What Being Free of Shame Looks Like

My book, Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity, comes out on Tuesday. Pre-order your copy here!

It was nearly the end of my shift at the daycare. I bent down to put away a puzzle when the four year old came up to me and poked my stomach. “Miss Dianna! You look you have a baby in there.” It took me a second to figure out what the kid meant – and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. “Oh, no, honey, I don’t,” I replied with a fake smile before waking away.

Sometimes, small children find ways of (literally) poking at our biggest insecurities, without even trying to. Even with all the body-positivity and the preaching against shame that I do, all it takes is one sideways comment, one unintentional poke, and I’m thrown back into that vortex.

Which is why, today, I want to tell you: getting rid of shame is not easy. It’s not positivity in a poppy field where you just change your thinking and you’re all good. It’s a constant, consistent battle against something that wants to destroy you – which is why a culture that purposefully imparts shame on people is so destructive and so wrongheaded.

The thing about shame is that it’s insidious. It gets directly at our anxieties and pushes all the right buttons. And shame almost always comes from the outside – it starts as an external pressure saying “you are not enough” or “you are too much.” And over time, we internalize such speech and it becomes second nature to quiet ourselves, to dedicate ourselves to taking up less space, to avoiding shame through coping mechanisms that make us less ourselves.

We feel shameful about our bodies not matching the ideals, so we internalize those feelings and figure out how to hide behind certain fashions and styles of clothing.

We feel shame about our opinions, so we learn to couch them in niceties and apologies and instant backtracking if they cause any kind of reaction.

We – especially women – learn how to take up less space, to make ourselves smaller and more palatable. We take our cues from the outside world instead of ourselves, because shame has been such a driving force in our lives since birth.

As a result, shame will not be extinguished in a day. There’s massive difference between thinking “I’m okay” and actually being okay. And yet, somehow, knowing that this is a slow process, knowing that it takes time, makes it easier. Sometimes, instead of thinking “I’m okay,” it’s important for us to think, “I’m not okay, and yet, that's alright.”

It’s okay to not be okay.