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Eight Characteristics Of A Shame-Based Ministry
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- That Shame-Base...
- Shame-based individuals are those who are driven by guilt, fear and an overwhelming
desire to please others. Since that is what drives them they, in turn, act upon the world
in the same way in which they perceive it. Thus they may characteristically use guilt,
fear and withholding of approval as means to manipulate others.
- Ministry Health's Sixteen Marks Of A Shame-Based Ministry
(Article 82) details a number of very helpful identifying marks of the shame-based
ministry. However, these sixteen marks can be traced to one or more of the following eight
basic characteristics of shame-driven individuals.
- Eight Characteristics Of Shamed-Based Behaviors
- 1) High Shame/Low Self-Esteem: Shame-based individuals cannot honor and
respect themselves or others. Instead, they're trapped by their self-consciousness, their
sense of inadequacy, and their defense mechanisms which shield they from their own
- 2) Distorted View Of Others: With anger too strong and frightening to
admit, they tend to project these feelings outside of themselves. They often make
themselves victims by characterizing others as angry, blaming, unfair, aggressive,
judgmental, controlling or mean. Since the victimization needs must be maintained, the
hostile or unfair feelings projected toward others tend to remain unchanged, too.
- 3) Distorted View Of Themselves: Unable consciously or unconsciously to
deal with the shame-full awareness that they can and do make mistakes, shame-based
individuals will engage in various self-distortions and denials. These may come in many
- Perhaps a common manifestation of this tendency toward self-distortion is when they are
hard on themselves or when they see themselves as infinitely better than others. Such
narcissistic tendencies may move them to "over-report" the good things they do
while "under-reporting" their failures.
- Others may not recognize their grandiose tendency toward "white lies."
Unfortunately, they may not recognize it either. Over time, the grandiose "white
lie" can become the "Greatest Fish Story Ever Told." As these shame-based
individuals believe and live out their phantasmal grandiose image of themselves it is no
wonder that, in their blind, shame-driven narcissism, they wonder how anyone can
do without them.
- 4) Motivated By Fear: The greater their fears, the greater the need for
their mental censors to protect they from their fears. As heightened fears raise the level
of hyper-vigilance, their increased hyper-vigilance requires a rapidly increased defensive
- 5) Black-And-White Thinking: Closely related to fear motivations
is the practice of "splitting" or assigning people and their behaviors to rigid
categories. Yes/No, Black/White, Either/Or, Safe/Unsafe, Good/Bad are all examples of the
rigid categories they create. When they judge others, there is no "gray" area.
Nearly always its "all or nothing," "throw the baby out with the bath
- 6) Enslaved By Hyper-Self-Criticism: Those upon whom this judgmentalism
falls may feel intense guilt. As if it were any consolation, shame-based individuals judge
themselves even more critically, mercilessly and unfairly than they do others. As they
have been taught, they are either good or bad, perfect or failure, saint or sinner, worth
of love or unworthy of love, competent or incompetent, etc.
- 7) Fear Of Abandonment: Being abandoned is a fate worst than death. It
must be avoided at all costs by behaviors such as people-pleasing, perfectionism, giving
in, over-extending themselves to find love, putting up rigid boundaries to avoid
relationships and thus abandonment.
- 8) Loneliness: Shame-based loneliness results from the strict
detachment which characterized shame-based individuals. This detachment may be seen in
their preference for isolation. This isolation can be accomplished in numerous ways
including 1) physical withdrawal; 2) emotional
withdrawal; or 3) putting on a subtlety-guarded "life of the
The Shame-Based Facade
- This facade is, perhaps, the most skilled and deceptive response of the shame-based
individual. Their lively, enjoyable conversation (unknown to others) is not
intended to befriend anyone or initiate or deepen relationships. Instead, the facade is
intended to keep the conversation in their control. This accomplishes at least seven
First, it lets them control the topic of conversation.
Second, it lets them control the emotional distance and tone
Third, it helps them feel good about themselves and receive
positive regard from others..
Fourth, it prevents them from having to get involved in
others conversations at anything more than a shallow level.
Fifth, used effectively, it help prevent any unexpected
Sixth, it puts the environment securely in their control; and
among other things,
Seventh, it gives them a sense of friendly positive
affirmation without have to get involved with a more intimate friendship.
- There are other variations of this "social" facade. Some shame-based
individuals ramble incessantly never giving others a chance to speak. Whatever technique
is utilized, the loneliness still remains. As long as they are dominated by the
shame-based, they will seek to shut out the awareness of the lonely "dark night of
the soul"...even if it means repressing this anxious awareness deep in the recesses
of their unconscious minds.
- If This Describes You And Your Ministry...
- First, admit those areas in their ministry that are
shame-based, externally-driven, or motivated by approval or disapproval. Sometimes this
means they have to recognize that other's criticisms of us may not be intended to destroy
but to help. As it is said, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend."
- Second, recognize that the world is not black-and-white.
It's a mosaic of innumerable shades of gray. Nothing in this world is totally fail safe.
Success and failure both occur and seldom is either final. The healthy response is
not to avoid success and failure, but to welcome them as opportunities for growth and
continued spiritual transformation.
- Third, have the courage to deal with a "gray" world.
Learn to overcome the pain of understanding the complexity of emotions, choices, and
behaviors. After all, life is not so much an event as it is a process. Seldom are mistakes
ever final unless they regard them as such. That is why persistence and faith in God's
plan for their ministry are so vitally essential for effective ministry.
- Fourth, don't think in inflexible terms of "good"
and "bad." Instead, develop a deeper awareness of seeing the good in the bad.
Become aware of things which may not necessarily be apparent. Sometimes it is those things
of which they are initially unaware that are the key to overcoming the dilemma. The search
for these keys can be painful and tiring. Do it anyway. Discover the joy of God's
"secret" mysterious working.
- Fifth, avoid those "quasi-virtuous" behaviors. You
don't have to pretend you have it all together. You don't. Nobody
does. You don't have to be stuffy. You don't have to be rigid, self-righteous, judgmental,
and unapproachable to maintain that appearance. These behaviors are just a "false
self" which disguise their anger and their inability to form mature, open, and
trusting relationships. Instead, do their best to be faithful and passionate in their
ministry and let others assist they in their areas of weakness so that they, too, may find
joy. (cf. Ministry Health Article, "Real Self-False Self: What's The
- Sixth, recognize the sources and evidences of deep-seated
shame-based items to which they are especially susceptible and affect their ministry.
Learn how to accept these items and work through them. It will be painful. But without
learning how to deal constructively with the anger, they will never experience the full
joy of ministry. Instead, it will always be "haunted" by a shadow of a
- Seven, recognizing your inability to really forgive and let go
of the hurts is probably the most distinctive sign of a shame-based aspect of ministry
motivation. Indeed, this is the greatest indicator that their ministry may be too
dependent on fulfillment of toxic shame-based needs. The fact that it is so difficult to
wrestle and resolve these issues is simply a reflection of how much aspects or complexes
of shame-based factors control you.
- Eight, begin to expand your perception of the parameters of
possible choices. Before making impulsive "black/white" decisions, take time to
reflect on other options. Seek the opinions and response of other trusted leaders. Ask
others to help you explore options and alternatives. Ask for assistance to help sort
through the overwhelm and confusion you may experience when you begin to be overwhelmed by
the numerous options and choices available.
- Nine, seek professional support. The things listed above are
essential self-esteem issues. Shame-based individuals did not become shame-based
overnight. It is likely a deeply-entrenched, cyclical pattern. Old habits die hard,
especially when they have apparently "worked" so well. But they really
haven't. These dysfunctional shame-based behaviors just bring you back to the same old
hole. (cf. Ministry Health
Autobiography in Five
- Ten, accept yourself as a sinful human being, forgiven and
accepted as a Child of God. God knows you're human. He knows that you make mistakes. He
knows you're not perfect. He knows the "bad" side of you. He loves you
anyway...unconditionally! The greatest news is that, in Christ, He did something about it.
He forgave you. Why can't you accept this forgiveness and release yourself from the shame
that His blood has already released you from?
- Leave The Shame Behind!
- As individuals begin going through the pain of realizing how their shame-based behaviors
affected them, others, and their ministries, they will need guidance to help show they
what is healthy and "normal."
- Discovering that their ministry may be shame-based is a painful, eye-opening, and
traumatic recognition. But, through it all, perhaps their search may bring they to a
greater appreciation of how greatly original sin has affected not just their parishioners,
but the preacher, too.
- Connecting with others able to give the honest, genuine affirmation that it's OK to feel
anger, disappointment, loneliness, etc. is essential. Carefully seeking out someone with
whom to reflect during the painful searching and reorganization of your self-esteem base.
- Most important, however, is that this experience can bring the shame-based
individual--and the congregation--closer to the complete realization of a healthy,
grace-based, grace-motivated ministry rooted in the confidence and victory of Jesus'
undeserved and illimitable forgiveness.
- Thomas F. Fischer
* For further reading see Joan Borysenko,
Guilt is the
Love is the Teacher (Warner Books, 1990), Chapter Two, pp. 26 ff.
Dennis Wholey's book, Becoming Your Own Parent (1988).
Index Articles 1-49
Articles 50-99 Articles
100-149 Articles 150-199
200-249 Articles 250-299
Articles 300-349 Articles
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:02 PM