FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Help Me Get Rid of Shame: Esther Liu

with Esther Liu | May 22, 2024
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Wrestling with shame? Maybe you're comparing yourself to others, feeling like you fall short--or even say, 'I can't forgive myself.' Perhaps you carry the weight of your past, hoping nobody unearths the mistakes or the pain you've endured. Esther Liu shares how to recognize signs of shame and heal from childhood shame.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Esther Liu shares insights on recognizing signs of shame, healing from childhood shame, and people-pleasing.

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Help Me Get Rid of Shame: Esther Liu

With Esther Liu
May 22, 2024
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Dave: Before we get started today, I have a question for you—not you, Ann—our listener: where are you listening from?

Ann: And you know that we’re from Detroit.

Dave: Motor City.

Ann: Shelby is in the Philly area, and our FamilyLife Today headquarters are in Orlando.

Dave: So, we’re coming to you guys from all over the country, but what about you? We would love to know if you are in one of those areas or where else you consider home.

Ann: Text “FLT” plus where you’re listening from to 80542 to let us know. So, again, you’re going to text “FLT” plus where you’re listening from to 80542.

Esther: I always lived my life with a sense of not feeling good enough, comparing myself to others and saying, “Why are they okay? Why are they so much better? And why am I the way that I am?” That carried into crushes and romantic relationships, that carried into friendships, that carried into academic success or lack thereof. My whole life was me trying to prove to myself and to others that I was okay and that I was worthy and spending my entire life not believing that to be true.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at or on the FamilyLife app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Ann: Okay, on a scale of one to ten—

Dave: —no, no, no. We’re not doing any one-to-ten questions.

Ann: Yes, yes. How much shame do you think you carry?

Dave: Do I carry?

Ann: You; yes.

Dave: Can we change the subject? [Laughter] Honestly, I would have said, for 45 years of my life—I’m not telling you how old I am, but I’m older than 45; I would have said—zero to one.

Ann: I would have said that about you, too.

Dave: Yes. I thought I was that guy. “I don’t have much shame. I had a pretty good upbringing, and I feel pretty good about myself.”

Ann: A pretty good upbringing?

Dave: Well, that’s what’s crazy! The listeners know my upbringing, from abuse to adultery to divorce. It was horrible!

Ann: Not you, but your parents.

Dave: Yes. I grew up in that home, but I felt pretty secure about who I was.

Ann: Confident.

Dave: And then I realized, “I have a lot of shame.” I don’t know if it’s higher than a seven or an eight, but it’s a lot higher than I ever thought. I think, actually, most of us do.

Ann: I was going to ask: do you think most people carry shame?

Dave: Well, we’re going to find out today. We have someone in here who’s sort of an expert on this.

Ann: I’m really excited. Esther, welcome to FamilyLife Today. As you can see, we’re really excited to talk about this today.

Esther: Yes, and I’m already tearing up just listening to you share, Dave, because I think there are so many people who didn’t realize they struggled with shame. That’s a prominent testimony that I hear from people that read the book.

Dave: Really?

Esther: They say, “I didn’t think I struggled with shame, but having read the book or done my own reading, I realize that there is a lot of that.” I don’t know why that makes me emotional, to just realize that God loves us so much that He wants to show us those places so that He can enter into them. So, you got me from the beginning. [Laughter]

Ann: Esther, share with our listeners—Esther Liu. Being Known and Loved is your book title, but this is probably, I’m guessing, what you lived in. When you write a book, it’s usually out of passions and things that we’ve gone through.

Esther: Yes.

Ann: Tell us what you do now, besides being an author.

Esther: I am a faculty member at CCEF, Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. I’ve been there since 2015. I started off as a counselor, meeting with people who struggle with mental health issues like depression or anxiety, relationship issues; and then, I transitioned into a faculty position where I teach some classes for Westminster Theological Seminary’s Master of Arts in Counseling.

Ann: Look at you!

Esther: And then, on the side, doing speaking events and some writing projects.

Ann: Good for you.

Dave: So, obviously, Ann asked me that question, and now I get to flip it. You wrote a devotional on shame, so is that something you’ve struggled with?

Esther: Yes. I would say it’s probably been the biggest struggle of my life. If I had to identify one thorn in my flesh, it might be shame.

Ann: Tell us your story. What have you gone through, Esther? I feel like all of us could kind of go into our past and think of things that brought us incredible shame. Take us back into your story.

Esther: I would say, growing up, it was a pretty decent upbringing, and it wasn’t entirely filled with turmoil or whatnot, but coming from an Asian culture that prizes stoicism and prizes keeping it together and being put together, a shame-honor culture that I was raised in, there was not a lot of room for emotions and negative emotions and crying.

And so, even now, I’m working through some of the baggage of growing up feeling too sensitive and too emotional.

Dave: That’s what you were told? “You’re too sensitive. You’re too emotional.”

Esther: Yes, yes.

Dave: Oh.

Ann: I know you had to just shut it down. I can remember that same kind of thing, where my sister was very emotional, and she was ridiculed for it. They would make fun of her. So, I remember thinking, “I need to shut that down.”

Esther: Yes. I always lived my life with a sense of not feeling good enough, and comparing myself to others and saying, “Why are they okay? Why are they so much better? And why am I the way that I am?” That carried into crushes and romantic relationships, that carried into friendships, that carried into academic success or lack thereof.

My whole life was me trying to prove to myself and to others that I was okay, and that I was worthy; spending my entire life not believing that to be true.

Ann: Do you think the people around you knew that you were going through this doubt—this self-doubt—and shame? Did they know, or did you cover it up pretty well?

Esther: I feel like if I talked to my family, they wouldn’t know. So, it’s interesting. They’re not Christians. Anyway, they’re not really familiar with my work; they’re not really following it carefully, because I’m doing Christian work primarily.

So, when I gave them a copy of the book when it came out, it was really uncomfortable to see my family reading the introduction, where essentially, I’m confessing that it’s been one of the biggest struggles of my life, and I wondered how they would read that, and if they would be surprised.

Dave: How did they? What did they say?

Esther: There was not much of a verbal reaction, but I could see eyes kind of getting bigger when they got to that right side of the page where it was written.

Dave: Were you literally in the room as they were reading it?

Esther: Yes, I just gave out copies at the dinner table, and they were just flipping through, and my eyes got really big.

Ann: You must have felt so vulnerable.

Esther: It was vulnerable.

Ann: Yes.

Esther: I think it was something I never talked about with them, and something that I didn’t know if they knew or understood about me. But thankfully, becoming a Christian and meeting some amazing, godly, accepting, warm women, sisters in Christ, I think they would know, and if you asked them it would be, “Yes, that’s probably one of your bigger struggles.”

Ann: As you were discipling college women, did you see this a lot, that women were carrying shame?

Esther: Yes.

Dave: We have to define it.

Ann: Yes, let’s do that.

Dave: At some point we have to say, “What are they carrying?” How would you define—I’m sure a lot of listeners are thinking, “Well, I don’t know. Do I have it?” So, how do you define it?

Esther: Yes, I agree. In the book, I go into the sense of what is it? The feeling of not ever being good enough, whether that’s “I’m not pretty enough,” “I’m not tall enough,” “I’m not smart enough,” “I’m not accomplished enough,” “My resume is not enough,” “Who I am, my personality, doesn’t measure up.” So, all these areas of life: social, academic, relational. “Where I’m at in my stage of life is not enough. I’m in my 30s and single and still not married.”

Whatever it is, there are so many standards that we internalize and we adopt like, “This is the way. This is the right way. This is the better way,” and sometimes, we don’t measure up to those standards, and there’s a sense of shame in that. When I think of CCEF, we just did a conference on trauma, and there are people who bear these painful stories, and they feel like damaged goods as a result.

They feel like their life story makes them unworthy, and makes them unacceptable, and sometimes even disgusting and repulsive. So, the sense of “There’s something wrong with me, there’s something that’s not enough in me, and I have to keep trying and striving to fix that and mitigate that.” We’re starting to get into the territory of shame.

Ann: I like how you said it in your book, where you said: “Shame often lurks in the shadows. It can be easier to identify anxiety, depression, workaholism, anger, and addiction in our lives than to see the shame that often accompanies these experiences. We may struggle with perfectionism, burnout, hopelessness, escapism, self-harm—the list goes on—and overlook the underlying sense of unworthiness.”

I can remember—because of my sexual abuse, I can remember—a day, and it happened more than once with different people; and I can remember being five years old, and when it had happened with someone else that didn’t even know me, I remember thinking, “It must be me. There must be something wrong with me,” instead of saying, “This happened to me. Now, there’s something wrong with me.”

I have thought, “Oh, that was the beginning of the whole shame cycle.” Nobody in my family would have had any idea that I struggled with that, or in school, because I covered it up with working hard and being good at things and performing for everyone. I seemed really confident. Do you think that’s typical?

Esther: Yes, and I do think that’s one of the biggest ways that shame hides. Some of the most successful, seemingly put together, are the people that, often, actually are driven by shame. When we picture someone who struggles with shame, we can picture someone who has very low self-esteem, who just kind of sits by themselves, isolated and socially awkward; whatever our imagination is.

But sometimes, it’s the most successful people, when you really get to know them and their stories, sometimes they are the people who struggle the most with shame. A lot of times, the accomplishments that they tried so hard to achieve were fueled by the sense of “I need to prove myself.” And, even once you prove yourself, it’s like, “I still need to continue to prove myself every time.”

I think that’s why, going back to the very beginning, when I said I got a little bit emotional and teary when you were saying, “I didn’t realize I struggled with shame, but now I see it more in my life;” I think those are the stories that really get to me, because you just wonder how many people out there are struggling with this, but don’t have a name for it, and therefore, don’t realize that this is a place where God can do an amazing redemptive work. Naming it is the first step to really doing work on it.

Ann: Esther, I wonder if you experienced this: when we were going to seminary, I was taking a lot of classes on how to counsel people. Well, what that does is, you get into your own stuff.

Esther: I know.

Ann: So, I can remember coming home sobbing every night as I was digging deeper into my abuse, the family tree. It was the first time that I identified any shame, and I was wrecked. I remember Dave was thinking, “Who is this woman?” because it all resurfaced. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stay there.

Esther: Yes.

Ann: I think some people with shame think, “Do we really have to go back there? Do we have to go back and deal? That was in the past! We’re fine now.” How did you struggle with that and deal with it and look at it? And do we need to go back into the past?

Esther: That’s a great question. I think part of—being a counselor, I realize how everyone’s story is so different, and in this case, “It took me 40 years to put a name on it,” versus probably, by the time I was in my early 20s, becoming a Christian, I thought, “Oh, this is something.” I wreak havoc on my relationships because I need to prove that I’m worthy. I need to test people, like, “Do you really love me?”

I need this reassurance, and I’m working really hard, to the point of burnout, to try to make sure that people think that I’m okay and impressive and worthy of being noticed, etc. So, I think what I’ve appreciated over the years as a counselor is, everyone’s story is so different, and there’s no one formula; and God is so gracious that if this is something that is in your life and a part of your life, He will do that in His own way and in His own time.

The journey looks a little bit different for everyone. For me, it was clear to me as a new Christian that there was something going awry with the frequent burnout, exhaustion. It was showing up physically for me first: chronic fatigue. I was just living a life of anxious striving, and my body couldn’t keep up with that.

I was living a life of slavish perfectionism. “I have to get this completely right. I can’t just do something and get it done. It needs to be the best. It needs to be perfect. It needs to be the top of the top.”

Ann: Yes.

Esther: Just the amount of pressure that I was feeling in my life, and the ways that my body was saying, “You’re wrecking yourself,” and giving me those indicators like, “You’re not okay.” I thought, “Where did this come from?”

So, it did force me to look at my childhood and consider it and start making those connections. I think revisiting the past and revisiting our childhood gives us that opportunity to understand, “I’ve held onto this sense of responsibility for so long. As a child, I couldn’t process that.” To me it just felt like, “I must be doing something wrong to be treated this way,” and part of revisiting the journey of that is, “Wow! I wasn’t responsible for that.”

Dave: Esther, I was thinking, when I sat down with a counselor—I’ve done it multiple times over the years, it was scary, it was hard; and at the same time, it was really exciting, because it was like, “Man, things are being illuminated that I want to understand.”

Esther: Yes, yes.

Dave: It’s like this extension cord is plugged in, and I want to know what that is.

But here’s the question: if I’m a listener today, and I’m thinking, “I don’t know. Do I have shame? Do I need to sit down with somebody?” Because they could be like me, “I’m good,” when really there were symptoms going on. What would you say some of the signs are, some of the warning, flashing lights on the dashboard of our soul, that would say, “Hey, you might want to at least take a look at this?”

Esther: Yes, that’s a great question. Some of the ones that I can think of off the top of my head—even if it’s not the low self-esteem, low-functioning, “I’m not really doing much in life”—the alternative is the successful; in your case, it sounds like your counselor said, “You’re very overcommitted.”

Dave: Yes.

Esther: “You’re very, very busy.” Overwork, burnout, exhaustion, over commitment; that is not the typical, “Oh, I think you struggle with shame,” but oftentimes, there is something there that’s worth looking at more deeply. Someone who struggles with restlessness: “I just don’t experience rest.” Where is that coming from?

Ann: Oooh! That’s kind of yours.

Dave: Oh, great. Is this a Dave counseling session? [Laughter]

Ann: I mean, not restlessness in that you can’t relax, but you’re always wanting to do something. That can look great.

Esther: Yes.

Ann: It can be further advancing the Kingdom of God, but it can also be, “But why do you want—?” See, I like this analyzing Dave. [Laughter]

Dave: Okay, I’m going to step out now, and you two can just have a conversation.

Ann: Honestly, Esther, though, the practicality of your devotional—

You ask these questions: “Whose opinions have really mattered to you in the past?” “Whose approval do you seek today?” Or “what disapproval do you fear?” “In what areas are you tempted to strive to prove yourself?” “What standards do you fail to meet?” Those are just really good questions that you can look at.

I’m not saying that it necessarily means that you have shame, but it’s just good to analyze and think through.

Dave: Well, I have to tell you, when I hear those questions, one of the first thoughts I have is how that affects marriage.

Ann: That’s what I was thinking.

Dave: Because often, you feel that from your spouse.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: “I’m not measuring up. I want your approval. I’m not getting your approval. You’ve told me many times I’m not getting your approval,” and so, you feel a sense of shame from your spouse. You can blame them. It’s probably more internal, but it’s definitely a part of a marriage. It’s part of any relationship: father-daughter, parents to child—

Ann: —yes.

Dave: —but man, as you read that, I thought, “That is right in the middle of every marriage.”

Ann: But I was thinking, it would cool to do this devotional as a couple, because you go deep into some of the inner workings of your thoughts and lies and fears and hopes. I remember leading our women’s ministry at church, and at the end of a successful ministry year, our team sat down, and I said, “Let’s give each other a name. As we’ve worked together, you can see the gifts, you can see the passions that each of us has. So, let’s go around and say what we’ve seen in one another as we’ve worked so hard together.”

So, we went around this table of maybe eight of us, and each one was these dynamic, powerful, beautiful, or empathetic names that we would give. They all had these biblical, beautiful names. And then, it came to me, and this older woman who I really respected said to me, “Ann, you’re the energizer bunny.” We all laughed, and she said, “You just keep going and going and doing and doing,” and everybody said, “Yes, you get so much done.”

I drove home in the car feeling discouraged by that, like “Is that a good thing?” The next morning, I was getting ready, and I looked in the mirror, and I felt this word come over me. I felt like I heard, “Your name is striving.” I felt like it was from God, but it wasn’t a shame word. It was a revealing kind of word of, “Ann, you’re striving so hard to be successful or loved, or to be important, or just for Me. You’re striving. You want to do so much for Me.”

“You’re already loved. I’ve given you everything you need, and you don’t have to strive for Me.” Oh, I was wrecked! I started crying, and I thought, “Lord, I want to perform for You. I want You to love me. I want to reach the world for Christ,” and yet I felt this, “But daughter, I want you to know that you are already loved. You don’t have to do anything to receive My love or to earn My love. I’ve already given My life for you.” Whoo! And that was powerful for me.

Dave: Yes. I would say, everybody wants that, so how about we talk about that tomorrow?

Ann: Yes.

Dave: How do you get that sense of well-being, that I’m—the title of your book—Known and Loved? That’s what we all want.

Shelby: There can be a variety of yellow flags, so to speak, when we can maybe spot them in our lives, things that are like warnings. And when those flags pop up, it’s important to pay attention to them, because they might be indicators of something bigger going on that needs to surface with us. Maybe we wouldn’t label them as “shame” by looking at it on the surface, but it could be what’s actually happening, and we aren’t even aware of it.

I’m so thankful we were able to get this kind of help and insight today from Esther Liu, because the element of shame is such a huge monster to wrestle with for so many of us. I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Esther Liu on FamilyLife Today.

Esther has written a book called Shame: Being Known and Loved. This book really helps offer kind of a compassionate roadmap for those wrestling with shame, as I mentioned before, guiding you toward redemption through God’s grace and His practical wisdom. You can get your copy of Esther’s book called Shame right now by going online to Or you can find it in the show notes.

Or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800–“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Just request your copy of Esther Liu’s book called Shame.

Now, it’s the month of May, and that’s a big deal for us here at FamilyLife Today, because, thanks to the generosity of some really amazing donors, every gift given to the ministry of FamilyLife Today all month long is going to be doubled dollar-for-dollar up to $550,000. So, for example, if you give $100 a month, it’s actually going to be doubled to $200 per month all year long when you donate this month.

To find out more, you can head over to and click on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page. When you become a monthly partner with us, you get a lot of benefits, including a copy of Neighborhoods Reimagined by Chris and Elizabeth McKinney, as our way of saying thank you to you.

In addition to that, when you become a monthly partner, you get to participate in our new online community and be part of the conversation here at FamilyLife, including a live Facebook event with Dave and Ann Wilson and me on June 5th. So, head over to, chick on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page, and have every dollar that you give doubled up to $550,000. More details at

Tomorrow, Esther Liu is back with Dave and Ann Wilson to talk about the impact of shame on things like our relationships, our parenting, and our own self-worth. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you will join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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