Kicking Shame to the Curb: Ron & Nan Deal
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Nan DealNan Deal is the co-founder of Connor's Song, a non-profit organization that she and her husband founded in honor of their son Connor Lee Deal who died at the age of 12 in 2009. In cooperation with the Touch A Life Foundation, Connor's Song run Connor Creative Art Center in Ghana, West Africa, a facility that provides hope and healing through art therapy for almost 100 trafficked children rescued from the fishing industry in Ghana. Nan, a school teacher, and her husband, Ron, live in Little Rock,...more
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
Shame: It can gut you like a fish. Counselor Ron Deal chats about shame, his own story, and why giving shame the boot is non-negotiable.
Kicking Shame to the Curb: Ron & Nan Deal
Ann: Has anyone ever said to you “You should be ashamed of yourself?”
Dave: My mom.
Ann: Did she say that?
Dave: Often, but I remember one night—[Laughter] sort of funny now, but it wasn't in the moment—I was probably 13. I was sitting at the dinner table. She had some friends over and I cursed. I mean, I'd never cursed out loud in front of my mom. She was embarrassed and she looked at me and said, “I am so ashamed of you. I'm washing your mouth out with soap.” She had always threatened to do that; she literally did it that night. She grabbed me—I thought she couldn't do it but my mom, a single mom, she took me in the kitchen, and she got the soap, and she washed my mouth out with soap.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Ann: That's an interesting comment, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Dave: Well, she was ashamed—
Dave: —of her son's actions in front of her friends. She told me later, “I will never hear those kinds of words come out of your mouth.” I remember feeling this weight of embarrassment for myself and for our family. It sort of opens up this dialogue today about this, this word shame. We've got two people in the studio that can talk about it with some real wisdom. Ron and Nan Deal are back with FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, guys.
Ron: Thank you.
Ron: Your story just hits it. And here's the crazy thing about shame. Even if somebody does not say to you, “You should be ashamed of yourself,” we just do feel ashamed of ourselves.
Nan: My line was “What were you thinking when you did that?”
Ann: You would say that to your kids?
Nan: No, that's what was said to me.
Nan: —with a curse word in there, all my life.
Ron: The message to her was exactly what your message was to you, Dave.
Ron: It was you should be ashamed of yourself.
Ron: And it's funny when people we love and care for, like our parents or spouse or somebody, especially somebody in authority, says to us, “You should be ashamed of yourselves,” we do feel ashamed of ourselves and then we're stuck.
Ann: And that seems to take root, Ron; like it seems to go deep. I think we all have felt that and I'm sure our listeners have felt like, “Yes, that word shame, that lingers.”
Ron: As a matter of fact, the person we're going to be listening to today, Dr. Curt Thompson, would say it's neurological. It's deep, so deep into our heart, our spirit and our brain in that it takes root in the actual functionality of how our brain works. That's really deep and so it's hard to get rid of; it's hard to shake. This is a topic we really need to talk about.
Dave: And Dr. Thompson knows a little bit about the brain.
Ron: He does. Let me tell you about this guy. He is a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist. He specializes in what's called interpersonal neurobiology. That's how my brain interacts with your brain and how that affects our relationship and us as individuals. It's a really sophisticated kind of cool science. It's only developed in the last 15, 20 years since we've been able to do brain scans and really understand how our mind works at a different level. That's what he specializes in.
His three books that he's written about shame, one of them, particularly The Soul of Shame, in my opinion, is a must read for leaders, for pastors, and for anybody who's wrestling with shame in their life. You’ve got to read, The Soul of Shame. I caught up with him during a Christian counselors’ conference, and we recorded a conversation talking about blended families and shame, but the content applies to everybody listening to us right now.
Dave: We're going to listen to a clip.
Ron: We are and let me set it up.
Dave: But before we do, I’d love for you to define shame.
Ron: Yes; in a nutshell, guilt is “I feel badly about something I've done,” and shame is “I am bad.” It's an identity statement. Shame cuts all the way to how I feel about myself and my worth and my value.
I want to say to our listener, as you listen to this first clip, you may not be aware that shame is a part of your life. You may be listening for yourself, but you may be listening for somebody else that you know and love and care for. Or maybe you're a parent and you're thinking, “You know, I don't want to be a shame-based parent, so how do I not do this?” There's something in here for everyone.
Ron: I need to share a story with you. A number of years ago—some of my listeners may have heard me tell this story before, but it's so encapsulates shame in my mind that I just want to share it with you and then have you react to it. And let's unpack what this woman was struggling with.
A number of years ago I was speaking in a church on a Sunday morning and the worship team was there. It was one of those churches where they had multiple services, so I was getting to preach the same sermon four times in a row.
Curt: [Laughter] Lucky you.
Ron: Lucky me. And the worship team, of course, was leading four times, so I got to know them in between the first service and after the second service. At one of those occasions between services, I was chatting with a couple of people on the worship team, and I was just thanking them for leading me into a place of worship. It was really touching and moving. I just felt the presence of God. I had been speaking on grace and sort of related to stepfamilies of the Bible and how many of us today can really relate to those kinds of experiences.
All of a sudden, one of the women on the worship team who's heard my sermon now twice, says to me, “Oh yeah, well, we're one of those blended families.” I said, “Oh, great.” I kind of winked and said, “So you can relate to this whole grace thing with your family, right?” She goes, “No, not really.” I stopped, and I thought, “Okay, help me with that. I need to hear more. What's behind that?”
She said, “Well, you know I didn't want a divorce. My first husband left me, kind of left us in a lurch. It was really hard. I have a great husband now. We're doing well. We've had some struggles, but we're really doing well as a family. But I just don't feel the smile of God on our marriage.” I said, “Okay, tell me a little more.”
As the story went on, she basically unpacked a story I've heard a million times from many, many people, but especially from a lot of blended family couples—whether it's other people's judgment and shame put on them for whatever life has thrown at them and whatever decisions they may have made. Sometimes they make those sinful decisions. Sometimes somebody else made a sinful decision. Sometimes people didn't make any decision. It's just sort of where they find themselves, but they still sort of feel second class. They still feel like, “Wow, you know, my life shouldn't have gone this way and because it did, here I am struggling.”
I was so struck by here's this woman who brought me into the throne room of God, where we worshipped and celebrated God's grace and mercy and His goodness to us, and yet she could not absorb that very same message of grace for herself. Now, I've heard the story a million times, but that one really stuck with me. Like, here's this woman who's a part of the worship team and this message is not for her. At least that's the way it feels. Would you help me, and our listeners, understand what does shame do to us? Why does it unravel our ability to rest in God's goodness and grace and mercy? And what's going on in this story that we all need to learn something from?
Curt: Well, you know Ron, I'm just sitting, holding the story itself, and it's just really painful. I'm not at all close to or connected to this story. At the same time, this tells us something about what shame does; that you're the person who had the encounter with the woman. I don't know anything about this one. I'm not connected to this story. You're telling me this story, and it's resonant with me about the parts of my own shame - unfinished business, which I think tells us a little bit about the ubiquity of shame. It's everywhere.
I think it tells us a little bit about how ancient it is. A significant part of shame is power. I think has to do with how long it has been at work in the world and how early in our own lives it takes up neurobiological residence. And so, we're really well practiced at it. It's easily accessible once it gets entangled with our desire to create beauty and goodness in the world. Even the beauty now becomes something that I have a hard time even longing for or even imagining that I would want because I'm only going to anticipate that shame is going to accompany it.
And so, you have this really ancient neurophysiologic, interpersonal, cultural phenomenon that is entangled in the micro moments of our lives, not to speak of the big moments of our lives.
Ron: Right; right.
Curt: It's kind of like if you were to take a cup of chocolate powder and pour it in a gallon of milk and stir it all up. It doesn't really matter how much you dilute the milk thereafter; the chocolate is still in the milk. I think that I'm someone who likes to know that if I'm going to work on a problem, that I'm going to fix a problem to its perfected end. And so, the fact that shame still at times wraps itself around my ankles, like in and of itself, is a shaming thing to me. Like, why can't I be the kind of follower of Jesus who gets it right enough such that shame never really has any more foothold.
My sense is that evil's intention is to very subtly and very silently use shame where it can and where it will, to continue to entangle our histories and our stories. Not just to make us feel bad. Not just as evidence of our having made certain decisions that—you know or other people making certain decisions. But, in addition, and maybe I would say primarily, it uses shame as a way to prevent us from creating beauty in the world. That's its mission.
Ron: Ultimately, if you're entangled and tied down by shame, what I hear you saying is you can't be free to create beauty in the world.
Curt: Right, so your friend if we were to ask her “If you couldn't be ashamed, if it weren't possible, what would be the next artifact of beauty that you would want to create? What would be the next risk you would be willing to take?” And of course, for some of us, those questions feel impossible to answer because shame has been so effective. It makes it virtually impossible for me to think about this. But this is the thing, right?
Part of why the way that shame is effectively what I would call self-referential. Like, you sense it and then you feel it. It kind of like wraps itself even more tightly around you and the more ashamed I feel, the more ashamed I feel. And neurophysiologically this is what happens, in no small part, because of the isolating effect that it carries out upon different structures in the brain.
But this notion that if we were to invite your friend to consider the future. And to say, “Well, what if you couldn't be ashamed, what would you want to do?” The moment that she starts to imagine what she would want to do her memory is going to follow her. And there will be the risk of like, “Oh yes, but something might go wrong, and shame will be waiting for me and so I find it impossible to imagine the answer to that question: what would I do if shame were here?” I’m really then just left with this.
We say, “I can't get out of this. I'm too wracked by this.” That is as much about how frightening it is for me to take the risk of leaving it, as it is about shame actually having some kind of independent power over it.
Dave: You're listening to FamilyLife Today and we're listening to a portion of the FamilyLife Blended® podcast with Ron Deal and Curt Thompson.
Ann: I need to listen to that like five more times.
Dave: I’ve already listened to it several times and it's just so deep and so real. I think we're stunned. It's like, “I've carried this my whole life.”
Nan: It so entangles itself in everything. For me I'm thinking “Okay,”—because I was shame-based parented my whole life. It can be a glance, it can be no words, it can be words. I am sitting here thinking all of the messages of “You're not good enough,” “You're not wanted,” and it just entangles itself your whole life, that you carry that into marriage, into what you do. I mean sitting at this table feeling not worthy to even have a voice here, and the enemy would want no more than for me to be silenced, to shrink, to walk in that shame. “You've done this. You're not enough.” I mean, it's insidious. It really is insidious.
Ron: I feel the exact same thing about sitting at this table. Here's the example I would give about his comment about shame being self-referential. In other words, it's sort of fast forwarding to the moment you're going to feel shame because of how you mess up.
Most people listening right now, who know anything about my work, know I speak on a regular basis in front of audiences. I'm at a table like this recording my own podcast or here on FamilyLife Today or on other broadcasts, national TV and radio programs and I am scared to death every single time I do any of that. Because somewhere in the back of my mind I have this thought that if I mess up, that it will prove that the worth I'm afraid is true about me. That's what shame says: “Ron, if they really know that you're not as good as you appear to be, that somehow you will have lost your worth.” I fight that all the time.
One of the reasons I study so hard, and I work at the craft that I do, is I want to do a good job, but I'm also trying to prove to myself that I'm not a screw up. That's shame.
Ann: It's funny as we were talking at the beginning of this segment, I recalled the time that I had been abused by another person in our extended family. And it had happened over the years, but this was something new. I remember what I said to myself was, ”Oh, it's me. There's something wrong with me.” And so, exactly as you said, that shame started to intertwine with everything.
Just a few weeks ago I spoke to some NHL players’ wives, and I talked about this. I took these sticky notes and I said, “I want you to know what most of my life, even though I had this mask of ‘I've got it together, I'm strong, I'm feisty,’ but inside I took these sticky notes and I put ‘I'm alone. I'm not enough, I'm unworthy. I'm full of shame. I'm doubting myself.’ I used to think ‘I'm too young.’ Now I think ‘I'm too old.’ I just wear these and nobody sees it,” but as you said, it's insidious.
Ron: On the outside we put up a good show, and it's all about sort of proving that we're better than we think we really are and if somebody really finds this out—you know when he kind of posed that question: what if shame wasn't a part of your life? What's the first thing you would love to go and do? What's the risk you would take? What's the thing you would go and create? What's the challenge that you would say, “Oh, I want to try to take that on?” Whether it's to create something or build something or envision something or just, you know, do something sort of fun, you sort of go, “Wow. I don't even know what I'd do because I've spent so long going ‘No, can't go there.’” It's shame that cuts us off at the knees.
Nan: Well, listen to that. That message is a message that draws you and makes you flee into isolation and that's exactly what shame does.
Ann: Isn't that where the enemy wants us?
Ann: —in bondage.
Dave: Here's the tension as well. As, like of all people, the four of us sitting around this table should understand our identity in Christ.
Dave: And so, there's this tension, like, “Shame is not who I am” and yet how does that work itself out? Because we know the truth, we live the lie; that's where we're living.
Ron: I'm not Dr. Thompson, but here's what I've come to understand. And by the way, I'll just mention to the listener that over the next couple of broadcasts, we're going to be unpacking this thing from a spiritual standpoint so that we can move closer to God in one another and understand how shame impacts our relationships. But what's going on, on the inside, is there's a part of my mind that understands the truth, that my value comes through what Jesus has done for me. I like to call it God esteem. It's not that Ron's a great person, but because of Jesus and because of God's love for me, I have worth and value, and that's great.
There's another part of my mind that has this shame embedded in how I think and how I process and how I understand myself? Dr. Thompson talks about it being embodied, like it literally takes up residence in the neural neurological structures of our brain. It's sort of right there, side by side with the truth that we know.
Dave: You’ve got chocolate milk everywhere.
Ron: Exactly, chocolate milk is everywhere. It’s sort of invading that part of ourselves that understands truth. It's working from a body standpoint, from a mind, from a neurological standpoint. Even though we're trying to hold on to this truth, we know from Scripture, and there's a battle going on inside our brains, inside our minds, which is one reason why the New Testament, I think, spends so much time talking about being transformed by the renewing of your mind. Like getting shame out of the way and letting God's truth really take up residence in your heart and mind and soul and drive who you are, not letting shame drive who you are.
This is a sort of a deep, hard to understand concept, but the bottom line is there's a battle there and if we don't understand how shame is playing a role in our lives, we'll just continue to be a victim of it.
Nan: And it can be so quick, can’t it? I mean, I'm sitting here and in an instant “Remember how long you battled with that? Remember how long you did that?” It can be so instant in a moment that you're/you can go back to.
Ann: That your triggered and you begin to self-protect and hide. I call it “We go into hiding.”
Nan: Exactly; yes.
Ann: And so, you don't have the fullness of our true self, of who our new identity in Christ doesn't come out.
Ron: I mean this is the story of the Bible, right? Adam and Eve naked and what? Unashamed, not embarrassed, not afraid, to risk, to be known, to be completely vulnerable; that's what naked is, not just physically.
Nan: To have this relationship and this communion with God is so beautiful.
Ron: Relational, intimacy with God and with one another, complete vulnerability and no embarrassment, no hiding whatsoever. Sin enters the world and all of a sudden, we're clothed and were hiding. I like to say we've been hiding ever since, in one form or another, from God, from one another. We're still wrestling with how shame has altered our ability to be known.
Ann: I'm thinking of Moses: “God, don't send me, I can't speak.” One of the most intelligent and most educated men of his time. I'm thinking of Gideon, who when God says or the Angel says, “My valiant warrior,” and he says, “I'm the least of these.” Saul, well, you know, “I'm the least in my clan.” It's throughout the Bible where God calls us, “This is who you are,” and we're full of shame. Like, “No, I'm not.”
Dave: I mean, when you talked about the worship leader, I thought, “I've done that as a pastor.” You can preach it in such a way that people go, “Wow, that was life changing.” You get in your car and you're driving home going, “I don't know if I live it.”
Ron: See, here's the thing. That's that self-referential aspect of shame. It's sort of like, “Well, but I was hiding a little bit of myself and so this audience said ‘Wow,’ but they really don't know all of me. If they knew all of me, they would know what I know, and that is that I don't have the worth that they think I have.” We're undoing ourselves in a nanosecond. This is so, as Nan said, insidious, like, it just keeps coming for us.
Now notice, Dr. Thompson noted that shame is a tool of the enemy. It's coming for us because it wants to destroy us, limit us, frighten us from risk.
Nan: —silence us.
Ron: Silence us from taking risks, from doing wonderful things, from stepping out in God's grace and confidence that we're loved and forgiven. Like no, it's the thing that makes us hide and pull away.
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron and Nan Deal on FamilyLife Today. You know many couples in blended families struggle with shame, but the good news is you don't have to. Join us for some encouragement at this year's Blended and Blessed® live event and Livestream. You'll hear from Ron and Nan Deal, John Trent and other amazing speakers. The event is coming up on April 29th and you don't even have to leave home to attend. You can learn more under the show notes section on FamilyLifeToday.com.
Also, earlier this week, we heard from a personal friend of mine, Heather Holleman. She's an author and speaker, and we've known each other for a long time when we were both in the Campus Ministry of Cru® in the same area. Her book is called Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison. Her perspective in that book helps us to understand that the life that we're living right now is not God's Plan B for us. It's always God's Plan A. He knows exactly what He's doing in our lives, every moment of every day. Heather unpacks that in a biblical way to help you see that we are all seated with Christ in our personal seat that He has assigned for us.
We believe in that book so much we want to give it to you as our thanks for partnering with us here at FamilyLife. You can give online at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329 that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Do you ever feel like you hide parts of yourself from the outside world? Well, join us tomorrow because Ron and Nan are back to talk about how God shows compassion when we feel shame. That's tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife®, a Cru®Ministry.
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*Pre-recorded excerpts of Ron Deal with Dr. Curt Thompson are from the FamilyLife Blended® Podcast, Episode 72: Ridding Your Soul of Shame.
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