Moses. Why am I comparing myself? Like the last question, am I giving or taking away? For me, I oftentimes compare myself to IT guys my age. Most IT guys my age make good money. They have a stable position somewhere. They have multiple skills that I don’t have. They also started a decade before me. At this point, all I am doing is creating a shame. I’m not good enough. I should be there, but I am here because… Comparing is nothing more than envying someone else. Goal setting is different. When you see someone, you can choose to set a goal instead. You acknowledge they have a skill that you want, and you set a goal, make an action plan and go for it. This is giving to yourself, not taking away.
We need a daily reminder that we are not what shame tells us we are. As Christians, it’s extremely important that we spend time with God in His word and in Prayer. This way God will remind us who we are. Not ourselves. Recently, I have been doing a study. The daily study reminds me I am a child of God just by doing the study. I use to have notes on my computer monitors at work that stated, I am worthy of love. When you struggle with Shame, you need an outside force as a daily reminder. This preps you for the questions. This preps you for the fights, and this preps you for daily freedoms.
Mindfulness training is a daily thing that helps you focus on your thoughts without being inside the thoughts themselves. The best way to describe it is to look at the window without looking out of the window. You focus on the details on the windows themselves. Thus, when thoughts come in, you look at the thought and be with the thought. Know the thought. Taking 5 minutes a day doing this, allows your brain to become more aware of itself, and thus, it’s easier to catch the negative thoughts.
Do it again
We all fall. Moses murder a guy. David had sex with a hottie he was peeping tomming on. Then killed her husband. Peter tried to kill a man. The list goes on. The thing about each one of them, they got up and continued. Once again, you are a child of God. Created in the image of God. Who was born with a sinful nature. Who has been forgiven of all sin, past present, and future. You are not what you have done. Get up, praise Jesus and do it again. Keep up the good fight. Focus on God’s promises. I believe in Christ. I believe in You.
The body knows
Oh does the body know. As I stated before, Shame is a body experience. It’s a cluster of emotions that the body deals with. Higher heart rates, sweaty palms, Slunched shoulders, looking at the ground, shuffling of the feet, and much more. Look for those tell signs. I oftentimes notice physically before I notice mentally. For me, I feel a pain in my left side that runs over my left shoulder and up the side of my neck down across my chest following my rib cage. When I feel that, I know I am stressed. If I feel that and I notice my body closing up, I look at my emotions. 88% of the time, I am trash-talking myself. When you become aware of your body, you will have an early warning sign for yourself.
Out of your Control, stop looking for reasons
During my most depressive episodes, I actively look for reasons I feel the way I do. The truth is, it’s not there. It’s chemicals that are bonked in my brain. There is a reason they are bonked. I have to acknowledge this. This is the truth. The truth is not that I am an evil sex addict deserving of hell. Christ saved me. This feeling sometimes is due to chemicals. Pure and simple. At this point, the best thing for me to do is take my medication and move forward focusing on God’s truths. I am loved. I am a child of God. I am created in the image of God. What does all that look like? How much love has God shown me? It’s ok to let go of the things we can’t control. If I don’t, I will place myself into the shame cycle again just by using my own thoughts. My thoughts often times create my feelings. Thus, I need to stop looking for reasons during these times and just accept the fact that My brain is bonked for now and focus on what is Good and righteous.
Finally, one of the biggest helpers, community. People love you. Shame says otherwise. When you are in a community, people will lift you up in your time of need. People oftentimes can see my shame cycle starting before I do. People at work noticed I get angry when I start it. Give an example, I couldn’t figure out a networking issue the other day. I quickly became angry. I was shaming myself for not understanding enough about the unique networking equipment at that location. One of the guys pointed it out to me. Which helped me understand what I was doing. Another example, I started to isolate myself, and my sponsor called me out. He asked me why I wasn’t talking to him as much. This shooked me up a little. I started communicating better. We can’t win this battle alone. If you fall, it’s easier to have someone help you up.
If you are thinking of suicide, people love you. Whatever reason, your brain is telling you they don’t, it’s a liar. We do. It’s ok to get help. We are not bad people. You are not a bad person. Here is the suicide hotline. I have been where you are and it sucked. The road ahead isn’t going to be a fun one, but it’s going to be a freeing one. As of the time of this writing, I have been 30 days without intrusive thoughts. It’s fully possible.
If you are trapped in the shame cycle, it’s ok to seek help.
If someone is shaming you, it’s ok to walk away. If you physically can’t leave the house, or you are under age, it’s ok to go to a different room.
You are created in the Image of God.
Christian, You are a Child of God.