Healing Shame


Lunchtime. 5th grade. {When is middle school ever easy?}

My friend Caroline and I carry our lunches in brown paper bags outside to the playground. We talk about what fifth graders talk about: movies, boys, nail polish, and our (insert eye roll) exasperating teachers & parents. Then, we hear it.

“Here comes fat big Ruth. Here comes fat big Ruth. Here comes fat big Ruth!” they chant. Over and over. I don’t think they will ever stop chanting.

My face flushes red hot. Anger boils. Caroline, knowing how sensitive I am about my weight, looks at me sympathetically.

“Here she comes! Fat big Ruth!”

I take off towards the boys. I’ll show them! They jump out of the swings and scatter like ants, making fat faces as they run. I catch up with one and swing over my head towards him through the slats on the playground bridge. And miss. Keep running. 

Finally, the teacher steps in before I slug one of the boys across the face.  Every kid on the playground is watching-some starring with scared expressions & others making “fat faces”. I stood there scowling, ready to hit anyone who came near me.

This story was just one example of the shame I felt when I was younger about my weight. Now, it’s easy to tell the story because it feels distant-healed. But I didn’t realize how much shame I carried from people pointing out my weight.

What is shame? How do you define shame?

Shame is the pain that arises out of awareness of disgrace. Shame is eating a gallon carton of ice cream in your room-alone. Shame is the man who uses alcohol to forget. Shame is the homeless woman I just drove by this morning : eyes downcast, sheepishly waving. She wore shame like an overcoat. Shame is never wanting to shop with your friends because you can’t fit into any of the clothes. Shame is what the child feels who is called “worthless”, “stupid”, “good for nothing”.  Shame is being used by another for sex. Shame is abandonment by those you love most. Shame is what I felt that day on the playground.

“Simply put, shame is a feeling of being inwardly flawed-of not measuring up.” Alan D. Wright

Shame is often felt as inner torment or a sickness of the soul. Shame is what I did night after night starting in 3rd grade. Smuggle food into my bedroom and eat until shame was gone.

Do you have shame? Have you allowed Jesus to heal your shame? He wants to.

Alan Wright in his book, Shame Off You, says most Christians have received the gift of Christ as payment for their sins, but have not received the gift of Christ as a bearer of their shame.

What’s the most dangerous part of unhealed, unforgiven, & unattended to shame?

It never goes away-it grows deep roots into your heart & your relationships with others. Ashamed people, shame people. Wounded people, wound people. We need Jesus not only to save us, but also to heal us. The child who is abused, often grows up to be an abuser. The girl shamed for her weight grows up and puts unrealistic pressure on her daughters. The rejected spouse rejects people closest to them. You cannot sweep shame under the rug and hope it evaporates. Shame is why those who have been violated sexually often turn to promiscuity (for more see this blog post).

If you do not seek healing for your shame you will wound those you love deeply. You will always be looking for a scapegoat to take away your shame.

Freedom from shame is what Christ offers. Oh the wonderful freedom of the healing waters of the powerful God we serve. Who can take away the deepest pain and restore us with his limitless love and abounding grace!

A great way to identify shame in your life is to identify “vows” you’ve made. For me, I vowed never to be fat again. Will you consider how shame is affecting you today? How do you understand the effects of shame?

More to come on this topic (depending on the response I receive). 


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14 Responses to “Healing Shame”
  1. Micaela says:

    Ruthie, this is the best post you’ve ever written (in my eyes)! You have beautifully and articulately exposed shame for what it is. I’m inspired to go home and speak to God about wherein my shame lies and how it is affecting me. Thank you!

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi Micaela, thank you for your kind words. It’s one of those posts that took me 6 months to write because I was sorting it out with Jesus. Ha! “What are you teaching me?” is what I ask. I pray God reveals shame & gently brings you living water. No shame is too great for the Cross.

  2. Angela says:

    “most Christians have received the gift of Christ as payment for their sins, but have not received the gift of Christ as a bearer of their shame.”

    That line brought me to tears. I carry so much shame from years of unspeakable abuse that didn’t really end till my mid-30’s. I know shame fills the core of me, I know that as a daughter of the Father, that is not to be my identity. Yet, it clings to me like stubborn saran wrap and fills my being. I’m in counselling. I’ve prayed. I’ve failed time and time again. Now I hide my shame in being overweight and binging. I don’t know how to turn this around but I cry out to Christ to change me. Please write more about this topic.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi Angela. Wow, I don’t know if I have any words-I’m so sorry to hear about your pain. Shame can inflict every area of our life & it often feels like a weight of death. There is no quick fix or easy solution. You are on the right track with counseling, praying, & seeking Jesus. Over time, He will bring healing. I pray you can remove “binge food” from your house tonight-as a symbol of what Jesus will do with your shame. Throw it all away! You can’t do this alone sister, but God can do all things. HE IS A GOOD DAD. I promise, promise HE doesn’t want to leave you in this dark place. He is there with you-in the midst of it all.

  3. Ana Sofia says:

    Jesus is healing me and I’m so thankful. It’s crazy how many Christians walk around not knowing that they need Jesus to heal them and take their shame away.

    For me, school was challenging at various points and I would seriously appreciate your prayers because I don’t want to ever wound the students that I work with. I desire for them to know that Jesus loves them and they are fearfully and wonderfully made. Please pray for me.
    -Ana Sofia

  4. Missy says:

    Thank you for this post. Thank you for the book recommendation. I think I will need to check out that book.
    I have dealt with a lot of things from my childhood that have needed healing and until now, I never realized that a lot of it was rooted in shame. I guess I still have some more healing to do.

  5. L says:

    I clicked on this post, thinking “i don’t struggle with shame’. Boy was I wrong. Unfortunately the empty ice-cream tub scenario is one I know all too well. Drowning out my feelings, my fear, my hurt. I’m not overweight but carrying more pounds than I need to. I feel like again and again this past year God has been highlighting this issue- that my eating problems are stemming from heart issues that I need to have healed.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi L, I think shame is very misunderstood by most westerners. Our culture is based on the Judeo-Christian guilt-innocence dichotomy verses Eastern cultures which are largely based on the shame-honor dichotomy. I hope you earnestly seek healing. Thanks for sharing. Can anyone relate to drowning shame in emotional eating? PLEASE SHARE!

      • L says:

        Had no idea what you meant so did a little googling about the differences between East and West dichotomies, very interesting reading! When you talk about healing what worked for you?

  6. Edward Lin says:

    I think what strikes me most about shame is how it tends to immobilizes us. Shame does not generally move us into action, much more likely it incites us to self pity. It freezes us with feelings of hopelessness and with the thought that circumstances are unchangeable. Dealing with shame involves acknowledging something is wrong with our lives and making daily decisions to make whatever changes to shift our course (be it diet/exercise, mustering courage to break into a social circle, etc).

  7. Christina says:

    Oh Ruthie…the more I read your blog the more I see pieces of myself in many of your posts. I too had Fluffy Fifth Grade years…that continued through middle school. I still am dealing with shame when it comes to body issues, especially when I look in the mirror and see that fluffy little girl. It’s a different kind of ‘shame’ but like you wrote , it’s something that needs to be dealt with. I’m very happy you’re able to say you’re healed from it and I hope sometime soon I’ll be able to say that as well.

    P.S. I also read your post about running being your redemption :) I’m going to continue to try…but as of right now I’m hating it more than loving it lol

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  1. Ruthie Dean says:

    […] time, it will get easier & become enjoyable. Promise. It happened to me (remember, I was the overweight 5th grader?). Before you know it, you’ll be calling yourself a […]

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