If you want to enjoy life, you need to heal your Toxic Shame.
Toxic Shame is your dream killer, your joy stealer, and your spirit cancer. Toxic Shame makes you blind to the ocean of blessings around you. Toxic Shame makes you hide so that you can’t receive your miracles.
How do I know? I’m a world-renowned expert in Toxic Shame.
Not because I read it in a book. Or wrote a Masteral thesis about it. I’m an expert in Toxic Shame because this hidden monster was my constant companion for 20+ years. Like a parasite, it lived in me. Like an alien, it grew larger and larger within me, controlling every thing in my life.
For many years, I didn’t have a name for it.
All I knew was that every morning, I’d wake up feeling a dreaded sense of utter sadness. The sadness felt so palpable, I could almost touch it. I didn’t know why I was sad. Usually, I’d just shake it off, pray, and dive into my busy day. I’d go home exhausted and fall sleep. But the next morning, I’d wake up with the same dreary feeling again.
I felt that there was something terribly wrong with me.
This went on for years!
Logically, it didn’t make sense. I had a personal relationship with God. I got to know Him when I turned 12. I was also serving God as a lay missionary. So how could I feel this way?
Years later, I was reading a book. It was a book on molested children. Suddenly, in one page, it was there: It defined that dark feeling. Finally, I now had a name for it!
I realized it was Toxic Shame.
I was ashamed that I was alive. I was ashamed that I was breathing. I was ashamed that I existed in this world.
Everyday, I lived under the heavy shadow of Shame. It ruled my life. It fuelled my addictions. It defined my relationships. It darkened my world.
Later, I learned that sexually abused children usually have a shame-based personality.
But when I talk to people all over the world, I realized I wasn’t alone with this problem. Everyone deals with Toxic Shame—I probably just had more of it.
Toxic Shame is the problem of the little boy that came from a broken home. Or that little girl that didn’t come from a broken home but was raised by absentee parents. Or that teenager who has a narcissistic mother. Or that young woman that lived with an alcoholic father and a co-dependent mother.
In other words, Toxic Shame is caused by a lack of love in the family.
Let me give you one simple example…
His Shame Came From Being Compared
I remember James.
He had an older brother named John who was a consistent honor-student, a basketball star, and kilabot ng mga colegiala. English translation: Crush of the college girls. I can identify. A few years ago, before a talk, the emcee introduced me by saying, “Please welcome our speaker, Bo Sanchez,kilabot ng mga matrona!” English Translation? Crush of the grandmas. That emcee met a freak accident after that. (Sorry, I know this is a very serious topic, so I’m making you laugh a bit.)
But James, the younger brother, wasn’t any of that. His grades weren’t bad but they weren’t great. He was a good basketball player but he wasn’t a star. And his looks were okay but he wasn’t kilabot like his brother.
Without being aware of it, his parents kept comparing James to John. When there was an exam, his mother would tell James, “If you study like your brother John, you’d be an honor student too.” Or when he missed a basket, his father would tell him, “Study how John shoots the ball. Study your brother’s moves. If you do that, you’ll be a star player like him too.”
Soon, James developed this pervasive feeling of inadequacy. He saw himself as someone who wasn’t worthy of love. That he didn’t deserve success. Note: He was never molested as a child. But the same Toxic Shame that took root in my heart was the same Toxic Shame that took root in his heart.
Ten years later, John has a great job, a geat marriage, and is happy with his life. But James has a problem holding a job. He’s buried in a mountain of debt. He’s also separated from his wife and his kids are lost.
Toxic Shame is prophetic. Toxic Shame is a downward spiral.
Let me share with you why this happens. This is a law of the universe: You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you THINK you deserve. In his mind, James thought he deserved failure, hardship, lack, struggle, misery—and that’s what he experienced every day.
Perhaps you feel like James today. You think that what you’re experiencing now is what you deserve. That’s not true. Change your mind. Change your thinking! You deserve better. You don’t deserve a miserable life or a mediocre life. God created you to live a magnificent life!
You don’t have to live with your Toxic Shame.
Five Signs Of Toxic Shame
A few weeks ago, I told you about the “Bottomless Pit of Worthlessness” that is in everyone. Today, I’d like to tell you that “Bottomless Pit of Worthlessness” has a name, and it’s called “Toxic Shame”.
Because I lived with it for so long, I can give the Five Signs that will make you know whether you have Toxic Shame in you…
Sign 1: You See Your Failures As Proof That You’re A Failure
Not all Shame is Toxic. There are two kinds of Shame. (1) Toxic Shame and (2) True Shame. Here’s the difference: True Shame is connected to the Action. Toxic Shame is connected to the Actor.
For example, if I committed adultery, or if I stole money, or if I lied to you… (for example, if I told you I was ugly), I should feel ashamed for that. That’s not true.
True Shame is useful especially in the early stages of your spiritual growth. In fact, there are people who are Shameless, whose consciences are callous. That’s very dangerous.
But from my experience, that’s not my audience. I’ve noticed that the people who read my books and listen to my talks—because of their religious and cultural background—lean towards Toxic Shame.
They are ashamed not only of what they’ve done but who they are. They confuse the Action with the Actor.
An Emotionally Healthy person (in other words, someone who doesn’t have Toxic Shame) won’t mix those two up. When you fail, you don’t say, “I’m a Failure.” You say, “I’ve failed—but I can do better. I’m a winner that has failed but will rise up stronger, better, and wiser!”
Here’s the second sign that you have Toxic Shame…
Sign 2: You Forget What It Means To Be Human
For six months, I renovated my small house. I enlarged our kitchen. I replaced the staircase. I retrofitted the light fixtures. I repaired the floor tiles. (In other words, I have less money but my wife loves me more.)
While remodelling, my whole family slept in a tiny four meters by four meters room. Let me describe the experience to you: I’d wake up in the morning with my son’s foot on my face.
While all that renovation was taking place, I didn’t like my house at all. It was messy, it was dirty, it was filthy… There was dust all over the place. Piles of wood in one corner. Paint cans at the back. Cement bags in front.
But I never gave up on my house. I never said, “By gollygee, I don’t like this house anymore! It’s so MESSY! Let’s sell it!”
I put up with the mess because I knew the mess was temporary. In the same way, you need to put up with the temporary mess in your life. Because your life is under construction too. It can be messy, dirty, and filthy right now. Because God is renovating your life. He is redesigning your character, He is repairing your weaknesses, He is retrofitting your gifts, He is restoring your soul, and He is rebuilding something beautiful within you.
Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
We’re not machines, we’re humans. And the difference between machines and humans is that we don’t have push buttons on our chest. We don’t change overnight, we change over time. We don’t change in days, we change in decades.
Hear me out. We’re so preoccupied with our destination, but God is preoccupied with our development.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Be patient. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll fail. You’ll fall flat on your face. You’ll be tempted. But listen. God knows you’re going to fall. God expects it. And He will cause every defeat in your life to be part of your victory.
I Made This Discovery
One day, I asked myself, “I’ve been serving God for many years now. Why do I still carry the same weaknesses after all these years?”
Until I realized one of the powerful discoveries that helped heal my Toxic Shame. I realized that when God works in our lives, He’s never in a hurry. God takes His sweet time. He doesn’t change me instantly. He changes me through a journey. He’s not after my perfection as much as He is after my progress.
Why? Changing instantly will give me spiritual pride. But changing through a journey will give me spiritual peace.
Sign 3: You Blame Yourself For Bad Things That Happen
As kids, we think we’re the center of the universe. We think that everything happens because we made it happen.
When Mommy gets sick and dies, a little girl can say, “Mommy died because I was bad girl. If only I obeyed her more, she would be alive today.”
When Daddy leaves Mommy and goes off with another woman, the little boy can say, “This is my fault. If I only I got better grades in school, Daddy wouldn’t have left us.”
This is the insanity of Toxic Shame.
When I was molested as a child, I really thought that somehow, it was my fault. That it happened to me because I deserved it.
And I carried this Shame with me for the decades.
Let me declare this truth to you today: If bad things happened to you, it doesn’t mean you’re bad. It means that you live in a world where bad things happen to good people.
Life is not fair.
But God is fair. At the end of the day, He’ll right your wrongs. He’ll heal your wounds. He’ll return your loss. He’ll see to it that you’ll come out a champion.
Sign 4: You Feel Hopeless
Toxic Shame says, “It’s hopeless. You won’t change. You’ll never change. Give up.”
That’s why Toxic Shame and Depression always go together. I didn’t know that the sadness I felt every morning was already depression. My theme song then was, Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as though they’re here to say, Oh I believe in yesterday… There’s a shadow hanging over me …
And in your depressed state, you’ll keep wallowing in your sin…
Sign 5: You Have Addictions
I’m not only talking about obvious addictions—such as drugs or drinking or smoking. I’m also talking about the more socially accepted addictions such as materialism, and shopping, and eating addictions. Including hidden addictions such as sex addiction, approval addictions, even religious addiction. (I know of people who go to Church everyday because they can’t face their problems at home.)
Remember that Toxic Shame is caused by a lack of love.
That’s why Toxic Shame causes addictions. Because every addiction, behind the skin, is a deep hunger for love. Every addiction is an escape from the Bottomless Pit of Worthlessness. Every addiction is a painkiller so we won’t feel Toxic Shame.
So healing your addiction doesn’t work. Usually, when you thought you healed one addiction, another addiction will take it’s place. Because the real cause of the addiction was healed.
Here’s what you do: Heal your Toxic Shame and you heal your addiction!
How do you heal Toxic Shame?
There really is only one way.
How To Heal Toxic Shame
To heal a disease, you simply look at its cause. If you understand its cause, you’ll understand its cure.
Remember Magellan? (If not, let me remind you of Professor Villame’s lesson: In March 16, 1521, when the Philippines was discovered by Magellan, they were sailing day and night, across the big ocean, until they saw the small limasawa island…)
But I bet you didn’t know this. History says that in one of his voyages, Magellan left Spain with 230 men on his ship. When he landed at his destination, only 22 men arrived. 208 men died from one specific disease.
This was typical of all voyages at that time. From the 1500 to 1800, two million lives were lost in ships because of this one specific disease.
What disease? It wasn’t cancer, heart disease, or even tuberculosis. It was scurvy.
They didn’t know what to do. They just accepted this disease as a fact of life. But one day, one doctor finally understood that scurvy was caused by a lack of Vitamin C. Because men were on the ship for as long as 6 months, they couldn’t eat fruits and vegetables anymore. This doctor said, “To cure scurvy, simply give what the body lacks. Eat fruits and vegetables.”
It’s so simple an explanation, many people didn’t believe it. It took awhile for everyone to believe this doctor. In fact, it took 400 years for everyone to finally accept this simply theory.
Friend, Toxic Shame is like Scurvy.
It causes death. It destroys your life.
But the cause and cure of Toxic Shame is so simple, it’s difficult to swallow. We insist on a more complicated cause and a more complicated cure for our human problem. We think that complicated psychotherapy will heal us. We think community structures will heal us. We think brilliant theology will heal us.
All those things are good. But they can’t heal anyone.
Here’s my simple explanation: Toxic Shame is caused by a lack of love. So the only solution to Toxic Shame is to receive love.
And we receive love from three sources: From God, from others, and from ourselves.
Today, I’d like to focus on receiving love from God. (Next week, I’ll talk about how to receive love from ourselves.)
Receiving love from God isn’t as simple because God has many faces. He comes in many versions.
We Worship The Wrong God
Many Christians worship a vengeful, punitive, judgmental, selfish, cruel God. If you worship this kind of a God, you’ll never receive love from Him.
Let me tell you a story.
When I was a teenager, our small prayer group decided to go to a beach. Twenty of us piled onto an old van and went off. After two hours of traveling, we lost our brakes. My brother-in-law, who was driving, had to swerve to the side of the road. And the van went careening down a ditch. We should have fallen further if we didn’t hit a slender tree on the way down.
I can still remember what happened next. I saw the horrible sight of my 60-year old Auntie stepping down the van with her face dripping with blood and covered with splinters of glass from the shattered windshield.
I recall one woman—let’s call her Puring—who told me, “Brother Bo, I know why this happened. Because before we left for the trip, we forgot to pray. God punished us for not praying.”
I was a young Christian then, but even then, I already knew there was something wrong with Puring’s statement.
Can you picture Puring’s punitive God?
I imagined her God saying, “Hey, hey, hey, you forget to pray! How dare you? How dare you forget me? You bunch of ingrates. I created you and you forget me? I saved you and you forget me? Let me zap your brakes to teach you a lesson!”
Sadly, many people think of God in this way. When misfortune attacks them—like when they lose their job, or when they lose their boyfriend, or when they lose their health—they automatically think that God is punishing them.
That’s not true. God has nothing to do with our misfortunes! Today, I know why we met that accident. It wasn’t because God was punishing us for not praying. It was because our van was from the Jurassic period. We wondered if General Macarthur used it in World War II.
But believe me, I knew Puring’s God so well.
He was the God I preached for a long time…
When I started preaching as a young preacher, I was what you call a guilt-trip preacher. Every time I preached, I wanted people to go home feeling guilty. Guilty of their sins. Guilty of not loving God enough. Guilty of loving themselves too much.
Not only guilty, I wanted them to feel ashamed. Ashamed for not being prayerful enough. Ashamed not knowing their Bible enough. Ashamed not serving enough. Ashamed for thinking bad thoughts, and feeling bad feelings, and doing bad deeds. Most of all, I wanted them to feel ashamed for being themselves.
I didn’t know that this was all a crazy projection of my own Toxic Shame.
But my image of God was monstrous. (I only realized this decades later. During that time, I thought my image of God was absolutely perfect.)
My God was not in love with me—He was in love with His rules, His Kingdom, and His perfection.
And if I couldn’t follow those high standards, He’d toss me away like an insect-ridden fruit that didn’t pass quality control.
My God’s favourite pastime was shaming me for my shortcomings. My God was obsessed with pointing out my mistakes, my indiscretions, my impurity…
But slowly, the real God knocked on the door of my heart and reintroduced Himself to me.
I noticed that this version of God seemed too happy. Too light. Too relaxed. He was concerned about petty stuff. (Like my dreams, would you believe?) I asked myself, “Shouldn’t He be only concerned for my sinful ways? Shouldn’t He be correcting me for my mistakes?” At first, I shooed him away. Who was this imposter that was claiming to be God? He couldn’t be God.
But this happy God just kept coming back. He shocked me by telling me that He was proud of me. Huh? I couldn’t understand it. How could He? I was so messed up. Yet it seemed like He didn’t see my mess at all. Everytime He looked at me, He kept blabbering about how wonderful I was.
Slowly, I began to change my image of God.
In God’s presence, I used to feel ashamed. Now, I began to relax. I felt accepted. Honored. Celebrated. Embraced.
And then I noticed something crazy. Something totally insane. I noticed that I sinned less when I was with this happy God. I was actually becoming holier without even trying too hard.
This happy God never used the tool of shame. Whenever I did something wrong, He’d simply say, “Bo, I believe in you. You’re so much better than that. I know you. You deserve better.” I didn’t feel at all that He thought my sin was a big deal. Instead, I felt that to Him, I was the big deal.
He isn’t obsessed with your sin, He is obsessed with you.
He doesn’t even look at your sin, He looks at you.
He doesn’t focus on your sins, He focuses on you.
He doesn’t see what you’re doing wrong, He sees what you’re doing right.
God will heal your shame.
Love Will Heal You
My friend and fellow-preacher George Gabriel loves telling this beautiful story.
When he was in college, he had a fight with his girlfriend. In his anger, he punched the windshield of his car—and it cracked.
Suddenly, his anger was replaced by fear. What will his father do to him?
The next morning, when he woke up, his saw his father already in the dining table. He wondered, “Did he already see the car’s windshield?” He was terrified.
But he still went to his father, and with great courage, told him the story of how he got angry and punched the windshield. After telling this to his father, George got ready for a lashing. He imagined his father getting angry, scolding him, telling him how stupid he was for losing his temper.
But what happened next was amazing. The first thing his father said was, “Did you get hurt?”
When George said “No”, his father said, “I just received a bonus two weeks ago. We can buy a new windshield.”
That was all he said.
And that melted George’s heart. That day, George felt his father’s love so much, he wanted to love him even more.
And that’s what happens to you when you receive God’s Love.
God tells you today… Don’t be afraid, because you won’t be put to shame. Don’t be discouraged, because you won’t be disgraced. You’ll forget the shame you’ve had since you were young… (Isaiah 54:4)
May God heal you of your Toxic Shame.
May your dreams come true,