Shame on You: When Mental Illness is Taboo4 min read

Shame is a soul eating emotion.  ― C.G. Jung

Guilt can be good, if it leads to a change of heart, a transformed mind, reformed behavior. Shame, however, is a wicked parasite that feeds off not what we have done, but who we are.

Shame is an external imposition. At least it starts that way. We are taught to feel ashamed. The 3-year old child of a friend once hopped out of the bathtub and took off running through the halls, shouting “I love my body. I love my body.” This innocent exuberance is soon replaced by quiet discretion which, if handled too roughly, can become shame the child feels over his body.

Shame is not part of God’s created order.

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.  (Genesis 2.25)

Shame only came about as a result of disobedience. It is not God’s good design, and it is not what God wants for his faithful ones:

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (Psalm 34.5)

There are many ways to cultivate shame but perhaps the most effective way is silence. If a subject is taboo, never brought to the light of day, we assume it is too terrible to mention. Rather than bringing it to light and dealing with it as it is, it festers in the darkness like some vile boil covered in pus.

I have found that the worst way to treat my mental illness is to keep it a secret. Certainly, as a pastor, I had to use discretion so I draw too much attention to myself at the risk of caring for others. The best advice I ever received about disclosing my illness was to share it with two or three trusted Board members, then only naturally if it could be an encouragement to those struggling as well. Following this model, I was able to enjoy nearly a decade of fruitful ministry. When I tried to keep it a secret, I barely lasted a year.

This past weekend, I spoke at a suicide prevention awareness event. I always look forward to these, finding that no matter how big the gathering is, at least one soul is inevitably encouragement. In addition to mine.

After I spoke, a young woman came forward and told hers. With bold confidence, she looked up and shared her story full of  despairing moments, but ultimately defining hope. As she did so, you could almost see the weighty burden of shame over the unspoken being lifted. It was a beautiful moment. Her face glowed.

I celebrate these moments and believe that in Christ, they are everlasting, as he has promised,

Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

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About the Author:

I am a man with an unquiet mind who delights in the One who delights in me.