Shame and identity: a conversation with Mike Foster, author of People of the Second Chance and founder of People of the Second Chance, an organization created to “empower people to overcome life’s setbacks…”
Setbacks and injustices can lead to shame. As psychologist Judith Herman explains, “Shame is a response to helplessness, the violation of bodily integrity, and the indignity suffered in the eyes of another person.” Shame is destructive. It keeps us hidden, unable to share the most authentic version of ourselves. Shame can cause us to feel hopeless, worthless, and unable to accept or receive love.
Despite setbacks, though, hope can still thrive. Mike and I discussed how he made poor academic grades growing up. However, bad grades didn’t define him. In fact, he’s now a best-selling author.
Your past and shame don’t have to become your identity.
Your identity controls everything around you (from the last article: identity “includes unique characteristics that distinguish you from others, but it also can include your self-esteem and self-awareness.”). As Mike said, if your identity is broken, your life is broken. But if your life is currently broken, the good news is we’re all a work in progress. No matter what your age might be or what you’ve done, you still have a second chance, a third, and beyond.
Mike says he’s slower to speak because of his own story of brokenness. His compassion led him to start People of the Second Chance. Psychotherapist Beverly Engel says compassion is the remedy to shame. But beyond compassion from other people, self-compassion is greatly needed as well. We often don’t allow ourselves to connect with our pain.
You’ll never grow past the beliefs about yourself.
Sometimes men don’t relate to shame. In this case, Mike discussed how volcanic rage and anger might be the manifestations. With my background in depression medications, men are more likely to experience shame or depression through physical pain rather than expressing emotional pain. If the pain isn’t addressed, the shame cycle won’t be broken.
How do you think God sees you?
Instead of operating from shame, we have to understand our identity comes from a father (perhaps it’s your own dad, a mentor, or a higher power like God). Mike said in our interview, not only does God like you and love you, but he also enjoys you. Psychologist and author David Benner says in his book The Gift of Being Yourself,
“Knowing ourselves must therefore begin by knowing the self that is known by God.”