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Failure Is Spelt "M.E."
by Cate Russell-Cole
10/19/2015 / Self Help
"When I feel guilt, I feel that I have made a mistake, and when
I feel shame, I feel that I am a mistake."
We've all done things we're ashamed of, which we regret, but shame is, as Bradshaw said, when "I feel that I am a mistake." It becomes a part of our identity, the way we see ourselves. It entirely colours our self-worth, our ability to achieve or fail. We didn't live up to our parents', teachers' or peer's expectations. We're not the 'us' we want to be. Instead, we're a worthless failure, and there is no hope of change. Shame is associated with feelings of being unlovable, useless, unwanted, ugly, inferior, stupid, dirty or bad. Shame hides the real 'me' for fear of rejection and ridicule because the real 'me' is worthless as a human being.
Shame's foundations are, not surprisingly, laid in childhood, sometimes very early. It can come from mum and/or dad. "You're stupid." "You're lazy." "You'll never amount to anything." "You're nothing but trouble." "I wish you'd never been born. You were an accident, and I've regretted it ever since." Being caught up in incest, rape, physical or verbal abuse just makes it worse. Shame also carries into school years, if it hasn't originated there. Being compared to siblings who did better academically or at sports, not being a brilliant scholar, copping the teacher's disapproval for whatever reason. It can come or be intensified by playground bullying, name calling, teasing, rejection by your so called "friends."
Maybe you were clumsy? Maybe you did something wrong once and were met with a bad reception. Were you allowed to make mistakes and learn from them without being chewed out by someone for getting it wrong? Was your nose too big? Did your ears stick out? Maybe you were accident prone: a normal problem in a young, developing body, but if its met with criticism or rejection, it is a fertile ground for shame to take root and spread in your mind. Christine Evans in her "Life Matters" website says, "Shame is above all a relationship wound... our identity [as women] is based on our ability to form and maintain relationships." Relationship problems or complete breakdowns in your teenage and adult life add to that foundational basis of shame, and a your deepening sense of being a failure.
We all make mistakes, they are an essential part of growing. Yet, we take them to mean that we are a failure. You're not a failure. No one always achieves the goals they set for themselves, for a wide variety of reasons, it doesn't automatically brand anyone as a useless waste. Shame is a difficult mindset to break out of, as it is so deeply ingrained in how we see ourselves. We can try positive self-talk and reprogramming, but if we fail to achieve that goal, it takes us deeper into feeling a failure.
Healing does come, but usually it comes in gentle stages over time. Achieving small goals, making friends who genuinely appreciate us, gaining more self-confidence - step by step, it all adds up, and begins to change the way we think about ourselves for the better. Healing is being gently opened up to being loved, and to see ourselves in a positive light. To come to know what it is to be good at something, what it is to be loved and wanted unselfishly. It's a life-long developmental process, but be encouraged, life can improve, no matter how damaged we've been.
I didn't start valuing myself until I was nineteen. Until then, I wasn't ready. As a teenager I was hopeless at nearly everything, and it wasn't until was living away from my family home with the freedom to try new things without ridicule, that I tested them out and discovered what I was good at. I have found over the last twelve years, where I fit in. I still carry some shame, but I am healing, and my self-image is more positive.
It can take a long time, but there is hope. One thing that has helped me tremendously is the knowledge deep in my heart, that God, who knows me inside and out, better than anyone, loves me most. I am not a mistake. I am His treasured creation, the apple of His eye. His unconditional acceptance, forgiveness when I have made mistakes, and His encouragement in His Word has been a great source of healing for me. My favourite verse comes from the book of Isaiah, chapter 61, verse 7. "They were terribly insulted and horribly mistreated [shame and dishonour in many translations]; now they will be greatly blessed and joyful forever."
This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Written in Australian English.
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