Shame. For years, it’s been part of this conversation surrounding porn use. Shame is perhaps the greatest influencer of and weapon within the realm of sexuality.
We shame men who struggle with porn. We shamefully say women don’t. We shame sexual assault victims. We shame the sexually confused. We shame the kids who ask too many questions.
Let me say this yet again,
Shame doesn’t make people make good choices. It just makes people lie about the bad ones.
But what do you do when it feels like shame is a part of you?
Part of your identity. Woven throughout your story like some coffee stain from that one time you tried to read in the coffee shop. It soaks every page, crinkles it, stains it, sticks a couple of them together. In your mind, for world without end, every page of your story will carry shame.
For so many of us, that’s a struggle we face every day. I can struggle with this. Even standing on a stage speaking out against it. Especially standing on a stage speaking out against it.
But if there’s one particular area of my life I feel like this has affected, and I’m sure it’s true for many women, it’s the area of my current relationship and future marriage.
It brings to mind questions I’ve been asked by e-mail and during Q & As after I speak
- How could a man love me after all I’ve done?
- Will I ever get married?
- Should I ever get married?
And you know what? I get it.
Because I was once very much convinced I would never get married after I went public with my story because no man would ever want a piece of trash like me.
Yes, I talked to myself like that. Even while standing on a stage, trying my hardest to believe in this thing called grace. I would walk off the stage, go back to my hotel room alone and listen to how worthless I was.
Shame talks to us like that.
And if you’re single, struggling with pornography (or recovering from it), you might be hearing shame loud and clear saying, “Congratulations, you’ve ruined the rest of your life. No one will ever love you. You are an object. A toy. A plaything that men will always want to use and abuse. You have no worth and no value. You are trash.” Shame is a violent emotional abuser.
To that, I would offer you the same call to grace that I offered the “Tattooed Non-Virgin.” Don’t listen to shame. You have a place at the table.
But while at an event recently, a CSAT (Certified Sex Addiction Therapist) responded to this question of “What about my future relationships?” in a way that I found absolutely profound. I want to share it with you, because it encouraged me.
When asked how a former porn addiction could/would/should affect a future relationship, this therapist responded with, “Don’t bring shame into your relationship.”
Think about that.
If you are a woman who struggled with porn and you’re dating this guy, afraid of whether or not to tell him, that fear is likely not based on anything he has done. That shame is riding in on your back. It’s coming in on your story.
It’s like walking into a room and judging someone else for the smell of your musty gym shoes.
We walk around in shame. We bring it in with us. We anticipate it and practically speak it into existence.
It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy of shame:
Other people will leave me if they know this, so I will refuse to share. Not only will I refuse to share, I will defend it against their advances. I will close it off and guard it and make sure no one knows. If they pry, I will lash out. If they stick around, I will lash out even more because they can’t be trusted. When they finally leave, I will feel justified- I knew they were going to leave.
Sometimes, yes, people are really bad at this grace thing and they’ll judge and walk away. There are always going to be people like that. People even treated Jesus like that- and He never did anything wrong. So, there will always be some people who just don’t get it.
But a lot of the times, I’ve found, the problem is actually more on my end than theirs. Many times the only modern-day Pharisee in the room who can’t grasp grace is the person I see in the mirror.
So many of us are hauling shame around with us. We’ve packed it in our bags and it stinks up all of our relationships- even with the most gracious of friends, families, and lovers.
If I can say from experience, though, the relationship it stinks up the most (second to our relationship with God) is a relationship with a future spouse.
My fiance knows my story. That’s how we met. He read my book.
In the intro of my book I share that when you finish reading it, you’ll know more about me than you ever would learn sitting across from me in a coffee shop. He knew all of that before he ever introduced himself. He now knows more.
So one would think, “Ah, then you haven’t had a problem with shame in your relationship.” Because surely if he knows everything already and still wanted a relationship with me, then I have nothing to be ashamed of, right? It’s been easy for us.
Shame has shown up in our relationship, almost always because I’ve brought it with me. And you know what the most damaging side effect of that shame has been in my opinion?
It robs him of the ability to show grace.
When I, in shame, withdraw or hide or launch a defense, it doesn’t give him the opportunity to speak grace into that area of my life. It’s telling him, “there’s a piece of me you can’t love because it is unlovable, so I’m not going to give you a chance. I’m not even going to let you see it.”
And that same message I see weeks away from my wedding is the message I see women struggling with in their singleness: there’s a piece of me that can’t be loved.
I’ll say it for you. I’ll say it for me. That’s a lie.
That’s not truth talking. That’s not love talking. That’s shame.
Shame would enjoy nothing more than to make you believe you are unlovable. It isolates, deceives, and undermines. It is the arch rival of intimacy and cannot co-exist with love.
You cannot know you are fully loved and also be ashamed.
They are completely incompatible.
My past affects our relationship because it has shaped me. There are boundaries we need, conversations we have to have, and moments in a counseling room because of my past. But shame doesn’t need to taint any of that. I don’t need to feel like a horrible person for that. I don’t need to feel badly for my future husband because of that.
You have no idea how many times I’ve apologized for being hard to love.
If you are in a place where the voice of shame is saying, “You’ll never get married. You’ll never be loveable. You’ll never be anything more than a plaything,” fight for freedom from that. Change that script. Because it won’t automatically change when you find someone who does love you. Shame will make you constantly call that love into question. It will make you live in fear.
To this point, shame has caused more tension in our relationship than my past pornography problem ever did.
I wish I had known that before I met my future husband. I would have worked harder to eradicate shame from my life. That’s not to shame people for shaming. Things just would have been a little less tumultuous if I had checked shame at the door.
You don’t have to bring shame with you into future relationships. You can walk into them, with your head held high in grace.
Stop listening to shame.
When you are free, you are free. You are free to love, to be loved, and to live without shame staining and straining the most beautiful relationships of your life. We’ve already been forgiven. We’ve already been given grace.