Bullying is a hot topic these days; we even hear about it in the news. There are playground bullies, work-place bullies, and cyber bullies. Bullies are fear-filled and hurting people who take their fear and hurt out on others instead of dealing with themselves. These kinds of bullies are fairly obvious, but recently I’ve been learning from Dr. Jim Wilder about an aspect of bullying that may not be so obvious: the response that comes from a person who gets rebuked or corrected when they cannot bear to hear any message that says they may have a problem.
In an earlier blog (Freedom from How Shame Shapes Us) we looked at the differences in good shame messages and toxic shame messages. Toxic shame messages attack our personhood and give us the message that we are bad. A good shame message has the purpose of bringing us closer after we have looked at something that keeps us from being glad to be together. For this writing, we will be looking at those times when we give someone a good shame message and they are unable to receive it because they do not know how to return to joy from shame. They won’t listen; they attack; they redirect. This is a form of bullying.
God has wired us humans to be creatures of joy. Joy means “someone is glad to be with me; I’m the sparkle in someone’s eye.” God has also wired us with circuits of anti-joy, commonly called “shame,” defined as “someone is not glad to be with me right now.” This is not a bad thing as many think–God wired us this way for a very good reason. When we find out or realize that someone is not glad to be with us, it is meant to be a loud signal that we might have some behavior that needs attention. Ignoring that signal will keep us from being close to someone we love. Good parents use this “anti-joy” system all the time when properly disciplining their children. Like the good parent He is, God intends for us, His children, to “hang our head” in shame so that the behavior can be corrected. When we humbly consider a good shame message upon finding out that someone is not glad to be with us, God can work changes in us. Unfortunately many people do not humbly listen to loving shame messages, but instead get defensive and try to justify themselves. In the Scriptures God uses the Hebrew word qasheh (kaw-sheh) over and over to indicate what He calls “stiff necked” (not hanging the head.) This word can also be translated as obstinate, rebellious, un-teachable, prideful, harsh, etc. Isaiah 8:4 and Exodus 32:9 are two examples.
When we look at stories from the Old Testament, we see many examples of God’s prophets going to His people who would not listen. In Part Two, I will talk about what God told the prophets to say and how to say it. But first let’s look at what this has to do with bullying.
When you are in a relationship with a person who does not know what to do with a shame message, conflict will occur if there is any hint of correction or lack of being glad to be together. The most common response from the person who does not know how to get back to joy from shame and cannot take correction is to bully the one giving the shame message. Most often they will turn the message back on you in order to make sure that they do not feel any shame and you feel it for them. They will be masters of tracking your failures so they can use them against you. They know what they are doing and what will hurt you. The pain of being attacked or shut out will cause you to back off and stop the “correction” or rebuke. What the person is doing is bullying.
Bullies, even those on the playground, seem to come in two flavors—those who back down if someone stands up to them and those who escalate when someone calls their hand. We don’t usually know which type we are dealing with so fear of what they might do keeps us from saying what needs to be said. “It won’t do any good,” and “But they will get angry,” are the two most common fears that keep us from speaking to behaviors that prevent true connection. We end up apart and not really glad to be together when what we want is to be close. The bully gets his/her way and does not have to humble himself/herself before God and others and feel “good” shame. The result is a lonely bully who misses the chance for a better life full of joy-filled relationships. The solution is to learn how to return to joy from shame and be able to humbly check with God about the messages about our behavior.
These musings are fairly current in my journey and God is freeing me from the fear of what response I might get when having to say that I’m not glad to be with someone. It has taken healing of some more old wounds and old patterns plus a clearer understanding of how God views stiff-necked people and what He might call me to speak to. It is not a small fear that hinders us from obeying God and speaking to someone who won’t allow themselves to feel shame and bow humbly for correction. That fear of having it turned back on us, being attacked in anger or made to feel another’s feelings is a very strong fear. I am learning what, when and how God wants me to give a good shame message because what He and I both want with others is to be close and to be glad to be together.
In Part Two we will look at another aspect of bullying—that is when the person receiving the shame message turns the shame inward and bullies themselves. We will also look briefly at how God wants us to give the good shame messages.
Humble yourself in the presence of the Lord and He will lift you up. James 4:10