“In the end what we all want is to have inner peace so we can live out the Gospel. But it’s pride and shame and our inner thoughts that actually promote most of our suffering and distress. We have been conditioned from day one that there is in fact something to pursue that is greater than God himself.” Heidi Lepper Barrett shares on how pride and shame create havoc with our identity as daughters of God.
Think about the verb ‘to invite’ and it’s noun invitation. The definition is to make a formal, polite, or friendly request to someone to go somewhere or do something. Does it conjure up any thoughts or feelings? Ever felt the impact of not being invited? My guess is that at least once you have.
Ever felt the impact of being invited? Again, my guess is that at least once you have. Might you have felt shame at not having been invited, that if had you been ‘good enough’ you would have been? Just me? And if you were invited, might you have felt pride that you were noticed and asked along? Keep that thought tucked away as I ask you to remember that you and every other person is invited to receive and be a part of the Gospel story.
Now contemplate the verb ‘to pursue’ and it’s noun pursuit. The definition is both to follow (someone or something) in order to catch them or that thing and to seek to accomplish a goal over a long period. Does it conjure up any thoughts or feelings? Ever felt the impact of having caught the thing you were in pursuit of or felt the impact of not having been able to achieve it? Might you have felt shame at not having been successful, that had you been ‘good enough’ you would have been? And if you were successful, might you have felt pride that you yourself were able to pursue well?
So now I ask: What is your worth? Are you able to increase it by your own action? Or diminish it through other actions?
We humans are daily impacted by the ‘conditions’ placed upon us by our world, our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our friends, our coworkers and so forth. We simply cannot escape that we have to fulfill certain conditions. In the humanistic tradition of psychology this process is termed ‘conditions of worth’ and are most often distortions of the truth. A condition of worth can be imposed by another or self-imposed, and it says that ‘my worth hinges on fulfilling x condition’: if I fulfill x condition my worth goes up, if I do not fulfill it my condition goes down. This is the root of pride and shame. If I fulfill x condition I experience pride, if I do not I might experience guilt or worse shame. But if these conditions are a distortion then pride and shame are built upon a distortion.
Hmm…there might be a problem developing.
I need to circle back to my last blog that ended with how pride deep within and its opposite shame are the fleshy parts of our egos that most often triggers us to strong emotion and the refracted state. Once we are in the throes of a strong felt emotion (and remember, males are equally ‘emotional’ as females though they often have different triggers and are socialized away from talking about their feelings) this refracted states promotes two things.
We cannot in that moment take in new information — reason quickly leaves the room!
We are self-righteous in how we are responding, thinking, and behaving in that moment. After the emotion subsides, the refracted state fades away, we are very often able to see where we may have misunderstood or overreacted.
This is a physiological process that relies upon the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and while it serves us incredibly well in life and death situations, in our daily lives it often causes us personal distress and relationship turmoil. And also gets very much in the way of our relationship with God because it keeps us tied to our flesh.
So now I ask: What makes you happy? Is your happiness tied to your worth?
So very often we think something to the effect of “once I reach my pursuit, then I will be happy because fulfilling my pursuit will increase my worth.” But this is in stark contrast to who Jesus is and what He did for us. He asks us to be happy because we can rest in the Good News of the Gospel. But more than 2,000 years later we continue to struggle with our worth and with our happiness despite the incredible good news because our cultural and group conditioning tells us our worth is conditional upon our reaching our own pursuit or the ones they have laid out for us.
I cannot delve into the process in such a short blog, but by adulthood we have a bunch of inner scripts and memories and falsehoods that we have bought into and much of that comes from our cultural experiences. Case in point upon this July 4th, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is a well-known phrase in the United States’ Declaration of Independence. Pursuit of happiness is deeply entrenched in our culture and most of us fail to realize the impact that human culture has on the development of personality and unconscious emotion programs: notably pride and shame! We keep thinking if we can pursue worth and happiness then we will be ‘okay.’
Please read the following while paying attention to both the thoughts and feelings that arise. You have inherent, unchanging, and absolute worth. There is nothing wrong with you and you are also no better than the other. None of us is more or less worthy, we are each wonderfully worthy. You can spend the rest of your days just breathing and your worth will be the same.
I can hear arguments in your thoughts: “That’s not true! I have more worth than others because of x!” Or “I have less worth than others because of x…” No. Those are distortions and corrupted thoughts.
Our worth is constant, unchanging, and unalterable.
We are conditioned to pursue worth, to pursue happiness, to pursue success and so forth because doing so will ensure said worth and acceptableness. We are at times more or less capable of fulfilling other people’s or our own conditions of worth. That is a true statement. You may be smarter than, more athletic than, stronger than, prettier than, more capable or disciplined than, more mindful and actualized than the other person or yourself in the past. But that doesn’t mean you have more worth. It just means in this moment in time you have more of that thing than the other person or your former self. You may not be as smart or as strong or as pretty, capable, disciplined or as mindful and actualized as the other but that does not mean you are less worthy than the other person or yourself in the past. You are equal in worth even if you are less than in this moment.
When we are able to fulfill some condition, we experience pride … and when we are unable to, we experience shame. Pride ‘feels’ good and so we seek it out … shame is deeply painful and so we hide from it and do all we can to avoid it. Pride says we are inherently better than the other (or our earlier self), shame says we are inherently worse than the other (or our earlier self). When we cannot uphold our pride, we experience shame and both are like wax in the ears, deafening us to the truth of who we actually are.
We all experience good and bad in our lives, and for most of us our sense of worth goes up and down along with those things. We all have strengths and weaknesses that ebb and flow over the course of our lives, so those things are actually temporary. Ultimately those things we are or are not good at are temporary, changeable, malleable attributes. Our worth is not and need not be conditional on anything that is temporary.
Pride is a fickle slippery slope that causes us to battle against ourselves or others whereas shame grows in the dark and keeps us hiding from the self, from others and from God. Pride makes us complain about our circumstances and what we do not have because it falsely tells us we are worthy of more. Shame keeps us in misery because it falsely tells us we have no worth.
When you believe you are better than or worse than can you live out the command to Love?
When we figure out that our worth is inherent and unchanging we come to discover humility and true love and deep compassion for self and other. Humility is the gentle awareness of our faults without all the blame, shame, anger and disappointment. We come to understand that the Gospel is our Invitation to happiness and we desire to stop pursuing it in other ways. Jesus changes everything because He tells us our worth is unchangeable and He sends us the Holy Spirit to do the impossible: to know our inherent and unchanging worth because God’s mercy for our weaknesses is limitless. God is asking us to rest from all the pursuing and sit with His invitation in hand. And what a life altering invitation it is.
Copyright 2019 Heidi Lepper Barrett
Heidi Lepper Barrett is a native born Californian (Santa Barbara to be exact!) who made her way to Iowa after earning a Ph.D. in Social/Personality Psychology from the University of California in 1996. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Iowa, Heidi began teaching at Drake University in 2000. That was also the year, at age 30, she was baptized Catholic alongside her first newly born son. Heidi is married to Joe and they have two sons.