(These thoughts are inspired by my upcoming book with Danny Silk, The Business of Honor, which is available for pre-order now!)
In last week’s blog, I claimed that much of the dishonoring, relationally unhealthy behavior I see in business leaders I know, Christians as well as non-Christians, is a manifestation of shame—the painful belief that our flaws make us unworthy of connection. In fact, I believe that every unhealthy relational behavior is ultimately rooted in shame. Running from the pain of our flaws and unworthiness, and the rejection it leads us to expect from others, is what produces patterns of isolation, pride, and unhealthy self-reliance in our lives. These patterns affect every relationship we have, both personal and professional.
Shame is Tied to Identity
In Brené Brown’s two most popular TED talks—the first on vulnerability, and the second on shame—she shares some powerful insights on the nature of shame.
First, in her talk on vulnerability, she explains that her research revealed that there were basically two types of people in the world—those who live with a sense that they were worthy of love and belonging, and those who, because of shame, struggle to feel worthy. What separated the two groups was one simple factor:
There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.
In her second talk on shame, Brown explains how shame differs from guilt:
Shame drives two big tapes—“never good enough”—and, if you can talk it out of that one, “Who do you think you are?” The thing to understand about shame is, it’s not guilt. Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.”
These two insights tell me two things. First, shame and worthiness are both identity beliefs, and second, these beliefs lead us to live in two completely opposite ways. Dishonoring, relationally unhealthy behavior is rooted in a shame-based identity. Honoring, relationally healthy behavior is rooted in an identity of worthiness. Whichever identity we are living from will affect every relationship in our lives, whether personal or professional.
The Best Source for an Identity of Worthiness
Identities aren’t theories we pull out of thin air. Our beliefs in our worthiness or unworthiness are tied to things we have lived through and learned. If we recognize that we have been living from a shame-based identity, how do we trade it in for an identity of worthiness? Where to do we find such a thing—and the experiences that make it real for us?
We don’t find it merely by praying a prayer, joining a church, or reading the Bible. I’m convinced that we only find it in a real, dynamic, experiential relationship with the Father. When we enter this relationship, we receive a new relational identity—the identity of a son or daughter. The Father declares us worthy of His unconditional, lavish love and connection—a worthiness not based on our behavior or personality or accomplishments or appearance or any other feature, but solely on the fact that He has chosen us to be His.
Worthiness is a Journey
But how can it be that so many people who call themselves Christians—even Christian leaders—are still living out the patterns of a shame-based identity? The answer is simply that learning to walk in a relationship with the Father and live from the identity of a son or daughter is a journey. And it is a journey filled with struggle, for it requires us to give up the old identity beliefs that, destructive as they are, have been normal and familiar to us, and learn new beliefs that lead to a completely different lifestyle of humility, vulnerability, and connection.
In The Business of Honor, I dedicate an entire chapter to sharing some of my own identity journey from orphan to son. In my case, it was many years after I became a Christian that I finally began the process of identifying the lies and unlearning the shame-driven behaviors I had developed from growing up with an angry dad who told me I couldn’t do anything right. Only as I allowed the Father to heal these places in my heart and teach me how to be a son did I become able to stop creating dysfunctional patterns of shame and isolation and start building healthy, honoring connections with my wife, spiritual fathers, friends, colleagues, and community.
I also describe how walking out this identity journey has impacted the way I have conducted myself as a businessman. I am convinced that if I had not taken the steps to move from orphan to son in my identity, from fear to honor in my heart and behavior, and from a culture of disconnection to connection in my relationships, I would have made choices that could have seriously crippled, if not destroyed, my business, my family, and even my own life.
The greatest gift we can give to ourselves and the people we are living with, working with, and leading is to courageously press forward on this journey to live in our true identity as worthy sons and daughters. If we want to live a life of honor and relational wholeness, we must be willing to confront areas where are living from shame and pursue healing and realignment with the truth—not the truth of our past or our pain, but the truth of who our Father says we are.
P.S. Pre-order The Business of Honor today and save 35-45% off the retail price! You also have the opportunity to gain exclusive access to a book club with Danny and me where we will lead you through the book in a private Facebook group.