When Shame Is Your Prison


Six years ago I was forced out of my congregation and asked not to return. I won’t say more about it in this blog because that event is the genesis of the rest of my story, some of which I am sharing here.

I’ve been studying, reading, and thinking about belonging lately, and the ways shame gets in the way of belonging. When we feel shame, we operate from the innate belief that we are bad, unworthy, unlovable and in need of fixing. Shame makes us act in ways which we believe will help us fit in, but fitting in is not the same as belonging and it doesn’t address the root of the lie we believe about ourselves.


When I was asked to leave my community, in some ways it was about choices I made, and the ways I acted on those choices. There were certainly things which I needed to repair or amend. However, as my life continues to spiral around this pivotal event, I realize what happened was less about what I did, and more about who I was, who I still am. Because I can change what I do, but I cannot change who I fundamentally am. I fell into a shame spiral.

I processed those events in ways which engraved a litany of shame on my heart. It went like this:

If you tell people how you feel, they won’t love you.
If you don’t fit in, they’ll drive you out.
If they find out how you think, they won’t accept you.
If your faith isn’t textbook, they’ll reject you.
You can’t be yourself if your self isn’t quiet and tidy.

These became the rules I lived by, not because someone outside enforced them. No, fear and shame have been my jail keepers, and they have been doing a great job for years.

But here’s the thing about a jailbreak, it’s seldom neat and tidy. In fact, it’s generally all-out chaos, a take no hostages, hard-scrabble sprint for freedom with little concern who is injured or killed during the escape. That’s me for the past year. When I finally cried lie to the litany of shame and stopped accepting the false hope of out-behaving my wretched (or so I believed ) soul, I ripped my way out with tooth and claw. Only the guidance of a good therapist, and the love of a true friend, my husband, kept my breakthrough – breakdown? – from being a path of destruction.

But even then, it hasn’t been casualty-free.


I wish I could say my bid for freedom from shame was a one-time bloody battle, but it isn’t. Each piece of myself I recognize as good and true – my personality, my questioning nature, my outspokenness, my now “liberal” theology – has to be reminded daily:

I am loved.
I am valued.
I am a unique, treasured creation of a good God.
I am worthy of belonging, just as I am.


These truths are tricky even while they are true. The hard thing I am learning about self-love is it’s a recipe unique to each individual. What is absolutely true for my spiritual and emotional well-being, may not be true to everyone else, or even anyone else. In fact, some may find it annoying, uncomfortable, repulsive. Shame tells me there is no room for anyone to do anything but entirely accept me, but belonging tells me some will understand me and some will not, some will like me and some will not, and there is room for us all to coexist.


Maybe this all sounds like a lot of self-help mumbo-jumbo, but I find everything I’m experiencing now to be true to the life and example of Jesus, who was loved, hated and misunderstood, who knew who He was and where He belongs. He knew His purpose and spoke it kindly (mostly, he did call a friend Satan) but who never forced His way on anyone.

Because Jesus was human, I believe He knew shame. Because He was divine, I believe He resisted its terrible weight. He walked in Truth and Light, two things shame cannot abide.

If you are caught in a spiral of shame and fear, please listen to me, take my hand and hear these truths: You are loved. You are valued. You are worthy of belonging just as you are.

Don’t let shame be your jailer, the Truth shall set you free.

Have you ever been held hostage by shame and fear? These truths can set you free.Click To Tweet

If shame is your prison keeper and guilt is standing there holding the keys and openly mocking you, it's time to leave. Truth always wins the war.

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Dana Portwood
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Dana Portwood

Dana is a writer, book-a-holic, lover of dogs, tattoo addict, wanna be beach bum, hair color-er, a survivor of cancer, over the moon about being 40, and a sold out minimalist. She's madly in love with her husband of twenty years and crazy about (or maybe just crazy) raising three teenage daughters.She believes in the power of Love, the miracle of grace, and the strength of community.
Dana Portwood
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About Dana Portwood

Dana is a pastor’s wife and home schooling mom of three beautiful teens in middle Georgia. She’s passionate about women’s friendships, minimalism and being in the Word. You can find her on the MoJoy Blog (mojoyblog.com)

  • Vicki MacNeil Hentz Gould

    How I needed this! Some of my shame (baggage) is YEARS old…dusty and smelly; but it rears its ugly head unexpectedly from time to time. Some shame is new…actions stemming from unresolved anger. But old or new, the shame steals my joy and punctures my self-confidence, and I find myself hiding away from people, enveloped in a protective shell.

    All of this has an adverse affect on relationships…with co-workers, friends, family, even my husband. Shame is a weight, and I’m tired of carrying around, subjecting myself to its destructive forces.

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