The Emotion of Shame (Part 3 of 3)

Thank you for reading “The Emotion of Shame” Part 1 of 3 and Part 2 of 3.

In this final post on the Emotion of Shame, I would like to suggest how Steps Four through Step Seven 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.

As mentioned in The Emotion of Shame (Part 2 of 3), 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 Two: Came 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 Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step Eight: Made 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 4 – 7

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

Step Four invites me to take a good, long and deep look at the behaviors that I committed that have been harmful and damaging to me and to others. When I did my 4th Step, the insight that I gained from examining what, with whom and how I engaged in insane behaviors created insight to my thinking, facilitated feelings of humility, regret, remorse and soberness regarding the actions I committed, and clarity that confirmed I didn’t want to continue to commit the harmful behaviors that I discovered while doing my personal inventory. I simply didn’t want to live like that anymore.

Identifying then owning the resentments I carried helped me to see how my anger, fear, hurt, shame, insecurity, self-pity and other emotions I felt and continued to “re-feel” obscured my ability to see then engage in healthy, rational, “functional adult” and above all, humanizing behaviors with others. If I’m not careful, the same unhealthy process could happen today, which is why Step Ten is so necessary.

On the other hand, I realized in an attempt to escape or “medicate” the hurt, pain, loneliness, rejection, disempowerment and shame that I felt, I gave myself permission to “project” or treat others as less than the human beings they were and as “objects” to be manipulated for my own personal self-gratification. That is what toxic feelings and toxic shame is about, and that is what I discovered about my own toxic shame: If I feel, perceive or am actually treated as less than the human being that I am, which is dehumanizing, then I will think, emotionally reason then actually treat others as less than the human beings that they are, which is dehumanizing to them. My inventory revealed how my resentments infected and impacted my thinking to the point that I thought employing objectifying and dehumanizing behavior with others was not only permissible but my entitled right!

Today, I clearly see that the problem with taking or maintaining such a stance is that I was hurting myself which predictably lead me to hurt others in my life. Have you ever heard the term “hurt people hurt (other) people?” Have you ever heard the term “stinking thinking” before? That was me and that is the behavior to which I devolved. This is also where the insidious enticement from the Enemy of Humanity seduced me to be like God, which was the false but mood-altering form of quick empowerment I wanted. Unfortunately, it came with a catch: in order to maintain the delusion that I was not a human, but “like” God (Genesis 3:5), I needed to ingest chemicals or engage in activities that continued the lie and self-deception, but at a great cost: my humanity, which was being destroyed with every addictive act that I engaged in. This is why the Enemy’s act is so insidious; he’s not facilitating health, he’s extinguishing health. This is one of the most important realizations I had in taking my inventory, and one of the major reasons why I don’t want to live like that anymore. I want to live and that is the essence of what I want to recover in my recovery: the life that I abdicated to the Enemy.

Finally, in doing my Step Four inventory, I realized some positive things about myself. I discovered that my intimacy needs as a human (to be loved, understood, accepted, respected, etc.) are legitimate intimacy needs and that God wants me to not only have them met, but for them to be woven into the fabric of my character. Personal moments of clarity and other patient and loving people helped me to realize this would only happen if I admitted that I am not God (Step One), that God is God and could make things better (Step Two) and if I decided to let God be God in my life to accomplish this transformation (Step Three).

Other realizations helped me to make choices to live in what I call “the healthy middle ground of life called humanity” and to engage in behavior that helped me to see that I was more than the sum total of the addictive and shame-filled behavior that I demonstrated. Recognizing that my deluded behavior was intended to stop the hurt I was experiencing while also facilitating the personal empowerment that I and all humans deserve to experience helped me to see there was good inside of me. It was just that my brain, my heart, my soul, my spirit and my decision making process needed help from God.

The decision to turn my will and life over to the care of God led to a personal shift where God helped me to create and live in safer, saner and the “productive middle ground of humanity” where my thoughts, beliefs, mores, ethics and values were influenced by Him. This decision and the positive outcomes I experienced also helped me to treat myself and others in sane and respectful ways, and this healthier way of thinking and living validated to me that I was more than an addict, but I was also a human being who had problems living in what I now call the “68° to 72° comfort zone” in my life.

These moments of clarity also revealed that God never let me down. I realized He had others present all throughout my life and it was by fellowshipping with them that I came to know, understand and begin to experience what Agape Love actually was and that I wanted to stock the shelves of my heart with values, characteristics and behaviors that edified and empowered myself and others. This is where Step Five became a reality in my life.

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

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” – James 5:16 (TNIV)

Confession is good for the soul and confession was (and still is) good for my soul. Confession to a safe and non-judgmental human being about the behaviors I committed and had shame and remorse around was liberating and relieving. No more secrets which means that shame, which is the fuel of my addictive behavior, would not be motivating and “empowering” my behavior and actions any longer. This is truly liberating!

On the other hand, the people who God appointed to hear the exact nature of my wrongs helped me to see not only the face of God but also experience the love, acceptance, hope and support that I had been seeking during the practice of my addiction. Although they were not God, they freely modeled and gave to me what God gave to me: love, mercy, grace, inspiration as well as practical advice regarding what helped them to recover, be sane, and live in their personal 68° – 72° comfort zone of life.

Fellowshipping with them in meetings, in church, at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and learning how to fellowship with God (which is a spiritual discipline, like study, prayer, worship and silence) paid rich dividends in my life. This transformation, which took place over years of my life, helped me to learn how to control my thoughts and behavior, which was the beginning of becoming a safe person, inside of me and with others outside of me. Relinquishing the throne of control in my life and seeing how others lived a healthy, spiritual live was inspiring and motivating to me and Step Six and Step Seven were critical in my ongoing growth and development.

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

In order to be ready and then pray for God to remove my defects of character, I had to identify my personal defects of character that I employed on a daily basis and up to this point was sabotaging my ability to live as a healthy human being. Identifying, naming, learning about and owning the dysfunctional patterns of behavior in my life that I practiced for years was what I needed to do. I call these the “weeds and rocks” that needed to be removed from the garden of my heart, because they were and could still impede any form of personal or relational growth that God and I wish to develop in my life.

So what are some of these character defects, which are negative in nature and are the thoughts, experiences, attitudes, processes and behaviors that may have started early in my life (personality development) as “survival skills” but later morphed into maladaptive coping mechanisms that I chose to live by?  I created a list of 175 of them, and I will sometimes ask people who I visit with in counseling to just identify ten that they committed in the last 5 days. Because we are imperfect human beings we may recognize more than 10 that we have committed when we look at the list. However, because we are striving to become healthy human beings, we don’t need to shame nor overwhelm ourselves by thinking we have to change all of our defects in one sitting. Remember, God is the one who helps us; our days of thinking we have to do everything by ourselves is over. But, back to the list.  A few of mine are, but not limited to:

  1. Abusing others for my enjoyment
  2. Being Argumentative
  3. Beating myself (or others) up
  4. Avoiding communication
  5. Being Fearful
  6. Being traumatic to others
  7. Playing God with self
  8. Being undisciplined
  9. Measuring myself against others
  10. Valuing the opinion of a sick mind (my own!)

As mentioned, I know I discovered more, however, like working in a garden, when I am on my knees I can only work in so many rows at a given time.  Be graceful and gentle with yourselves as God is with you, but also, get ready to roll up your sleeves to partner with God to work to eliminate the character defects that cause personal and other dehumanization. Remarkably, God heals the soil of our mind, body and spirit through a physical, scientific and yes, spiritually parallel process called Phytoremediation (please take time to read this excerpt!).  This process is embedded in Step Seven.

Step Seven: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

“…Humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” – James 1:21 (TNIV)

Have you ever heard the saying “the best defense is a good offense?”  In this context, it means if we wish to eliminate negative character defects in our lives, then the best way to do that is to plant, nurture and be empowered by the consistent practice of constructive value-oriented behaviors. When it is said and done, these positive and “very valuable values” are the characteristics that God helps us to develop and hopefully will define our lives because they are in some cases, the direct opposite of the character defects that we want to eliminate, again, with God’s help. How does this work?

In Step Seven, we ask God to remove our shortcomings or said another way, to remove our character defects. For me, the best way this transformation process has occurred in my life is by growing my character (versus growing my defects of character) which is based on the principle of Phytoremediation.  Here is what this means and how it helps.

Do you remember earlier in this post when we identified that Jesus is the “exact representation” of God and the Greek word used in Hebrews 1: 3 is “Charakter” which is our English word “Character?”  Well, if the growth of my character defects caused me to live life shamefully then shamelessly, then the growth of my character values helps me to live a life marked by health and these same positive values keeps me in the 68° – 72° comfort zone of reality, wherein I live by and with God’s principles (versus trying to be God).  As mentioned, this is achieved by the spiritual “parallel” of the physical process called Phytoremediation.

Phytoremediation is an environmentally sound technology (EST) in which plants are used to remove, detoxify or immobilize environmental contaminants that are in the soil and in the water.  This particular science was applied after the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant disaster (1986 – 2000) and after the Exxon Valdez (1989) and the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil spills (2010). Plants belonging to the Cruciferae family work the best. These particular plants are named and are a part of this family because they have a corolla of four petals arranged like a cross. I find it interesting that God is showing us that the process of restoring and remediating health, healing and safety to our environment (whether we start in our head, or in the garden of our relationships) is done through the work on the Cross (Colossians 1:16–20). So how does this personal and relational “clean up” process happen?

In addition to the 175 “Character Defects” that I mentioned above, I also created a list of over 400 Character Values (click here to view the list) or “seeds,” which when developed and practiced consistently, will assist you and serve as “Phytoextractors” (plants that remove the toxins from the soil). Based on your self-discovery and your current and relationship needs, you’ll have the opportunity to “plant” these new values in the soil of your heart which when developed with the help of God, will hopefully help you to become a fruitful, mature and productive human being. Please know that the cultivation of your values creates healing agents in your life and in your relationships when they are intentionally and strategically developed. Remediation occurs when you live by the values that you cultivate within your head and heart and practice these values with the “neighbors” in your life (i.e., spouse, family members, workplace).  This is one of the gifts that God has given to me that helped to restore sanity in my life, and I offer this insight to you for your consideration, with the hope you experience a constructive change in your life as well (Step Two).

So how does this phytoremediation process work practically? Back to my list of character defects, but this time, I added the character values that I am currently working on and developing.  Again, it is my goal that the cultivation of my character values will offset if not eliminate the character defects that I am praying for God to remove (Step 7) and that I want to be responsible for developing as well. The new list is (Character Defect → Character Value):

  1. Abusing others for my enjoyment → Safety: Becoming a safe person and creating safe experiences and environments for others in my presence.
  2. Being Argumentative → Communication: Learning processes that help me to resolve conflict.
  3. Beating myself (or others) up → Ministering to Self and Others: Prime components of Healing, which are rooted in trying to be therapeutic to myself and others.
  4. Avoiding communication → Assertive: Taking the first step to address or resolve my current problems.
  5. Being Fearful → Love: The practice of the adult characteristic of love guides me to move beyond my child-like fear based reactions toward functional, practical and mature expressions of the characteristic.
  6. Being traumatic to others → Energy: I want to use my energy to cultivate healthy and healing behaviors and encounters with others.
  7. Playing God with self → Humility: This helps me to live in the healthy middle ground of Humanity.
  8. Being undisciplined → Discipline: Developing and practicing self-care rituals that promote growth.
  9. Measuring myself against others → Acceptance: Developing serenity regarding what I cannot change and the courage to change that which I can change.
  10. Valuing the opinion of a sick mind (my own!) → Spirituality: Valuing my opinions because some of my rituals focus on helping me to hear from my God.

This is how I have seen God remove the defects of character in my life and how I have been a humble partner in the process of facilitating my own self-growth. Like working in a garden, I hope that God continues to lead me to plant the appropriate behavior in each micro-season of my life (3 – 4 months) to learn how to be a human being who brings value to the human race versus shame and dehumanization to His creatures and creation.

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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