Friday, August 5, 2011

Shame and How it Can Effect Your Faith Negatively

Faith, spirituality, God, religion, church, dogma, and belief systems affect your life in many ways on a daily basis. Faith and religion can be unifying forces and they can also be the most divisive forces on the planet. Perhaps your family had a rule dictated that you never to talk about your religious beliefs because sometimes religious discussions can lead to many family misgivings. Do you have any of those stories in your family? On the other hand, perhaps your family was very committed to their religious system and felt a need and responsibility to share it with others, in order that they too could find the peace and solace your family enjoyed in their particular brand of faith. Perhaps, you had no particular belief system and wondered through-out your life why other people spent half of their weekends in church? Most people have stories about faith and growing up in your family of origin. It might be eye opening as you sit with your journal and list some of the memories and events that you experienced in your family about faith and religion.

Faith is a complex subject but can really assist you with shame reduction once you clear out some old scenes and scripts from your childhood belief system. However, in order to clear out the old faith scripts you really have to do some work on our own faith system.

James Fowler (1996) in his book Faithful Change: The Personal and Public Challenges of Postmodern Life echoes for us some of Erik Erickson’s work on developmental stages, but focuses on the stages of faith development. Fowler identifies seven stages of faith development as well as describes significant differences between faith and religion. He distinguishes between the two by recognizing religion as a cumulative collection of beliefs and actions practiced by groups of people who believe the same things. Faith is personal, inclusive of unconscious dynamics of formation of our individual values, morals, and beliefs. Fowler (pg.56) identifies personal faith as that which gives coherence and direction to individual lives, linking them to shared trusts and loyalties with others, and enabling the individual and/or the group to face and deal with the struggles of the daily difficulties of life.

It is the daily dealing with the difficulties of life where shame can wreak havoc with your emotional and intellectual self. If you have discovered, through my writings about shame that you suffer from large amounts of shame about whom and how you are in the world, you might view God as angry, hostile, and out to get you. Alternatively, you may believe that God has no interest in you because you are just bad to the core. Even if you grew up in a particular faith based religious group that taught you about a benevolent God who is trustworthy and on your side, it still might be a struggle for you to be able to make the emotional connection to a benevolent God because of your shame scripts. As a shame based individual that has internalized that there is something incredibly wrong with you, it may be difficult for you to tolerate positive affect in sufficient doses to believe that God could possibly love you and be on your side. Remembering that one of the positive affects is that of interest and the other of joy, a shame based individual often gives up on interest in God, faith, religion because even the idea of God being benevolent is too difficult to even entertain.

Writing exercises:

What is your first memory/thought about God?

Was there a time that God became more that just a word to you?

Was that time positive or negative?

How are your believes the same or different to those messages now?

If you were “nakedly” honest with yourself, does shame, shameful feeling, memories, or events in the past interfere with your faith in God?

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