Dealing with Shame from Authority

This week, I’m going to write about a personal experience from my childhood. The point is to show you that no memory is too insignificant to process in regards to recovery. It’s also to show that God is faithful to bring us healing when we ask.

Ever since I’ve had jobs, I dealt with anxiety towards my bosses. I’d set high expectations for myself, work hard, and feel like I was running from reprimand. The thought of doing something wrong haunted me. I would feel sick at work and obsessively think about stupid things I had done or said. If my boss asked to speak with me, I always assumed it was a bad report.

This past month, I started processing why I feel so much shame at work and I asked God to reveal to me what I needed to see.

As I was going to bed one night, a memory flashed in my head. It was a memory I hadn’t thought of in a long time. On a family vacation, in the middle of the night, I had gotten up and was scared. At home, when this would happen, I would go into my parents’ room and sleep with them. Here, we had so much family around, I wasn’t sure where everyone was sleeping. I made it to a bedroom where my grandparents were sleeping and snuggled up with them. At some point, my grandmother realized there was someone else in her bed and was somewhat startled. She startled speaking loudly, which woke me up, and by some force of nature, I ended up falling on the floor. When she realized who I was, she yelled, “Get back in your bed!” I was mortified. I ran back to the room I was staying in and dove into the covers. My desire was to never leave my new safe haven for the rest of the trip. I was humiliated and traumatized by the rejection. The next morning, my grandmother told everyone what had happened like it was hilarious. I was further mortified by the whole occurrence.

Once that memory popped into my mind, it surprised me how embarrassed I was about it. As an adult, I didn’t want to tell anyone. In my head, I was thinking, Surely this little incident couldn’t be affecting my work relationship with bosses… right?

I wrote a letter to God about it and read it to my counselor. She told me some very helpful elements about my story:

  1. I didn’t do anything wrong
  2. I wasn’t given appropriate coping mechanisms to deal with separation anxiety
  3. My grandmother showed me I had bad ideas and that I was wrong
  4. That led me to believe I had the potential for wrong/bad ideas
  5. This led me to doubt my abilities and fear getting in trouble for my ideas

Basically, the unprocessed shame I experienced in that moment kept me wrapped in fear, doubt, and guilt into the future.

Here’s how the scenario should’ve gone down:

When I was scared and would go to my parent’s bedroom, they should have brought me back to bed and instilled in me healthy coping mechanisms for fear and loneliness (praying, reassurance, etc.). My grandmother should’ve done the same. This would’ve validated my feeling afraid, but helped me learn how to overcome that fear by seeking God.

However, my parents and grandparents were doing the best they knew to do. They weren’t shown the proper way either. After talking through all this and asking God to remove my anxiety and shame from this memory, it was astounding how different I felt at work! I can’t express the peace and certainty that sits with me now. Can you believe it? From unpacking one, traumatic (but seemingly silly) childhood memory!

I know there’s more to my periods of anxiety at work, but God has been gracious to give me a little respite. I can tell that I feel more freedom now to be genuine with my bosses. God is in control, therefore, I don’t need to worry. I can have peace in all situations.

So, if you have a memory hanging around and it seems ridiculous, process it! See what God does with it. When we keep our shame to ourselves, it grows. When we share it with someone we trust, it is destroyed in the light.

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