FamilyLife Today® Podcast

How to Overcome Shame: Esther Liu

with Esther Liu | May 24, 2024
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Shame: It's the voice in your head whispering that you're not good enough, that you'll never measure up. We can drag around this baggage of shame without even realizing it. Esther Liu chats about how to find healing and ways to overcome generational shame and cultural influences.

  • 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.

Shame’s that voice saying you’re not enough. Could you be carrying that kind of baggage without realizing it? Esther Liu shares ways to overcome and heal.

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How to Overcome Shame: Esther Liu

With Esther Liu
May 24, 2024
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Dave: Before we get started today, I’ve got a question for you—not you, Ann; our listener: where are you listening from?

Ann: You know that we are from Detroit.

Dave: Motor City.

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

Dave: So, we’re coming to you from all over the country. 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 are listening from, to 80542 to let us know. So, again, text FLT, plus where you’re listening from, to 80542.

Esther: He’s [God’s] not always looking at me with this low-grade disappointment and disdain. He looks at me with compassion. He sees the weakness; He sees my dust-ness quality.

He sees that, He knows that. His response is not, “What’s wrong with you? Get it together.” It’s not, “Oh, there she is. I’ll just put her on the sidelines.” It’s, “I have compassion for you. My heart moves toward you. I want to help you. I want to come alongside of you. His heart is moved for me in the midst of weakness.”

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

This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: Esther Liu is back with us. We’ve been talking about shame. Here’s a question I have for you. I know you’re not a parent, but shame often feels like it’s generational. So, we as parents—we may not even know it—were shamed as children as we grew up. Now we’re adults, and we carry around a level of shame we may not even be able to identify, but it’s there.

Esther: Yes.

Dave: Now we have children. What would your wisdom be?

Ann: How do we break the shame?

Esther: Yes. I alluded to this on day one. One of the biggest things that can be done is to identify my tendency. I have a tendency to shame my children in a way that they’re going to grow up living like they need to perform or meet certain standards in order to be pleasing, in order to be worthy of love, in order to be worthy of favor.

On one level, even just being able to say that and identify that and to say, “I do this.” or “I think I might be doing this,” is a Spirit-wrought miracle in and of itself—

Dave: —yes.

Esther: —because shame so often lives in the darkness. It lives undercover. Not many of us, including myself, live with the sense of constantly thinking about shame growing up. The fact that it could be the entire framework of parenting and of raising our kids without that word “shame” even entering into our vocabulary shows how much it can lurk in the shadows.

Dave: Maybe having another friend or another parent—It’s hard to say, but to ask: “Hey, if you see something in the way I parent, would you call it out?” To have other eyes say, “I don’t know if you know this, but you treat your one child totally different than your other.”

Ann: You had that happen.

Dave: Yes. That’s a hard thing to hear, but man is it helpful. Because, first of all, you're going to say (at least I did), “No, I don't. What are you talking about? You’re wrong.” And then, you look in the mirror and think, “There’s got to be some truth to what he said, so what does that mean?”

Esther: Yes.

Dave: So, either you identify it or someone else helps you identify it. Then what do you do?

Ann: I even like this question that you share, Esther: what are some present-day struggles you have a hard time sharing with others? We tend to hide the pieces of ourselves that we’re ashamed of. We hide those things.

Esther: Yes.

Ann: I think that would be a good question for a spouse: what are the areas of shame that we hide?

Dave: Scary.

Ann: You go to a new level of intimacy if you can share those things and still be loved and accepted. But it’s risky, because you don’t know if you’ll be loved and accepted—

Esther: —yes.

Ann: —when you bring the areas into the light.

Esther: Absolutely. That’s probably part of your question, Dave, about how to parent differently. What is off limits or not off limits for your children to come to speak to you about? When they come and confess their sin, or when they open up; or even if you catch them in something, what is that response going to be? That either says, “This is a safe place”—not that there won’t be consequences; it’s not the mitigation or the elimination of consequences, but it’s saying, “You are known now in some of these dark places in your life. There are going to be consequences, but those consequences are given out of love.”

Ann: Yes.

Esther: “Overarchingly, what we want is for your good. We are going to love you through this.”

So, for parents, it’s interesting. What is our response to failures? What is our response to our children’s shortcomings, weaknesses, etc.? That is a huge step into finding a different way to parent, where shame doesn’t have such a loud presence.

Dave: Boy, as you say that, I think that also applies to your spouse when your spouse lets you down. As you were just saying, maybe they confess a secret. What’s your response? That’s going to determine the future of your marriage.

Ann: I can remember when our kids were little, I would go to bed at night, and I was bombarded with shame.

Dave: I’d always say, “We’re great! We did a great job. You did a great job!” Not realizing she really was carrying that.

Ann: I think—

Dave: —heavy.

Ann: —not only are we carrying things from our past—maybe things from our parents or the weight that we felt from performance, but there’s also an enemy of our soul, who is—the word “Satan” means accuser, who’s—continually accusing us. I felt that. So, to take those thoughts captive, [and say], “I’m not a failure as a mom.”

I remember one night, I went through a list, “Here’s the things I did wrong. Now, what are the things I did right today? I fed my children. We laughed and we played.” So often, we can look at all the negative instead of seeing that there was some great success today in how we parented.

We can do that in our marriage, too, but we don’t tend to look at ourselves as much as our spouse who failed us.

Dave: I’m listening to this conversation and wondering what it would be like to be known as a joy-bringer—

Ann: —a life-speaker.

Dave: —a life-giver to people, our kids, our marriage. I was thinking, so often we bring shame into other people’s lives by measuring them and putting burdens on them that they weren’t designed to carry. What would it be like if you walked into a room and people said, “I love this guy.” or “I love this gal.” “I don’t know why, but I just feel like I’m a better person when I’m around them. I’m a good person. They think I’m a good person,” you know?

I think that’s what people felt when Jesus walked into a room. “I don’t know all about this man but”—sinners are drawn to having a meal with Him. I thought, how many sinners want to be with us? [Laughter] Because we’re so judgmental, and [we] put shame on people rather than, “I see greatness in you. Do you see it?” That’s being known and fully loved.

Ann: Totally.

Esther, your book is loaded with Scripture. Are there any Scriptures that have really helped you through as you’ve been dealing with shame and looking into it, in your own self and with others? What are some of the Scriptures that just come alive to you?

Esther: Yes. I think Psalm 103 is one that I will always go to, verses 13 and 14: “As the Father has compassion for His child, so the Lord has compassion for you. For He knows your frame, He remembers that you are dust.” I think, probably, that aspect of shame in the midst of weakness gets to me still a lot. It’s not necessarily sin, but it’s weakness. “I can’t quite measure up to this standard.” It’s not a category of moral failure, but “I wish I could do better here. I wish I could be better here.”

So often, my posture toward myself in the midst of weakness is disdain and contempt, “Why don’t you get it together? Why can’t you do better?” The self-berating, self-condemnation type of feeling and thoughts that enter my mind. So, Psalm 103, I revisit that often, because it’s such a corrective that I need for my soul.

He’s not always looking at me with this low-grade disappointment and disdain. He looks at me with compassion. He sees the weakness; He sees my dust-ness quality. There’s nothing impressive about dust. He sees that, He knows that. And His response is not, “What’s wrong with you? Get it together.” It’s not, “Oh, there she is. I’ll just kind of put her on the sidelines.” It’s, “I have compassion for you. My heart moves towards you. I want to help you. I want to come alongside of you.” His heart is moved for me in the midst of weakness.

So, I feel like I’ve revisited that passage so many times when I’ve needed that reminder. He’s not just scolding me and berating me. He has compassion, and I’m not alone.

Ann: That’s good. As we finish, Esther, what are the spiritual disciplines that you’ve put in place in your life, or that we can put in, so that we’re taking those thoughts captive and we remember who we are in Christ?

Esther: Yes. Scripture reading is huge. I don’t necessarily walk away from every Bible reading or devotional time feeling “wowed” and like my whole life and heart are reoriented. I don’t. What I am realizing now, as I grow older, is that if I’m not spending time in Scripture, how much I slip back into a default mode of thinking—

Ann: —yes.

Esther: —and seeing myself and other people. And when I am in Scripture, even if I am not walking away with huge revelations like my life has changed because of it, there’s still this daily dosage of reorientation that I need to think: “This isn’t how God sees me. This isn’t His posture. I’m not alone. I’m not walking through this wilderness by myself. There’s someone with me. There is someone who invites me to Himself.”

It’s crazy, I think; even the illusion earlier to spiritual warfare. How much does he [Satan] get a voice in my mind? And if I know he is always coming with lies and deception about who I am, about my life, how much more do I need even that snippet of truth to correct that and reorient that?

So, Scripture reading, whether it’s life-transformative or feels like that or not, that’s been a huge means of grace in my own life.

Ann: Me, too. That’s good.

Esther: Yes. Not a lot of people are going to be fans, but I will certainly say that journaling or taking any time for self-reflection, whatever that looks like, whether it’s writing it, handwritten in a journal or it’s digital journaling or even a conversation with a friend, but building in times for reflection because shame so often takes root and runs our lives without us even realizing it.

So, for us to take a step back and ask, “Why was I so angry in that moment? I was clearly losing my temper during that meeting. What was that?” and being able to sometimes say, “Wow. They were hitting at something that matters to me. I value myself being competent, and when they said that in the meeting, I felt like my competence was attacked.”

Ann: You were probably triggered.

Esther: Yes. To realize there is something deeper going on in me, rather than rushing past it and zooming past it in busyness. There’s something about taking the time to ask, “What was it about that?” or “That argument with my husband, with my wife? Why did I lose it there? Why was that conversation so hard for me?”

Oftentimes, being able to identify the shame that’s underlying it; because this is a standard that I feel I am meeting successfully and now, they are threatening that perceived success that I have. So, journaling or any opportunities for self-reflection; and I do feel like what we’ve talked about here, as well.

Shame—at the end of the day, there’s a relational aspect to it. The more we can be in community with people who speak truth in our lives, which doesn’t mean they are going to feed us with compliments and affirmation all the time; but people who can say, “I know you. There’s space for you here, and I’m still going to love you.” Essentially reflecting the heart of Christ by saying, “There’s a place for you, for people like you, in my kingdom. You might feel disqualified. You might feel unworthy to be accepted and loved. You might not feel good enough, but there’s a place for you here.”

His earthly ministry and all of His ministry encapsulates that heart. A disqualified people realizing that they are accepted and loved, chosen and received, and invited in by a Savior. The more that we can be with people and prize that when shame tempts us to isolation and shame tempts us to hide and cover up and pretend instead of bringing our true selves, our broken yet glorious, treasured selves to one another, there’s something beautiful that God can do in the context of community.

Individually, reading Scripture and engaging with God can only take us so far. But if there are people in our lives who can reflect the heart of Christ—and maybe that starts with us being someone that reflects the heart of Christ to others. It’s not that easy to find a community like this. Maybe you knowing that you are known and treasured by God can be the first one, to be that person to create space for other strugglers, to be that person that says, “There’s a place for you here.” Maybe that can expand into a greater community that can do the same for you as well.

Dave: Three days with Esther Liu. What do you think about shame?

Ann: Oh, I think that it’s good to talk about it. I think it’s good to figure out how we are dealing with it. But, I’m kind of excited right now, because we have a couple guests in the studio.

Dave: We have our audio engineer, Bruce Goff. Have you ever been on air?

Bruce: Not on FamilyLife Today.

Dave: No?

Bruce: No, I don’t think so.

Dave: This is pretty cool. You’re in there doing the sliders and making us sound better than we really are. And Jim Mitchell, our producer. You guys are both sitting in here.

Bruce: You’re so quiet in here. I’m used to you being so much louder. [Laughter]

Dave: Well, here’s what I’m—

Ann: —these guys are so good! They could be on our radio podcast every day, and it would be phenomenal.

Dave: We need to do this more.

Jim: I think we’re good in that room. I don’t know that we’re good in this room.

Ann: No, you guys are going to be great in this room.

Jim: Bruce was on Real Life Loading, though. You should check out the—

Bruce: We can armchair—what is it? Armchair quarterback—

Dave: —yes.

Bruce: —so good in that other room.

Dave: Most people can. [Laughter]

Jim: We’re so smart in there.

Dave: They don’t know what it’s like in the middle of the fray. It’s a different deal. I always wonder when I look through the glass: “They’re in there talking about us. I wonder what they’re saying?”

Today, we’re going to find out. You had some comments based on what Esther was saying. I guess you have a story?

Ann: About one of your daughters, Bruce.

Bruce: Yes. Our five year old daughter is dealing with some shame but in a healthy way.

Ann: How old are your girls?

Bruce: Eight, five, and two. Our middle girl, Glo, just broke down and confessed to my wife, Maria, the other day. I wasn’t there.

Jim: Let me just say—can I just add really quickly? When we sit in there and listen to these programs, the best programs are the ones that get us talking in the other room.

Dave: Yes.

Jim: They get us pressure testing it and pushing back and asking questions. This three-day series on shame really intrigued us. Bruce had told me this story about Glo coming in and talking to Maria, and I thought, “You need to tell the audience about this. You need to tell Dave and Ann and the audience about this little exchange he had with Glo.”

Ann: So, Gloria goes in and is talking to your wife, Maria—

Bruce: —yes, and she’s just overwhelmed with guilt and saying, “I should get spankings, because I lied to my friends. I lied to Estelle, my older sister.” And then she had more to say, and she didn’t want to say it. She was so scared. Maria said, “You can tell me, what is it?” She said, “And all those times I come in in the middle of the night and say that I had a bad dream—I didn’t have a bad dream. I just wanted to snuggle.” [Laughter] And she’s in tears.

Dave: She’s in tears?

Bruce: In tears. She says, “So, I need a spanking now, right?” She was so ashamed of herself.

Ann: Oooooh!

Dave: You’ve got me in tears.

Bruce: But Maria just knocked it out of the park from what she was telling me. She said, “It’s so good that you told me this. I’m so glad you told me, because if we keep it inside, it just rots, and it’s terrible. I’m not going to spank you. I’m so glad you told me. That was so brave of you. Way to go!” She just hugged her, and it was awesome.

Jim was pointing out the bigger picture there is not just that—I mean, it’s great that she confessed her sin—

Ann: —yes—

Bruce: —but the love that Maria and I have for her as our daughter is, “We want to snuggle with you! You don’t have to lie to us to get us to snuggle with you—maybe at three in the morning you do. You don’t have any idea how much we want to snuggle with you. Let’s make sure we are getting enough of those during the day. This doesn’t diminish my love for you at all.”

I don’t know; you summed it up better than I can right now.

Jim: Yes. As we think about shame, there is some truth there to, “You did lie to us.” You don’t want to discount that. I know every instinct—I can see your face, Ann; every instinct—is to snatch that little Glo up in your arms—

Ann: —totally!

Jim: —and say, “It’s okay. There’s nothing to—” But there is something there that she is convicted by. That is such—I think about God—and, Bruce, you're a father of—you’re a girl dad. You’re a father of three. You’re learning about your relationship with God by raising these girls.

Bruce: Yes.

Jim: In raising my kids, you get these moments when you realize, that is such a small part—the confession of, “I lied to you about having a bad dream.” The bigger picture (and I got chill bumps when you told me this story) is thinking about a God who, “Yes, I’ll deal with that, but you have no idea how much I want to cuddle with you, too. I built that into you. Come any time and snuggle with Me.”

Ann: I think the whole idea of telling the truth—God wants us to tell the truth.

Dave: That’s confession, yes.

Ann: It is confession, and His grace is overwhelming. Great job, Maria!

Bruce: Yes.

Ann: You heard the confession. She told the truth, and then you thanked her for it, told her how brave she was; but then the grace just envelops. Isn’t it beautiful? Even if we have shame, God’s grace envelops us—

Bruce: —yes.

Ann: —and draws us in.

Bruce: Give him the shame. He will take it.

Ann: Yes.

Bruce: Don’t act like it’s not there. Give it to him. She told Gloria, “The Bible says, ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us.’ [1 John 1:9] We confess it, we turn from it, and we trust in Jesus. Thank you, Glo.

I was so proud of Maria, as well as Glo.

Dave: That’s awesome.

Jim: “Now, go back to your room and go to sleep.”

Bruce: Yes. Now, what are you doing? [Laughter]

Dave: Here’s one last thought from me: that’s a master class in parenting, but I also think there are some parents listening who didn’t do a good job with that moment, and they feel beat up.

Ann: They carry shame.

Dave: Yes. I want to say, go back to your son or daughter and say, “Hey! I messed up that moment. Here’s what I wanted to/should say.” Grace is all over you, as well. Because I think sometimes we hear stories about great parenting moments and think, “I’m such a loser.”

We all make mistakes. I guarantee you have, she has; but there’s grace that covers those mistakes.

Bruce: Yes, I share our one success story. [Laughter] It’s so tempting to parent with shame instead of that.

Ann: Isn’t it?

Bruce: It’s so much easier to say, “Why did you do that?” and shame them and think that’s going to produce the right change.

So, yes. We’ve made many mistakes. And you’re right, though; it’s the same thing for parents. Give that shame to Jesus.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Tell the truth. Confess it. God will meet you right there.

Shelby: You know, I love hearing the “real life” responses from others just like you and me after the professional has been in the room. This kind of stuff, related to shame, is something all of us have come eye to eye with in our lives, and particularly in our parenting. What Dave was saying there at the end: just own it. Confess it to God and to any family members you need to, and then live in the grace that Jesus offers to us by His blood, by His sacrifice. We experience that grace; so, let’s live in that.

I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Esther Liu on FamilyLife Today. Esther’s written a book called Shame: Being Known and Loved. Don’t we all want to be known and loved? We want to be known to our depths. God knows us to our depths, and He loves us to the stars at the same time. Esther has written a book about that. There’s no room for shame. She’ll help us flesh that out, and what that looks like. Not only living in the boundless grace that God offers us, but practical advice and wisdom as well.

You can request your copy by going online right now to, or you can find it in our show notes. Or 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.”

We’re winding down here at the end of the month of May. It is a special month for us here at FamilyLife Today because, thanks to some generous donors, every gift that you give will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to—get this—$550,000. Yes; any gift that you give right now will be doubled all month long up to $550,000. If you want to learn a little bit more about what that looks like, you can go online to and click on the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page.

When you do give, as our “thank you,” we’re going to send you a copy of Chris and Elizabeth McKinney’s book called Neighborhoods Reimagined. In addition to that, if you become a monthly partner, you’ll get to participate in our new online community and be part of the conversations here at FamilyLife, including a live Facebook event that’s going to be happening with me and the Wilsons on June 5th. Again, all the details of that are going to be found at

Now, coming up next week, the one and only Philip Yancey is going to be joining Dave and Ann in the studio to talk about what’s so amazing about grace. Looking forward to hearing from him for sure.

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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