“Don’t be so defensive, Hil-la-ry!”
Here is an entry from my journal, from a time I was about sixteen years old.
I just feel kind of alone right now. I feel bad because dad said I responded defensively to something he said, which I really am trying not to do. I did not feel defensive, mean to sound defensive, or even have a single reason to be defensive. So it is discouraging.
I try to let it go when he gets frustrated at me, but it’s like, he is always getting onto me for how I react to something he says. If I try to explain why I may have said something a certain way or reacted in a certain manner—he shuts me off as being defensive.
I am trying to be patient. But it makes me cry and grit my teeth and sometimes long for when I can be out on my own and not have to deal with it. Wrong attitude I know. But it’s getting so that I don’t know how to say anything without it “sounding defensive”. And even if the total concept of self-defense never even occurs to me, dad still often perceives and treats me like I’ve reacted defensively.
It hurts and is discouraging and is really unfair of him. I can’t avoid talking to him—I don’t want to not talk to him. But sometimes even casual conversation is difficult because I’m just waiting for him to pounce on something and label it defensive. It’s like he expects it, is looking for it. I don’t know what to do. Just be very patient and continue trying to watch myself and let things go. He’s probably under a lot of stress and is taking it out on me or something. I hope I can get better, be better. God, help.
This is one glimpse out of a thousand other moments that stacked like bricks in a wall around my soul. The shame of feeling as though I never measured up—the very core of who I was as a person: thoughts, dreams, ideas, interests, being—constantly under attack and criticism, and the labels slapped like curses across my face, all compounded my confusion and torment.
It is no wonder that self-deprecation became my forte—almost as though my agreement with the perceptions of others towards myself somehow, in a very sick way, gave me something in common with them. Common ground produces camaraderie and temporarily relieves some of the pressure, eases tension, and numbs the sting. Yet just as we speak out of the abundance of the heart, my self-deprecation poured out of a heart overflowing with shame.
Women who have been trained by shame often become very needy. I know that I did; codependence overtook me like a wall of water, soaking every inch. Are you mad at me? Do you really like it, or are you just saying that? We need lots of reassurance; when we learn that you are truly sincere, we become infatuated with making you happy. Many times this can lead to poor choices in relationships and exhaust well-meaning friends.
Women with shame-based identities often become perfectionists. Knowing we can’t please everyone paves the way for desperation, and we try harder. If only parents and others understood the sheer condemnation we place upon ourselves! No matter what shameful message we hear, our own becomes the most savage. In the end, we still aren’t satisfied because regardless, we cannot please anyone, ourselves included—much less God. And so, darkness settles in—a consuming darkness that can take many forms, including addiction, depression, suicidal fantasy, and other devastating manifestations.
I could have done better. I don’t even deserve to live. No one would miss me if I were gone. I only cause problems for others, and make life harder on the people I love. It would be better for them if I didn’t even exist. I should show them how much I love them, and take myself out of the way. Then I wouldn’t hurt them anymore. Then there would be more time for the other kids. More attention to go around. Then I won’t be a burden. I won’t be the “worldly one” corrupting all the others with my evil ideas. They won’t have to worry about my bad “influence”. I don’t know why God made me. I am just a bad person who should have never been born.
These lies, conceived by the enemy and birthed by shame, require the cleansing, healing grace, mercy and deep, overwhelming love of our Heavenly Father.
For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”(1 Corinthians 16)This love, embodied in the One who is the Way, Truth, and Life, waits longingly to heal the shame that keeps us locked, frozen in darkness.
Come to Me, He says. For I will heal your heart.
He has abundantly healed mine.