The Polarity of Shame – Part 1

The Polarity of Shame – Part 1

What is it about the emotion of shame that over 2000 years ago, David in his writing of the Psalms has two very specific prayers clearly addressing the terrifying effect of shame?  The first one is for him to be delivered from it; the second is for his enemies to be put to shame as the worse punishment they could possibly receive. His evaluation of shame seems to be that to bear such an excruciating state of being requires divine intervention.  Over and over again he cries out to God, “Do not let me be put to shame.” The following Psalms are an example of his cry for deliverance of an emotion that he finds worse than death itself. In Psalm 25:2,3 he writes:  “O my God, in Thee I trust, do not let me be ashamed; do not let my enemies exult over me…those who deal treacherously without cause will be put to shame. In Psalm 31:1, 17 he writes, “…Let me never be ashamed… Let me never be put to shame, O Lord, for I call upon Thee.”

His second prayer is for the punishment of his enemies. He does not ask for their death, but rather that they be put to shame and that in so doing they experience the pain of being divested of something so essential to living as the very air we breathe—our God given personal worth and dignity as human beings. In the following Psalms he writes:

I35:4-26 “Let those be ashamed and dishonor who seek my life. Let those be ashamed and humiliated altogether who rejoice in my distress.”

40:14, 15 “Let those be ashamed and humiliated together who seek my life to destroy it.  Let those be appalled because of their shame”

It seems that shame is “that thing” that produces in us an emotional state that leaves us feeling as if we were naked and exposed, when “we are not ready to be seen or exposed.” It is that “thing” that robbed us of something mysterious, but indispensable for living–our dignity and value as a human being. Even before our birth, God’s valuing of us is undeniable. Like a master weaver, He carefully considers and positions every strand of our life.  In Psalm 139 David writes, “For Thou didst form my inward parts; Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; …”

Also in Psalm 139 David seems overwhelmed as he searches just for the right words to describe that sense of awe in being known and seen by God. He writes, “O LORD, Thou hast searched me and known me. Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up; Thou dost understand my thoughts from afar, Thou dost scrutinize my path and my laying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word in my tongue, behold, O Lord You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.”

To be seen and known is a God given need, wired in us from birth. Lipton and Fosha state: “It is well known by now that our brains are wired from birth to connect… (Solomon & Siegel, 2003). Early attachment relationships shape an infant’s neurobiology…” (Lipton & Fosha, 2011, p. 255)

Fosha (2003) also explains that, “…the roots of security and resilience are to be found in the sense of being understood by and having the sense of existing in the heart and mind of a loving, caring, attuned and self-possessed mother, a mother with a mind and heart of her own” (p. 228).

To be seen and known even as an infant awakens in us that innate sense of dignity and value as a living being.  Dr. Daniel Siegel stätes,  (2011) “The mind we first see in our development is the internal state of our caregiver.  We coo and she smiles, we laugh and his face lights up.  So we first know ourselves as reflected in the other…Our resonance with others may actually precede our awareness of ourselves.” Pg.62

Cozolino (2006) suggests that research is beginning to prove what God so long ago declared:

Scientists have had to expand their thinking to grasp this idea: The individual neuron or a single human brain does not exist in nature. Without mutually stimulating interactions, people and neurons wither and die. In neurons this process is called apoptosis; in humans it is called depression, grief, and suicide. (p. 16).

We must remember that God wired us for connection, not only to Himself, but to others as well.

Cozolino writes, From birth until death, each of us needs others who seek us out, show interest in discovering who we are, and help us to feel safe. Thus, understanding the brain requires knowledge of the healthy, living brain embedded within a community of other brains: Relationships are our natural habitat. (Pg. 16)

This then, makes our sense of dignity and value irrevocably connected not only to our Creator, but also to other human beings.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series. Be watching for part 2 coming soon.


Elodia Flynn L.C.S.W.

Founder, Walking Worthy