The Emotion of Shame (Part 2 of 3)

Thank you for reading “The Emotion of Shame” (Part 1 of 3).

In this post, I would like to suggest how the 1st seven steps of the Twelve Steps of Emotions Anonymous (or of any Twelve Step fellowship) could help us as we endeavor to overcome and grow beyond the effect of toxic and dehumanizing shame in our lives and relationships.

I love the Twelve Steps as they are a simple yet productive and meaningful way to “view and do” life. The Twelve Steps have helped people recover from “diseases and diseased behavior” and in the process empowered them to live purposed and meaningful lives to experience God, serenity and healthier and connected relationships with others.

The Twelve Steps have been described as a spiritual program of recovery and contextually, we want to look at how the 1st seven steps could help us to overcome the toxicity and dehumanizing behavior associated with unhealthy shame. Although all twelve of the Twelve Steps of Emotions Anonymous are listed below and are applicable with the emotion of Shame and other emotions, my comments will be focused on the first 7 steps.

The 12 Steps of Emotions Anonymous

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over our emotions — that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step TwoCame to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Step SevenHumbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step EightMade a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Overcoming Toxic and Dehumanizing Shame with Steps 1 – 3

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over these emotions – that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step One encourages introspection and admission. As we take a good, long and honest look at our thoughts, feelings and behavior, many of us may come to the conclusion that we need to acknowledge how toxic shame has caused us to either beat up on ourselves or beat up on another person, in effect, engaging in the practice of toxic and unhealthy behavior of dehumanization.

As we look further within ourselves, Step One also encourages us to admit to the way that we deluded then elevated ourselves into a “God-like” position and stance, which places us beyond our limits of being a human being, which was a set up for us to experience a toxic “shame-filled/shame-less” cycle, which for many of us was a factor in our engagement with unhealthy and addictive behavior. Here’s how.

In the God-like stance, some of us took on too much responsibility for the behavior of others because we thought it is God’s responsibility to change/be in control of people, even if we engaged in the controlling behavior to achieve what we thought was best for the other person(s) involved. For me, when I got honest with myself, Step One revealed that I defaulted to this stance as a response to my fear that I did not trust God to work things out favorably for me.  My fear based response causes me (and quite possibly you too) to dethrone God and enthrone myself in God’s position and to begin running things and people, which tends to lead to painful, damaging, uncontrollable and unmanageable outcomes for all involved, because I am a human and in this case, with a pretty skewed view of who God is and what God does.

On the other hand, for some of us, taking the God-like stance could also mean we took no responsibility at all for behavior we could change. This occurs when my self-delusion facilitates a disconnect with reality which caused me to think “the rules don’t apply to me, but they do to you, because ‘I’m God’ and God makes the rules!”  The challenge for me with this stance is that if I don’t operate in the realm of humanity and my value system, then in order to escape my shame, I shame dump onto others by making them responsible or blaming them for the (self-)deluded choices I made and for the outcomes of circumstances that I created solely by myself.

These two unhealthy stances sets us up for a “shame-filled” – to – “shame-less cycle.” As a human, when I take on the God-like responsibility of taking on too much to control, I will fail and more than likely I will become shame-filled with toxic shame because of the grandiose choice and responsibility I have taken on myself. When carrying so much intrapsychic pain that a human was not designed to carry becomes too much to bear, I will dump my shame (and by this time, shame, resentment, anger, etc.) onto others and in order to safeguard my “God-like” stance and position, I’ll project causation and blame onto others, making the cycle complete.  The denial and delusion that is woven into this cycle never permits me to learn about my role in my behavior, because as we discovered in Shame (Part 1 of 2), the presence of toxic shame obscures reality versus clarifies reality.

Implicit in this stance is failure, because we are human beings and typically it is honesty, reality or our humanity that reminds us that we are not God but in fact we are human beings, and if we do not correct our stance, we are likely to encounter painful and unmanageable consequences because of our self-delusion. Reality reminds us that rules of the universe do in fact apply to us, our choices do have consequences, and that I am not the owner nor do I control another human being simply because I think it so.  Applying Step One in our lives means we admit that our effort to “play God” by trying to control others and circumstances beyond our control is a cognitive distortion (called fallacy of control), and it is disrespectful to others, dehumanizing to ourselves and is destined to always fail. Step One encourages us to admit that we are powerless to control others and unfortunately, if I don’t deal with my toxic thinking in a healthy manner, then more toxic behavior evidenced by shame-filled /shame-less cycles is sure to return. How can we escape this tyranny?  Thank God for Step Two!

Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

“God, You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” – St. Augustine’s Confessions

The Twelve Steps has been described as a Fellowship of people who share their experience, strength and hope in order to solve their common problems. I think the Fellowship provides a safe and supportive place and process for us to explore among other things, how our lives became crazy, as evidenced by insane thinking and irrational behavior, and how our lives could be restored to sanity, as evidenced by sane thinking, balance, reasonableness and levelheaded behavior. Although this is one of the gifts that comes from fellowshipping with others in the 12 Step fellowship, I would dare say that this is also one of the gifts that a loving God would like for us to experience, to be experienced by fellowshipping with Him (1 John 1:3,4) and by fellowshipping with others.

Remember, unhealthy shame and the Enemy of Humanity wants more than anything than to steal, kill and destroy God’s crowning achievement, which is us and those we love. His plan is simple: If he can separate us from fellowshipping with God, then he could introduce toxic thoughts that delude and obscures our reality, with his greatest deception being the invitation to be like God (Genesis 3:5). As we explored in The Emotion of Shame, Part 1 of 2, living like a God causes us to live outside of our limitations as humans, is destined to fail and when it does, we open ourselves up to participate in the shame-filled/shame-less cycle, with insane thinking and calamity sure to contaminate our lives and our relationships.

Please understand that there is nothing wrong with being like God. As we will see later in Step Two (and in Step Seven), God wants us to take on His character. The deception that the Enemy is trying to sell to us is to live life disfellowshipped from God. If this occurs, then we lose a vital and necessary connection with our Higher Power who not only has our best interests in mind, chief of which is to live an enlightened, connected, sane and humane existence, between the ears and within our relationships.

Step Two is a powerful reminder that it is God’s desire to “not hurt nor harm us, but to give us hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11) via fellowship with Him and fellowship with others. The best example of how we could experience hope and a future is seen in looking at the way Jesus lovingly and compassionately fellowshipped and interacted with others. Let’s take a quick look at this, but before we do, did you know that Jesus is the “exact representation” of God?  The Greek word used here is “Charakter,” and is used only one time in the New Testament in Hebrews 1:3. It means that when we look at Jesus, we see someone who exactly displays the character of God. We’ll return to this word “character” in Steps Six and Seven, but for now, let’s take a quick look at the behavior of Jesus who demonstrates behavior that is sane, and encourages us to develop a connection with a Higher Power who could restore us to sanity.

Jesus simply taught us to love God, love ourselves and to love others in healthy and humane ways (Luke 10:27 – 28). Being connected and fellowshipping with a loving God means we are exposed to the character of that Being, whose intent is to help us to live life as healthy human beings. He called the highest form of love that He wants us to experience then demonstrate to others behaviorally Agape (Love), and the characteristics of Agape that we are called to demonstrate is behavior that Loves, Esteems, Cherishes, Respects, Favors, Honors, Accepts, Prizes, Relishes and is Devoted to humanizing (versus dehumanizing) oneself and others. This was one of the core messages that Jesus conveyed to others via His humane behavior and treatment of others.

Jesus fed (Matthew 14:13-21), healed (Matthew 9:20-22), taught (Matthew 5:2), encouraged (Matthew 6:25-34), comforted (Matthew 15:32), demonstrated mercy (Matthew 14:14) and inspired others (Matthew 28:19-20) and he was motivated to do things because he loved others (John 13:34-35). Jesus encouraged us to get to know God, but he also talked of how God loves us, and wants us to love others as well.

One of the best stories that He told that evidenced how we love others humanely is found  in Luke 10:30 – 37: The Good Samaritan.  When the Good Samaritan came upon someone who was badly beaten, he felt pity, he approached the person in pain and creatively used his resources in a crisis moment to alleviate pain. He used his strength to get the man to a safe place and took reasonable care of him. He gave generously for the care of the wounded person and he promised to render additional assistance at a later time to ensure the person’s progress was effective and complete. Because of the chosen spiritual and practical values that he had chosen to live by, he understood what the situation needed and he engaged in compassionate behavior that was motivated by love. Jesus summed up this story by telling those in his presence to “go and do the same.” This is sane behavior that comes from being connected to a loving God, and sane and loving behavior that most of us have received from others because we chose to fellowship with them.

The reception and demonstration of this form of love makes us unique as higher functioning human beings, and when we demonstrate it in our relationships with others, it really facilitates and creates humane and sane experiences. We don’t have to demonstrate Agape perfectly.That is not what this life is about. But if we try to integrate and emulate this higher form of love into our lives and allow it to influence our character and value systems, you could probably see how we will reduce shameful acts and increase humane acts/action.

Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

There is not a whole lot to comment about with Step Three. I just need to make a decision. Step One asked me to think about how toxic shame caused me to engage in behaviors that dehumanized myself and others and Step Two asked me to contemplate how God could help me regain clarity and sanity in my life. Step Three requires that I make a decision to invite God into my life in order to make some personal changes, so that talking about engaging in sane behavior becomes a reality in my life.

By making the decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God means that I am admitting that my life works a lot better by working with God rather than trying to be God. When God is informing my value system versus when He is not, I experience greater personal and relational benefits. God helps me to not feel unhealthy and toxic shame because He helps me to live in reality and within my limits as a human being. Step Three is a powerful reminder that when I err and travel too far toward unhealthy limits and practices, that I could and need to turn my will over to a loving and caring God who has my best interests in mind.  I typically need to make this choice (please read this!) to live in this reality on a daily basis. Making decisions to seek knowledge and wisdom from God, then to practice it on a daily basis as best as I can in all my affairs is the best antidote to toxic thinking and ensures I will be a part of life enhancing versus life eliminating behavior(s).

In The Emotion of Shame (Part 3 of 3) we will look at how Steps Four through Step Seven of the Twelve Steps of Emotions Anonymous could be helpful in “reseting” our thoughts, feelings and life experiences that could be marked by unhealthy, toxic, dehumanizing and hopefully unwanted experiences with Shame.

Thanks for visiting and please visit the other blogs written by Dr Ken McGill: Dr Ken McGill’s blog and “3-2-5-4-24” for additional information that could be helpful. I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful. Again, it is my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration.


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