Thursday, March 26, 2009

Healthy Spirituality is the answer to toxic shame

We need a constant reminder of Nouwens great words of consolation, "God's mercy is greater than our sins. There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but to self preoccupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and our failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt."

I believe what Nouwen is speaking about here is the third aspect of the "toxic trinity", which is shame. Healthy shame says, "I am human, I am limited, I make mistakes and it is okay. I do not have to be perfect." Toxic shame on the otherhand takes away the following five rights, which must be reclaimed.

I MUST reclaim the Right to:

Right to love - which means I do not have to earn, deserve or qualify for love, otherwise, it is not a gift.
Right to be loved [the beloved]-I am the beloved when I am loved as I am right now. I am loved with a love that is unconditioned, unlimited and unrestricted. It is now and forever. Being the beloved cancels out need for and the demands of perfection.
Right to belong- I have always belonged to God's love. The fact that I am living means God's love is supporting me and I will return to the same eternal love. I always belong to the family of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Right to worth-whileness- My right to live fully human life. "The glory of God is the human person fully alive." My worth-whileness is not dependent on what I do, but who I am. "My being proclaimed the greatness of the Lord." Mary in the Magnificat
Right to have fun [play]- Unless I play my prayer does not work.

We are not born with toxic shame, we are "gifted" this beginning at about 18 months old. We must spend our whole life giving back that toxic gift so we can live God's dream for us on a daily basis. Toxic shame comes to us in words and in phrases. Words like; dumb, stupid or phrases like; I am ashamed of you, how could you be so dumb/stupid, what cannot you be like....I am sorry you have ever been born and the list goes on and on. It also comes to us as the result of physical, spiritual, sexual or psychological abuse.

Behind every addiction and compulsion is toxic shame. Behind all of our medicators -abuse of alcohol, drugs, sex, food, shopping, work, gambling, TV, internet, pornography, cutting - is toxic shame. We are now blessed to have such wonderful support groups such as Alcholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sex Anonymous , Overeaters Anonymous, etc. etc., which offer to the addict a way out of the addiction into a new way of living an authentic human life. What is offered in these groups is the essence of spirituality. It is a great example of how the place of the wound becomes the place of the gift and those who are previously wounded now become empowered to be healers from their experience. When we are in a shame attack, with feelings of not being good enough, or not being deserving, we lose sight of who we are as the beloved son as beloved daughter. A classic example of a shame attack is "poor me". The natural consequences of this will be unhealthy behaviors which we just mentioned above.

Toxic Shame wants to kill you and me. Many people surrender to the end consequence of toxic shame and commit suicide. Suicide can be either fast or slow. Toxic shame is terminal, it is death dealing. Because toxic shame and healthy spirituality are mutally exclusive, not so with religiosity. We are told that religiosity if for those who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who have been to hell. Spirituality is the key which unlocks the door allowing me to cross the threshold shame into a life of peace, joy and love. Every encounter with toxic shame will either strengthen and reinforce my belief in my essential goodness or weaken the boundary of my belonging.

Religiosity and toxic shame seem to be able to coexist. We will do everything we can to look good on the outside, all the time while actually in a living hell on the inside. The thinking is as long as the outside practice is okay and I am looking good doing it then I must be okay, not so. How often have you heard, "The cleaner the house, the sicker the family. A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind."

How often do we as individuals, as couples, as families, as parishes, as church, as country project one thing while we know deep down that is not the truth - we are living a lie. We have a secret. There will always be a secret we are not allowed to speak of or share in any way. A secret, because of our misgotten love, we will take to the grave rather than face the reality and bring it to light. Our unhappiness will somehow be connected to our share in the family secret. When toxic shame paralyzes us into inactivity, we are unable to move, we are frozen in place. Something will then happen which will force us to deal with the toxic shame of the secret. This is a moment of conflict. Will I continue to live the life of the lie or grasp on to the outstretched hand of unconditioned, unrestricted, unlimited love which will lead me to freedom. This freedom can be summed up in a new way of living, which comes to us from a new way of acting.

The antidote to toxic shame is a healthy spirituality. Healthy shame, healthy spirituality is always reminding us we are the beloved, we are loved without conditions or restrictions. We do not have to earn love, deserve love or qualify for love, it is always being gifted to us without price. We cannot earn what we already have. Unhealthy thinking and unhealthy messages from the family secret will lead us to perfectionism which according to John Bradshaw is a disease not a quality to be desired. Those of us who desire to be perfect are usually angry, resentful, short-tempered. Why? Because, simply when we want to be perfect, we are chasing an illusion. We cannot be what we expect to be or want to be or other people tell us we ought to be. We are never good enough. This in turn will lead me to another visit to the pity-pot, to the "poor me". When enough of us get together who are on our pity-pot, we have a pity-party, which will only reinforce our sense of powerlessness and alienation. The opposite of this is asking the question, "What am I going to do for me, right now?". You switch the focus from the poor me to that of empowerment. We make the choice of being a victim or a survivor. Healthy spirituality is saying to us on the other hand, by the grace of God, I am who I am right now [St. Paul]. That means that right now I am loved by God. I am being graced. Because I am loved by God right now, I have to make a choice whether I will respond to God's love or choose self-hatred, leading to self-punishment.

Spirituality enables us to become comfortable with being a human being rather than a human doer. When we are authentically human we realize that we are in the process of becoming through the actions of God's grace. We are in the process of being born. We are always in the process of giving birth to who we are. You can reflect a little bit more on the quotation from Anan Cara shared in the March 17th blog.

I find great consolation in the parable of the wheat and weeds. In the parable the servants want to go and to pull up the weeds, but the wise king says, "Let them grow together until harvest time. Because in pulling up the weeds, you may pull up the wheat as well." As they spring from the earth, the wheat, and in this particular case [Darnel] are very similar. So the king is wise because what the servents would have thought were weeds would have actually been wheat and what was wheat would have been weeds. This is our spiritual journey. This is the process we go through. What I thought were the strengths of my twenties are now the weaknesses of my sixties. What I thought were the weaknesses of my twenties are now the source of strength for the sixties. Merton encouranges us with the words, "Be who you already are". We have been loved by our God from all eternity. We are loved right now with that same eternal love we have had from the beginning of time. We will return to that infinite eternal love when our time here is ended. Where that love resides is called the heart, that is the place in each one of us that has never said no to God. I do not care where you have been, what you have done, there is that place in you that has never said no to God. In that place, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are having a great celebration. There is always an open invitation for us to celebrate. We have been given the freedom to say yes and to say no. When we are living in the true life of the beloved, we are open to join in the celebration.

When we are in toxic shame, we do not believe that we are good enough or that we do not have the right to celebrate because we have not earned it, deserve it or somehow in our misguided [diseased] thinking qualify for the celebration. Each moment there is a decision to be made, we are we going to chose to live live life, and live it to the fullest [spirituality] or surrender to death [toxic shame].

There is the great prayer which called the Serenity Prayer;

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things that I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."

Everybody is familiar with those lines, but not many people know the next two lines;

"Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time."

And that moment is now.

There is No...Other...Way...of meeting God except right NOW.

Scripture tells us, "Now is the acceptable time, now is the time of salvation". In this now moment, we make a decision whether to listen to the truth that we are the beloved. Or listen to the lie, which is we are not good enough. In this moment, God is saying to each one of us, "I love you with an everlasting love. It is my gift to you."