If you’re a woman who struggles with pornography or lust, you are probably familiar with shame. Shame is the voice that says you can’t tell anyone. It’s the lie that you are a horrible person. It’s the slave driver screaming at you to try harder. It’s the belief you have to fix this sorry mess or you will never be acceptable.
That’s shame. And many of us know it well.
We are really good at shaming ourselves, but what do we do when the source of shame is someone else?
For many women, it’s this fear of others shaming us that keeps us in hiding. It’s a theme running through so many stories sent to me. She wants freedom, but she’s afraid to tell someone because the shame will never leave.
It’s the barbed wire fence between you and freedom.
Finally overcoming the fear of that shame is a significant step in your journey of freedom.
When I first confessed my porn addiction, I anticipated shame. I thought the women I told would find me disgusting or gross. They would think something was wrong with me. They would kick me out of the school and send me home.
That’s what happens to bad people, and I felt like I was a bad person. Yes, I wanted to be free but was so afraid of what would happen if I asked for help.
That fear of being shamed had kept me silent for years because that’s what shame does.
Shame doesn’t make people make good choices; it makes them lie about the bad ones.
I figured telling someone I struggled would introduce me to a life of shame.
Instead, it freed me from one.
Instead of shame, I found grace.
Instead of being called “gross,” I was called “brave.”
And that was the first moment I could see clearly that shame was a lie meant to keep me chained.
But that wasn’t my last run-in with shame.
For nine years, I’ve run this website and shared my story with the world, but kept it quiet around most of my extended family. We don’t sit around at Thanksgiving dinner talking about my “job.”
My family was raised in a culture of shame. Sharing my journey of freedom, to them, is seen as “flaunting the sin.” For them, it would be better if I had quietly moved on with my life and gotten my medical degree and done something “successful.”
With weddings come family drama. With my recent wedding, members of my extended family used my past as an attempt to shame me by proxy. They didn’t come to me, but instead tried to guilt and shame other members of my family because of my choices. Choices I made nearly two decades ago. Choices that have long since been redeemed.
“We’re just now finding out Jessica made these choices…”
As if I had no right getting married or wearing white on my wedding day. As if I am forever branded by choices I made as a teenager. As if grace itself has ceased to exist. As if I was supposed to spend my life in miserable penance forever “doing time” for what I’ve done.
If you’re a woman who is trying to break free from porn, you are going to encounter shame lobbed at you by someone else. Don’t let fear of shame keep you from finding freedom.
It doesn’t matter how sorry you are. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. We will all run into that Pharisee who doesn’t believe in the power of grace.
When that happens, what can you do?
Remember the Source of the Shame
Who is saying these things to you? Sometimes it’s a perfect stranger. In that case, it’s easy to ignore and move on. But when it’s family or friends, that can be a little harder. These are people who are close to you. People who can hurt you. People you trust.
But they are not truth.
Your identity doesn’t come from anybody around you, just like it doesn’t come from anything you’ve done. Your identity is rooted in one place and one place only- Jesus. And the only voice you need to listen to when it comes to your identity is His.
Remember Your Own Story
When someone tries to shame you, it’s important that you take back the narrative. What does that mean?
Shame tries to rewrite our stories. It goes through like a bad editor, trying to remove every mention of freedom, healing, and grace. Hope hits the cutting room floor. All of the negative will be amplified and magnified until redemption is just a faint glimmer on the page.
Don’t let that happen. Recount your story and recount the grace.
When I wrote my book, I was so discouraged by the end of the first half. Why? Because I was recounting all of the shame. If I had stopped there, the book would have been a hopeless tale of my failure.
But my story didn’t stop there, and neither does yours.
If someone is trying to pull the negative out of your story and spin it that way, you share the whole story. You share the whole story louder. For every negative they pull out, you counter it with the truth of grace.
You may not change their heart, but you can certainly keep them from taking over your story.
Ultimately, the best way to avoid the shame someone else would try to give you is to ignore it.
If you know the source and you know your story, you know that the shame being sent your way doesn’t actually belong to you. But it can still sting.
It can hurt when you encounter shame, especially from people you trust. It was extremely painful to find out that my past had been used as a weapon against family members. I had to help build up those people who had come to my defense and been attacked.
That’s painful and no, it’s not fun. But you know what else it isn’t? It isn’t my fault.
That’s one of the best things you can remember about shame during your walk from freedom:
The shame other people try to give you doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to them.
It’s as if they see you walking away from your broken chains, pick them up and start chasing after you saying, “Excuse me? I think you forgot these!” But you didn’t. You left them right where they needed to be.
Still, they’ll make you feel guilty for leaving them behind. They’ll make you feel bad that they had to carry those chains to catch up to you. They’ll make you feel responsible for their pain and suffering.
They don’t fully understand grace, the grace that says, “Leave those chains right there and walk free.”
To walk free of shame, you might have to ignore things said by people you love. You might have to lovingly tell them they’re wrong.
You might have to appear a bit of a rebel. Grace, after all, is a scandal. Living a life of honesty and transparency means you will run into people who will try to silence you and push you back in the shadows.
If it’s not in line with what Jesus says about you, it’s not truth.
Keep your eyes on the Author of your story and walk on.