Talking Back When Shame Keeps You Silent

Feb 5, 2019

I did something this week I should’ve done a long time ago. Honestly, I didn’t mean for it to take so long—four years. I kept putting it off, telling myself I could save for another day. But then one day turned into well over a thousand days. And what I knew I needed to do never got done.

I didn’t expect it to be so difficult, to tell you the truth. A death of sorts, like walking the plank and choosing to jump into shark-infested waters. I hovered at the very edge of safety, not sure I had it in me to take the leap. I knew it involved burying something that had been a part of me since birth, knowing I’d never see it again this side of heaven. Who willingly says goodbye to part of her truest self?

And yet I knew if I didn’t do it, I’d be forever caught between what was and what could be. Dying was the only way to still live.

And so I turned my back on what lay behind, and I jumped.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of six or seven years ago, I recorded a voice mail on my cell phone. It was upbeat, full of positivity and enthusiasm. People often made comments about it. But it a standard personal voice mail greeting, probably not all that different from yours.

The difference? The voice on my greeting was recorded before cancer stole my speech.

It was the old me, the one with near flawless articulation and professionalism. That girl who didn’t slur, spit, and lisp her way through sentences. She sounded warm, confident, maybe even intelligent.

She sounded—dare I say it?—normal.

Not anymore.

This may sound like a small thing to you, but the truth is I’ve had such a hard time letting the Old Michele go. Speech is such a huge part of the unique human experience. It’s part of our signature, the rope that ties us to other word-speaking creations, making connections and deepening relationships.

The problem is I didn’t like my new signature. In fact, it embarrassed me.

In short, I felt shame. My flawed speech left me with sense of otherness and unworthiness. I was fine when I was home alone, going about my day, almost forgetting what had happened and who I’d become. But the moment I opened my mouth to answer the phone, record a video, or leave a friend a message? The old embarrassment slipped back in. And with it, Shame. Who wants to listen to a speaker who talks funny? Who wants to endure lisps and verbal ticks when there are plenty of normal-speaking people out there?

For me, shame acted as a silencer. It made me want to shut down, hide, runaway. To become smaller and smaller and smaller until I edged on the verge of non-existence. Although I kept speaking and recording podcasts and radio interviews, I avoided more personal means of connection, things like Instagram stories and YouTube videos, phone calls and Voxer. Every time I opened my mouth I felt I should apologize for who I was, for how inconvenient and annoying I imagined my new voice to be.

And then one day I decided I’d had enough. And that day happened to be today, when I finally pulled out my cell phone and recorded a new voicemail. A voicemail that reveals the New Michele, in all her imperfection. And a new voice mail that represents life ahead, not life behind.

I know you’d love for me to tell you it was a moment full of freedom and joy, but I can’t. It was hard, uncomfortable, and I didn’t want to do it. But I was tired of shame calling the shots.

And the only way to silence shame is to talk back.

My friends, what old story is holding you hostage and making you small? What flaw or mistake or regret or wound is stirring up shame and telling you to hide? That old story isn’t serving you well. It’s keeping you from connecting with other flawed and imperfect humans just like you and me. And it’s time to stop letting shame call the shots.

Grace Has Come. And He’s writing a new story. But you have to be willing to let the old story go in order to experience the miracle of what Grace can still do.

So go ahead. Name your shame. Say it out loud. Remind yourself of all the ways that shame has held you hostage and kept you from showing up to your actual life. And then ask Grace to tell a louder, better, more beautiful story. One that doesn’t hide, but one that shows up.

Then, take the leap. We’re all waiting for you.

QUESTION: What is the one thing that’s keeping you hiding? What is ONE SMALL STEP you can take today to move forward?

25 Comments

  1. Laura

    I have really been living under the heaviness of shame and not feeling good enough for much of my life. Not sure how to work through feelings of grief related to what causes the shame and wishing my experience was different than what it has been. It would be great to be able live now without the weight of shame. It is a challenge for sure.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      My counselor has been a huge source of insight and help as I’ve processed through my own shame. She’s helped me see the self-talk that often furthers my shame, and she’s helped me to reframe how I process hard situations. Talking OUT LOUD, as crazy as it sounds, has made a big difference. Laura, I pray that you find some relief from your heartache and know, deep in your bones, that you are loved deeply by the God who will never leave you.

      Reply
  2. Tammy

    Making boundaries for rest and time for my family and friends. I don’t like letting people down and being a teacher I wear a .oh of hats on my day. I have felt for some time God has been asking me to make boundaries. I have had a hard season I lost my father in October unexpectedly and my mom is in poor health and today I took a step. I said my first no in long time and it was hard but it was needed. This boundary thing is out of my comfort zone, but it was freeing and so I was brave.

    Reply
    • Ashley

      Tammy, you are one brave girl! Rest brings us to ourselves. Rest is sometimes a struggle. Keep doing hard things. Keep saying “yes” to rest. Keep taking care of you!!

      Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      BOUNDARIES! Such a brave thing to do. And so very healthy. I’m in the process of learning how to do the same. Glad we can learn together. 🙂

      Reply
    • crisscross

      In Genesis I see that even God rested. Jesus rested, sometimes by himself, sometimes with a few of his followers. Know that gives me permission to rest, to set boundaries that create time and space for rest. Rest is a blessing. Make time and space for it.

      Reply
  3. Melissa Baldwin

    QUESTION: What is the one thing that’s keeping you hiding? My weight. I always feel that I will judged by my weight. “She would be so pretty if she lost a few pounds.” “Why should I listen to her? She can’t even take care of herself.” “I can’t take her seriously. She looks like a failed, chubby housewife with grandiose delusions.” You wouldn’t believe the comments I make up in my head. This has haunted me since adolescence. I have tried so many things to rid myself of this body shame and it is just such bondage. It’s paralyzing sometimes. No. A lot of the time.
    QUESTION: What is ONE SMALL STEP you can take today to move forward? I will be speaking at a very large event this Saturday… telling part of my story. I am absolutely sick about what to wear (what will make me look the thinnest) and which scuba gear to put on (aka Spanx). My small step will be to decide that I will not hide from cameras at this event. I can’t control the fear and nerves but I can control whether I hide or not when there’s a camera in sight!

    Reply
    • Melissa

      Melissa, I’m praying for you right now. You are beautiful just as you are. Fully seen, known, and loved by your father with a message to share with the world.God is with you and for you you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.

      Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      GIRL, you just spoke out loud what so many of us struggle with. Thank you! Now go out there this weekend with all of your heart and all of His strength, and love them well. You’ve got this.

      Reply
  4. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    I feel that way when I forget names or lose my balance, or have to ask someone to repeat themselves or have a friend tell me I have food on my face or that they need to walk me to my door…ashamed! All since a brain surgery that left me forever changed and challenged. It seems so wrong and prideful. Michele you are a constant inspiration to me.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Not “wrong” or “prideful.” HUMAN. You are learning, just as we all are until we meet Jesus in heaven. So much loss is wrapped up in those experiences. Be kind to yourself. And remind me of the same when I slip into shame, okay? xoxox

      Reply
  5. Terri Buscher

    Thank you Michele! You have ministered into my life so many times. I dont hear or see a speach impediment, what I hear and see is God’s voice and heart. And once again you are speaking freedom to my soul. This has been a hard one for me as well, and with your encouragement and God’s grace I am going to start talking back to the shame that has held me down for so long. God bless you for speaking life to us, especially when that is the thing that is the hardest to do.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      “God’s voice and heart.” Ahhh, that’s grace. Thank you, Terri. He is so good to me.

      Reply
  6. Jo Brown

    Michele, thank you for your courageous and healing words today! I have allowed words spoken by my dad to me, many decades ago, that silenced me and kept my true self and voice hidden. I’ve lived in a perpetual prison of shame and chose people-pleasing and perfectionism to help me survive. That has only exacerbated and kept me from freedom to be my truest self! I intend to reflect on your honest and courageous words to help me move forward with my story of hidden shame.

    Thank you Michele! God bless you and your courageous heart! ♥️♥️♥️???

    Reply
  7. Niki Nowell

    I could have written Melissa’s comment. It’s the first thing that came to mind. I’m leaving Saturday – going out of the country on a trip with some girlfriends and it’s the type of excursion where lots of group pictures are a must. I’ve always been a big woman, but I just wrapped up a year of intense grief and I’ve gained a lot of weight. I’m self-conscious about it every minute and loath talking about it. Ironically, the weight gain has been shrinking ME. Thank you for the reminder of where shame comes from and how to talk back! I’m making changes and I will not hide from people, or the camera. As our mutual friend McNair says, “Be actual size!” I’m working on that. Bless you, my friend!

    Reply
  8. Damon J. Gray

    Michele, you speak of “shame” and “embarrassment,” and I understand where that came (past tense) from, but allow me a little latitude to give you different perspective.

    I will never forget the first time I heard you speak. It was a keynote you delivered at WCCW. At that time, I did not know who you were, or anything about your life-experiences – only that you were bringing a keynote address. And you’re right, at the outset, as you began to share with the audience, I was wondering about the slurred speech, but I can assure you it did not in any way detract from what you were saying. It was like, “Hmm, there is a thread hanging off the back of her coat. Meh…no big deal. Back to the message.”

    By the time you were finished, I felt blown back like the guy in the old “Is it Live or Is it Memorex” commercials. Wow! You are a force with which to be reckoned, sister. When you were done, I texted my wife and told her “Baby, you’ve gotta hear this woman!” And I was SO looking forward to your next keynote the following day. Any time you are speaking (podcast or live) you’ll have my ear, because you are a tidal wave of wisdom, Michele.

    Your battles with cancer (which you have WON), my hearing loss and heart issues, both of us needing glasses, these are just hurdles in our paths that we leap above because our God is able to cause us to leap above them. Keep doing what you’re doing, sister. You are a blessing to everyone you meet.

    Reply
  9. Marla

    You are so authentic and courageous, Michele! As a three kind of cancer survivor through the years, I sometimes get weary in the battle of living in lingering hindrances — the battle scars. Your post touched me deeply and I’m proud of you and praying for you! You are so awesome and loved! 🙂

    Reply
  10. Dixie Diamanti

    Love how your painful story brings out the freedom for us to look deeply into ourselves to find the same freedom..I am a Life Coach and an author having written my memoir about being an incest survivor. I was born with an injured left arm I was to never raise over my head…I was always shunned in high school because no one wanted me on their team. I was made fun of by girls in front of the boys. I already felt shame and disgust at myself, this lame and soiled girl, trying to bluff her way through life, never measuring up. Its been a long road to the freedom to be me with all of my imperfections, that I have worked for years to keep covered up. I used to wonder why I felt like throwing up whenever I would see a handicapped person. More shame. But Jesus. I work every day to see myself the way He sees me. One day He will dance with me through the heavens as he shows me off. Every time I watch a client find revelation of their freedom and healing in Him I can rise up a little more inside realizing its really not about me, but about Him moving through me to see others set free. You are amazing Michele!

    Reply
  11. Kendra Burton

    You have encouraged me so greatly this week! This blog post, your Instagram video, your video in the (in)courage Bible study Week 1 about your trip to speak to the missionary women…. God has used that voice of yours in my life. The voice you have now is the only one I’ve heard. I love it.

    Reply
  12. Alison

    I loved reading the last bit of your question ‘what one small step’ can you take… that is do-able, a small step, and for those of us that struggle with low self esteem/shame, sometimes we think we are not enough, perhaps we feel we need to do something big to be heard. Actually, one SMALL step is enough, there is no shame at all in that ONE small step. Sometimes that one small step is so hard to do, bit scary even, especially when we think others are watching us, but I’ve found I’m OK and you’ll be OK too. My one small step, 8-ish months ago was to go to my 1st counselling session. My second one was going to one of my earlier counselling sessions feeling upset about facing whatever I needed to face & being frightened of that – didn’t even know what it was at the time! I reckon it was just facing the fact that I was upset, as simple as that is. I allowed myself to show up, as they say, just as I was, a difficult place for me to be, but I did it.
    We got this, thanks Michele 🙂

    Reply
  13. Anne

    Thank you so much for your post Michelle! I was so glad to see one as I have missed hearing from you since I finished all of your books. 🙂 You are so inspiring and so funny! I work with women who are healing from a past abortion. They wear the shame, often silently, not telling even those who they are closest to about the shame they carry. It is such a blessing to share Jesus with them through a wonderful Bible study called “Forgiven and Set Free” by Linda Cochrane. Sharing that Jesus forgives and wants to make them whole (inside and out) brings such relief. Whether what brings shame is something chosen at one time or something that is completely out of our control, God is the great Redeemer! I thank you for sharing Him so well and letting your light shine so that others can be set free from their own insecurities. You are such a blessing! Praying for you and for God to continue to show Himself through your ministry. You are beautiful!

    Reply
  14. Cheryl Maurer

    Big thumbs up Michele! Grateful for your recovery and how you share your journey as encouragement .Thank you and love you are giving voice to all of us who have something we need to talk back to also.❤️??

    Reply
  15. Margaret

    Please pray for me. Shame is such a battle for me. I don’t know where to begin. I battle self hatred and lies that I’m not lovable.

    Reply
  16. susan martin

    Michele; I’m writing this message at 2 AM; another sleepless night, struggling with “shame” and anger…Anger (and shame) over nothing I did, but something that was put UPON me by another. Just this evening, I had a long discussion with my husband about this very issue…and how the Lord is showing me that shame, deceit, lies from the enemy…want me to keep quiet and keep carrying this burden. i asked my husband to pray with me and for me for an ANSWER. So, here I am and I somehow have stumbled upon your site!!!! (thanks to a book review on CBD)…. I just want to thank you for this article. It confirms everything and every conclusion I’ve come to regarding the topic of “talking back when shame keeps you silent”. In my particular situation, I’ve been fearful to speak up because what was done TO me….that which created my “shame”….and these issues have legal implications if I speak. I’m walking in a landmine…but i know that speaking truth will be the only way to real healing. Godspeed to you, friend! You are doing RIGHT work!

    Reply

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