What Dressing Up Like a Rock Star Taught Me About Shame and Grace

shame and grace

Photo Credit: thewoodenshoes via Compfight cc

The night I walked into my son’s elementary school fundraiser dressed in a wig, bathrobe, and women’s bootsonly to discover no one else had worn costumesI heard the ghosts of shame groaning in the shadows of my heart.

A best costume contest had been advertised, and I had pulled out every stop to dress up as a rock star circa 1985. But with the exception of the few friends with whom I had arrived, no one else had decided to compete. I looked around and it was all sport coats and khakis.

And so the voice of shame began it’s whisper: You’re not good enough. Everyone else knows what they’re doing and you don’t. You look silly. Ridiculous. You’re a joke. The voice of shame, in its genius, took some half-truths and began to twist them into a seductive lie: You’re not cool enough. You’re not popular enough. You don’t belong.

I began walking from the car to the banquet hall, skidding across the ice in my four-inch heals, trying to stay upright. And I looked around for a hole to climb into. Although it occurred to me, I’d never be able to climb into it in these damn boots anyway.

The Voice of Shame

The voice of shame always has a lie upon its tongue. Shame is clever. It uses part-truths and it dresses them up as the whole truth and so we believe it. We so easily and so often believe it.

Some of us have buried the whisper beneath a mountain of accomplishments and padded bank accounts and large social networks and expensive clothes and food and alcohol and drugs and anger and fear. Some of us have never been able to bury the voice. It’s always right here and right now. Every day it tortures us with its slow drip of deceit.

And for others of us, it ambushes us at a fundraiser and makes us want to run and hide.

The Rest of the Story

I hobbled toward the front door, trying not to break an ankle (women, I don’t know how you do it), and I thought, “Get it together, Kelly. If you want to fight a war on shame, you have to be willing to engage the little battles, and you’re in one right now.”

So, I took a deep breath. And I looked at my wife and the friends with whom I’d arrived. They all looked ridiculous, too. And their faces called forth another voice within me.

As my pulse slowed a little bit, I heard the voice of Grace, whispering at the edges of my heart. And it didn’t try to challenge the claims of my shame. It only reminded me of the whole truth.

“You do look ridiculous, Kelly. And you are beautiful and beloved.”

“You aren’t the cool kid, Kelly, you never were. And you are beautiful and beloved.”

“You aren’t the most popular guy here tonight, Kelly. And you are beautiful and beloved.”

The voice of Grace wasn’t challenging the story I had been told by my shame. It was reminding me of the rest of the story.

The Voice of Grace

This is how the voice of grace works. Its brilliance eclipses the genius of our shame-whispers. It doesn’t try to disprove the voice of shame. It doesn’t do a “Yeah, but.” It does a “Yes, and.” It disrupts all the internal debates, undermines all the second-guessing, and avoids all the interior conflict. It just says,  “Yes, that may be true, but this is definitively true.” 

And I believe its whispering to all of us, young and old.

“The kids on the playground think you’re a nerd and no one wants to hang out with you…and you are beautiful and beloved.”

“The girls at school are calling you chubby…and you are beautiful and beloved.”

“You gossip and lie and cheat and steal and sneak alcohol and cut yourself…and you are beautiful and beloved.”

“You burnt the dinner and the house is a mess and everyone is disappointed in you…and you are beautiful and beloved.”

“You keep losing weight and yet you still can’t stand the sight of yourself in the mirror…and you are beautiful and beloved.”

“You lost your job and you can’t provide for your family…and you are beautiful and beloved.”

“You give yourself away to men and you can’t look anyone in the eye…and you are beautiful and beloved.”

Shame lies to us, telling us our brokenness and mistakes define us as people. Grace reassures us our definition is already etched in stoneit reminds us what we’ve done is not the same as who we are. Grace is the Love calling us out of the lie and it’s waiting on us. Our only task is to claim it’s truth. 

Whatever lies you’ve swallowed, no matter how loud the voice of shame hollers in your soul, I believe there is another voice whispering, just waiting patiently and hoping to be heard. It’s the brilliant, counter-intuitive, scandalous voice of Grace, whispering its truth at the edges of your being:

“No matter what, you are beautiful and beloved.”

Comments? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section at the bottom of this post.        

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The Mess: The messy places in life—and the messy places within ourselves—present us with a choice. Because the mess is where our shame collides with grace. We can choose to succumb to shame. Or we can fight back. Come visit The Mess, and join the rebellion against shame. Thanks for reading; it’s a gift, Kelly

Preview: My next post will be on Wednesday, February 27, and will be entitled, “How to Transform Marital Conflict into Common Ground”

Other Posts Related to Shame and Grace:

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Kim

    Kelly, I LOVE this post so, so much. It captures what is so honest and wonderful about grace….that it’s not a “but”, but an “and” . Because on some level, we KNOW when we’ve made a mistake or when we’re not the most popular and feel awkward, and no amount of “BUT!” make that truth go away. The gentleness of grace is that it lets that be true AND it lets us be beautiful and beloved. Both. Thank you so much for this post – it was just what I needed.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks, Kim. There wasn’t room in the post to talk about this, but one of the drawbacks of cognitive-behavioral therapy is the tendency to spend time challenging thoughts that have some half truth, and so the therapy gets bogged down in internal debates, which was often the presenting problem anyway! I love how Grace undermines all of that.

  • Lisa Bartelt

    Really powerful stuff here. So much of our shame is rooted in perception and comparison. I wrestle with shame demons from adolescence about not being good enough or popular enough only to find out that the people I thought were good enough or popular enough wrestled (and still wrestle) with the same stuff. I read these words from a book called “She’s Got Issues” recently: “The battle is not between you and someone else. It’s between you and the you God wants you to be.” Totally freeing. I don’t have to be like someone else. I just have to be who God wants me to be. The voice of Grace is beautiful and we all need to be that voice to others. Thanks for this!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for sharing yourself here, Lisa. Yep, we all have the tendency to “upwardly” compare (research says we engage in downward comparison, but behind closed doors I don’t think that’s true). But once you get to know the “upwards,” really get to know them, you realize we’re all on the same level playing field. Thanks for that reminder.

  • Jennifer Newell

    I think we all struggle to find a place to be ourselves and for it to be alright. Thanks for keeping this real and for showing us how we can not deny the shame we feel but to be able to say, ” But wait there’s more” And you are beautiful and beloved.

  • CD

    Thanks Kelly – this totally reminded me of when I first got sober and I was venturing out into sharing with others what was really going on inside of me – for the first time. So I went out on this date and afterward I was sharing with my sponsor that I didn’t feel like I looked very good, and that I didn’t feel that funny, and I think I was awkward. His response – you’re really not that good looking and you are kind of awkward, and I’m sure you probably were very uncomfortable (all matter of factly) and then he said – so what, I love you. And we both burst into laughter – the kind that comes from the belly and you know its divinely inspired. It might sound like he was being harsh, but I had been surrounded by cheerleaders my whole life. Ones that would have reassured me that I was good looking, and that I was funny, and …. But the truth was, that never cut it for me, it only pushed the fear down a little bit, maybe. But his words, I knew they were the truth. I knew I was good enough – and it didn’t really have anything to do with me or how I looked or my personality (all conditional). I think I knew, for the first time perhaps, what it meant to be loved by God. And for the first time it meant something to me.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Yes. This is it, isn’t it? Replacing cheerleading with a no-matter-what kind of love. Thanks for sharing this. I love the idea of a sacred laugh, too. Man, that is a fun idea. Sacred laughter.

  • Brandon

    Last night I went to my therapist and we went over something very similar. As I read your post tears filled my eyes because I have struggled with shame for years. My shame has manifested itself as victim. I’ve worked hard to push it away and pretend it’s not there, but I need to hear it, but as you say, finish the story with what “Grace” is telling me. Thank you for your posts, they continually encourage me to push forward.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Brandon, you have great courage. What you are choosing to go through in therapy requires a ton of guts. Hang in there and keep fighting, brother.

  • kklin

    If only everyone trusted this, life would be so much easier. My niece is overcoming heroin addiction and I remind her of this as often as I can. Thank you for these words.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You are very welcome. Heroin recovery can be a long hard roller coaster. She’s blessed to have you loving her through it.

  • Debbi

    Thank you for this post. It touched me and made me cry, and I loved it! This will help me get through another day.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Debbi. One foot in front of the other, okay?

  • Kimberly Nelson

    Thanks Kelly…you left me speechless, I’m feeling a little flushed actually. I’ll need a moment to let the seep in and at the same time my inner voice is saying “see,
    that’s what I’m talking about.” I specifically resonated with…. [Grace] It doesn’t try to disprove the voice of shame. It doesn’t do a “Yeah, but.” It does a “Yes, and.” It disrupts all the internal debates, undermines all the second-guessing, and avoids all the interior conflict. It just says, “Yes, that may be true, but this is definitively true.”

    Beautifully written, the message consumed with love, I took a moment and gave myself a hug.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You are very welcome, Kimberly. Don’t take just one moment. Look for every opportunity to give yourself a hug. And then give a few away. 🙂

  • Danny

    wow man…. this post really hit home for me. I have been learning to face the lies i’ve held about myself and learn to trust the voice of grace inside over the voice of shame. Not an easy path. But definitely worth it. There are good days and worse days. Sometimes I just want to numb out so I don’t feel shame anymore. But when I calm down and take a deep breath, I realize how far I’ve come and that my worth is not measured in terms of flawless living or complete freedom from the voice of shame. I am loved IN the junk and that frees me to face and deal with the junk from a place of peace instead of a frantic need for answers because my lovability feels like it’s on the line.

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  • Lisa Hish

    Photo please! I want to see you in your full dress up, bathrobe and all. Sounds like yours was the fun part of the room.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ha! We did have fun. Not sure I can pull the trigger on releasing that fun image into the social media void!