I believe that at the core of every core wound is shame. Edward Welch provides an apt description of shame: “You are shunned. Faces are turned away from you. They ignore you, as if you didn’t exist. You are naked. Faces are turned toward you. They stare at you, as if you were hideous. You are worthless, and it’s no secret. You are of little or no value to those whose opinions matter to you.” Perhaps such a definition helps us see why shame wreaks so much havoc in our lives.
Yet, it isn’t a definition per se that is most alarming. It is how we tend to define ourselves according to one or more core wound. The experience of shame finds its way to the places deep within us where we begin to feel it’s message. Eventually, we can put words to our shame much like the ability to describe a physical ailment after the initial onset of pain. The words or messages that arise come from your relational experiences. Did you notice how the above description of shame is grounded in relationship?
One on hand, relationships hold great potential for facilitating the healthy growth of an individual to become fully who they have been created to be. On the other hand, relationships can be a space where one is neglected, abused, traumatized, overlooked, or criticized (the list goes on). This is where shame is born and begins its quest to disavow parts of you that go unnourished.
Heinz Kohut observed three areas of need (technically self-object needs) in the relationship between caregiver and child for there to be healthy development. These needs are always present throughout one’s life span but how these are met at the beginning of one’s life sets the trajectory of how one relates to self and others. Here are the names followed by a brief description of these needs:
Mirroring- In mirroring we are looking to have someone accurately reflect back to us who we are, our strengths, abilities, and accomplishments. This is where we are affirmed and find motivation to continue to grow into who we really are.
Idealization- This involves merging with someone who is strong, protective, wise and can provide guidance. This is where we find our safety, opportunity to find comfort, understanding in our pain, and values to guide our lives.
Twinship- In twinship we are looking for someone “like me”. Simply put, we want to know where we fit in the world. We want to experience a connection with someone (or a community) where we can confidently say, “they are like me, and I am like them.”
The absence of any of these self-object needs compromises our immunity against shame. Let’s look at how shame in the form of the message “I don’t measure up” may emerge. Suppose a little boy has an interest in art. He comes home with a drawing he did in school beaming with pride over getting first place in an art class competition. He runs into the house to tell his parents and is met with blank stares that turn to looks of disappointment.
They make sure the little boy knows that they are not raising him to be an artist. Family tradition dictates that he becomes a lawyer, or a doctor. After all these are the “noble” professions. So rather than celebrate with him and affirm him in his ability they shame him for being, well, for being him. This is a failure in meeting a mirroring need.
If this persists the little boy will sacrifice the artistic part of himself to maintain his relationship to his parents. As he continues to grow his passion for art grows while becoming a lawyer, or a doctor never appeals to him. He fears he will never meet the standards imposed on him. While he struggles with this, he cannot turn to his parents for understanding and comfort (idealized needs) for fear of further rejection. Perhaps he tries to find a middle ground between being an artist and being rejected. Either way, he is stuck with the conviction that he will never measure up.
The core wound message, “I don’t measure up” immediately brings to mind a standard by which one is being measured. The problem is people tend to have different standards often not based upon wisdom from above (Rom.16:27). God offers us the self-object needs mentioned above in accordance with His perfect wisdom, His knowledge of us, His desire to shepherd us, and bring us into His community. Here are some examples:
Mirroring- First, “The Lord knows who are his” (2Tim.2:16-19). And He has given us all gifts or abilities (1Ptr.4:10-11). Whatever gifts or talents you have are God given.
Idealization- There are many passages that could be referenced to understand God as comforter, guide, protector, and moral law giver. For sake of space, Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a great place to start to get an understanding of this (John 10, Psalm 23).
Twinship- Jesus became like us in taking on humanity (Heb.2:14) therefore, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Heb.4:15). He also invites us into a community of people like us (1Cor. 12).
Maybe you don’t feel like you measure up. I would invite you to question the standard. I would also invite you to consider where you have not been met in your legitimate self-object needs. Further, and perhaps most important God invites you to look to His standard of grace, the way in which He meets your needs and the promise of the removal of shame.
Ken Grano, MDiv, CFBPPC – https://surehopecounseling.com/ken-grano-specializing-in-pastoral-counseling-in-matthews-nc/