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Help Me Get Rid of Shame: Esther Liu

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
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May 22, 2024 5:15 am

Help Me Get Rid of Shame: Esther Liu

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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May 22, 2024 5:15 am

Wrestling with shame? Maybe you're comparing yourself to others, feeling like you fall short--or even say, 'I can't forgive myself.' Perhaps you carry the weight of your past, hoping nobody unearths the mistakes or the pain you've endured. Esther Liu shares how to recognize signs of shame and heal from childhood shame.

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Connect with Esther Liu and catch more of her thoughts at Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, and on Instagram @_estheryliu.

...and grab Esther Liu's book, Shame: Being Known and Loved in our shop.

Intrigued by today's episode? Think deeper about Shame by listening to Missing Something?

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Okay, before we get started today, I've got a question for you. Not you Ann, our listener. Where are you listening from? And you know that we're from Detroit. The Motor City.

Shelby's in the Philly area. And our Family Life Today headquarters are in Orlando. So we're coming to you guys from all over the country, but what about you? We would love to know if you are in one of those areas or where else you consider home. Text FLT plus where you're listening from to 80542 to let us know.

So again, you're going to text FLT plus where you're listening from to 80542. I always lived my life with the sense of not feeling good enough and comparing myself to others and saying, why are they okay? Why are they so much better and why am I the way that I am? And that carried into crushes and romantic relationships that carried into friendships that carried into academic success or lack thereof.

My whole life was me trying to prove to myself and to others that I was okay and that I was worthy and spending my entire life not believing that to be true. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson.

You can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. Okay, on a scale of one to ten. No, no, no. We're not doing one to ten questions. How much shame do you think you carry? Do I carry? You.

Yes. Can we change the subject? Honestly, I would have said for 45 years of my life, not telling you how old I am, but I'm older than 45, I would have said zero to one. I would have said that about you too.

Yeah, I thought I was that guy. You know, I don't have much shame. I had a pretty good upbringing and I feel pretty good about myself. Pretty good upbringing.

Well, that's what's crazy. I mean, the listeners know my upbringing from abuse to adultery to divorce. Not you, but your parents. Yeah, I grew up in that home, but I felt pretty secure about who I was and then I realized I have a lot of shame. I don't know if it's higher than a seven or eight, but it's a lot higher than I ever thought. And I think actually most of us do.

I was going to ask, do you think most people carry shame? We're going to find out today. We've got someone in here sort of an expert on this. I'm really excited. Esther, welcome to Family Life Today.

As you can see, we're really excited to talk about this today. Yeah, and I'm already tearing up just listening to you share, Dave, just because, yeah, I think there are so many people who didn't realize they struggled with shame. That's a prominent testimony that I hear from people who read the book who are like, I didn't think I struggled with shame, but having read the book or, you know, done my own reading, I realized that there is a lot of that. I don't know why that makes me emotional to just realize that God loves us so much that he wants to show us those places so that he can enter into them.

So you got me from the beginning. Esther, share with our listeners, Esther Liu, and being known and loved. This is your book title, but this is probably, I'm guessing, what you've lived in.

When you write a book, it's usually out of passions and things that we've gone through. Like, tell us what you do now besides being an author. Yeah, so I am a faculty member at CCEF in Glenside, Pennsylvania.

CCEF is Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. I've been there since 2015. Started off as a counselor, meeting with people who struggle with mental health issues like depression or anxiety, relationship issues, and then transitioned into a faculty position where I teach some classes for Westminster Theological Seminary's Master of Arts and Counseling.

And then, yeah, on the side doing speaking events and some writing projects. Good for you. So, I mean, obviously, Anne asked me that question.

Now I get to flip it. You wrote a devotional on shame, so is that something you struggled with? Yeah, I would say it's probably been the biggest struggle of my life. If I had to identify one thorn in my flesh, it might be shame.

Tell us your story. Like, what have you gone through, Esther? I feel like all of us could kind of go into our past and think of things that have brought us incredible shame.

But, like, take us back into your story. Yeah, so I would say growing up, it was a pretty decent upbringing and it wasn't entirely filled with turmoil or whatnot. But there were occasions for shame to grow. I would say feeling overshadowed by a very competent, intelligent, lovable older brother. And feeling like I couldn't keep up with that, but desperately wanting to be loved in the midst of that. I would say there were just common struggles in school with just wanting to be accepted by peers. There was something that I'm coming to terms with now as an adult that I didn't realize impacted me as significantly was starting to reckon with some emotional neglect, my emotionality not necessarily handled in a way that was received. And coming from an Asian culture that prizes stoicism and prizes keeping it together and being put together, a shame-honor culture that I was raised in, there was not a lot of room for emotions and negative emotions and crying. And so even now I'm working through some of the baggage of growing up feeling too sensitive and too emotional. That's what you were told? You're too sensitive, you're too emotional?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so you had to just shut it down. I can remember that same kind of thing where my sister was very emotional and she was ridiculed for it and they would make fun of her.

And so I remember thinking, I need to shut that down. And so you go into hiding a little bit. Yeah, you start to try to cover it up, try to pretend. But it's all still there and realizing just how much children need to be affirmed and heard and seen in their emotions.

Not that all of their emotional expressions are OK, but how can they know that there is someone with them in that experience versus feeling so isolated and rejected in the midst of that. So I think that's a part of the story that is a present day life update that I'm working through now that I didn't necessarily realize was part of my shame story. But yeah, just I always lived my life with a sense of not feeling good enough and comparing myself to others and saying, why are they OK?

Why are they so much better and why am I the way that I am? And that carried into crushes and romantic relationships that carried into friendships that carried into academic success or lack thereof. My whole life was me trying to prove to myself and to others that I was OK and that I was worthy and spending my entire life not believing that to be true. Do you think the people around you knew that you were going through this doubt, the self-doubt and shame? Did they know or did you cover it up pretty well?

I feel like if I talked to my family, they wouldn't know. So it's interesting when my book came out and they're not Christians. So anyway, they're not really familiar with my work. They're not really following it carefully because I'm doing Christian work primarily. So when I gave them a copy of the book when it came out, it was really uncomfortable to see my family reading the introduction.

Essentially, I'm confessing like it's been one of the biggest struggles of my life. And I wondered how they would read that. How did they?

What did they say? There was not much of a verbal reaction, but I could see eyes kind of getting bigger when they got to that right side of the page. I mean, you were literally in the room as they were reading it.

Yeah. So I just gave out copies at the dinner table and they were just flipping through and my eyes got really big. You must have felt so vulnerable.

It was vulnerable. I don't think it was something I ever talked about with them and something that I didn't know if they knew or understood about me. But thankfully, becoming a Christian and meeting some amazing, godly, accepting, warm women, sisters in Christ, I think they would know.

And if you asked them, they would be like, yeah, that's probably one of your bigger struggles. And you've been a discipler. You're pouring into women all the time.

As you were discipling college women, did you see this a lot, that women were carrying shame? Yeah. And we got to define it. Yeah.

Let's do that. At some point, we got to say, what are they carrying? How would you define?

I'm sure a lot of listeners are like, well, I don't know. Do I have it? Yeah. Yeah. So how do you define it?

Yeah. So in the book, I go into the sense of what is it, the feeling of not ever being good enough, whether that's I'm not pretty enough, I'm not tall enough, I'm not smart enough, I'm not accomplished enough, my resume is not enough, who I am, my personality doesn't measure up. So all these areas of life, social, academic, relational, where I'm at in my stage of life is not enough.

I'm in my 30s and single and still not married. Whatever it is, there are so many standards that we internalize and we adopt as like, this is the way, this is the right way, this is the better way. And sometimes we don't measure up to those standards. And there's a sense of shame in that.

When I think of CCEF, we just did a conference on trauma. And there are people who bear these painful stories and they feel like damaged goods as a result. They feel like their life story makes them unworthy and makes them unacceptable and sometimes even disgusting and repulsive. And so the sense of there's something wrong with me, there's something that's not enough in me, and I have to keep trying and striving to fix that and mitigate that, we're starting to get into the territory of shame. I like how you said it in your book where you say that shame often lurks in the shadows. It can be easier to identify anxiety, depression, workaholism, anger, and addiction in our lives than to see the shame that often accompanies these experiences.

We may struggle with perfectionism, burnout, hopelessness, escapism, self-harm. The list goes on and overlook the underlying sense of unworthiness. I can remember because of my sexual abuse, I can remember a day that it happened more than once with different people. And I can remember being five years old. And when it had happened with someone else that didn't even know me, I remember thinking, it must be me.

There must be something wrong with me. Instead of saying this happened to me, now there's something wrong with me. And I thought, oh, that was the beginning of the whole shame cycle. Nobody in my family would have had any idea that I struggled with that or in school because I covered it up with just working hard and being good at things and performing for everyone.

And I seemed really confident. Do you think that's typical? Yeah, and I do think that's one of the biggest ways that shame hides. Some of the most successful, seemingly put together, those are the people that often actually are driven by shame. And so it's not when we picture someone who struggles with shame, we can picture someone who has very low self-esteem, who just kind of sits by themselves, isolated and just, yeah, socially awkward, whatever our imagination is.

But sometimes it's the most successful people when you really get to know them and their stories. Sometimes they are the people who struggle the most with shame. They feel a lot of times the accomplishments that they tried so hard to achieve was fueled by the sense of, I need to prove myself. And even once you prove yourself, it's like, I still need to continue to prove myself every time. And so I think that's why, you know, going back to the very beginning when I said I got a little bit emotional and teary. Dave, when you were saying like, I didn't realize I struggled with shame, but now I see it more in my life. I think those are the stories that really get to me because you just wonder how many people out there are struggling with this, but don't have a name for it.

And therefore don't realize that this is a place where God can do an amazing redemptive work. But if you can't, naming it is the first step to really doing work. You didn't go, hon. You named it. Well, I mean, the sad thing is I didn't name it for 40 years.

But it's never too late. I really didn't. I mean, I was exactly what you said. I was the successful, you know, whether it was sports or music or walking on a stage and delivering the goods. And it was driven by a sense of, at the core, if I don't do good, I'm not loved. Or worthy. Worthy.

I'm not worth anything. I remember sitting in a seminary class when I was 25 years old. And the guy leading the class, it was pastoral ministry class, said, hey, let me read you a study of the kind of men, this was just men, that go into pastoral ministry. And I was like, oh, this would be interesting. And basically the study was very insecure, power hungry, needy.

I mean, it was terrible. Need the spotlight. And the pastoral ministry gives them everything they need. They get a spotlight. They walk on stage. People listen to what they have to say. They get to control meetings.

They really need the spotlight. And I remember coming home to Ann. We didn't have kids then. And here's my thought. I was like, man, am I glad I'm not that guy. Those guys are such losers. Can you believe that's the kind of people, man, that's not me. And I thought that about you too. Like, you're not like that. I'm so glad you're not.

That is exactly what I thought. Like, I am not that guy. And it took me years to realize, whoa, huh. I was sitting with a counselor and he said, you need to answer this question. What are you running from? And I said, what are you talking about? What do you mean I'm running from? And he's like, you are so over committed.

You know, you walk on stage, you lead Bible studies, you write books. He's just like, everything you do, the lights on you. He goes, you're running from something. And it was sort of that. It was like, you know, this proves I'm worthy when I'm good at something.

Then I'm worthy. And that's sort of, isn't it sort of foundational in the shame journey is like, that's not true at all, but that's what we believe. Now again, you know, as well as anybody, a good counselor will go, well, we can trace that back.

You know, that comes from family of origin. You mentioned there was abuse in your home. There was your dad walked out, adultery, you know, alcohol, the whole thing. It's all there.

And so until you first diagnose it and say, okay, that's it. That's in me. Now, how do we get freedom from that?

Well, it's a big deal. And Esther, I wonder if you experienced this. When we were going to seminary, I was taking a lot of classes on how to counsel people.

Well, what that does is you get into your own stuff. And so I can remember coming home sobbing every night as I was digging deeper into my abuse, the family tree. It was the first time I identified that I identified any shame. And I was wrecked.

I remember Dave, he's thinking like, who is this woman? Because it all resurfaced. And it doesn't mean I'm going to stay there. And I think some people with shame saying, do we really have to go back there? Do we have to go back and deal? That was in the past.

We're fine now. How did you struggle with that and deal with it and look at it? And do we need to go back into the past? Yeah, that's a great question. And I think part of being a counselor, I realized how everyone's story is so different.

So, you know, in this case, like it took me 40 years to put a name on it versus probably, you know, by the time I was in my early 20s becoming a Christian, I was like, oh, this is something. Like I wreak havoc on my relationships because I need to prove that I'm worthy. I need to test people.

Like, do you really love me? I need this reassurance. And I'm working really hard to the point of burnout to try to make sure that people think I'm okay and impressive and worthy of, you know, being noticed, et cetera. And so I think what I have appreciated over the years as a counselor is everyone's story is so different. And what you were saying earlier to Dave, like it's not too late and there's no one formula.

And God is so gracious that if this is something that is in your life and a part of your life, He will do that in His own way and in His own time. And the journey looks a little bit different for everyone. For me, it was clear to me as a new Christian that there was something going awry with the frequent burnout, exhaustion. It was showing up physically for me first, chronic fatigue. I just was living a life of anxious striving.

And my body couldn't keep up with that. I was living a life of this slavish perfectionism. I have to get this completely right. I can't just do something and get it done. It needs to be the best. It needs to be perfect.

It needs to be, you know, the top of the top. And just the amount of pressure that I was feeling in my life and the ways that my body was saying, you're wrecking yourself and giving me those indicators like you're not okay. It did force me.

It's like, where did this come from? And so it did force me to look at my childhood and consider it and start making those connections. And while there are some people where I think making those connections to childhood will be really painful, and it's okay to take your time and pace yourself if that's something that you feel like is needed, there is something very rich, meaningful, and healing about starting to revisit some of those things that resurface and starting to be like, where is it here that I need to know like God was actually with me here?

And where was it here that I need to start reframing how I remember and how I experience those memories? Both of you have alluded to abuse in your past. And it's interesting that, you know, when it comes to abuse and when it comes to shame, sometimes it's not the things that we do or don't do. Sometimes it's the sins that we endured that other people committed against us. Yet how many people live their lives internalizing other people's shame against us as if we were the ones who are wrong, as if we were the ones who did something to deserve that abuse, that there must be something wrong with this?

I mean, Anne, you mentioned that earlier in your own story. So I think revisiting the past and revisiting our childhood gives us that opportunity to be like, I've held on to the sense of responsibility for so long. As a child, I couldn't process that well.

To me, it just felt like I must be doing something wrong to be treated this way. And part of kind of revisiting that, the journey of that is, wow, I wasn't responsible for that. You know, it's interesting as I hear you, Esther, I was thinking when I sat down with a counselor, and I've done it multiple times over the years, it was scary. It was hard, and at the same time, it was really exciting because it was like, man, things are being illuminated that I want to understand.

And, you know, it's like this extension cord is plugged in, and I want to know what that is. But here's the question. If I'm a listener today and I'm like, I don't know, do I have shame?

Do I need to sit down with somebody? How do I know if I'm, you know, because they could be like me, like, I'm good. When really there was symptoms going on, what would you say some of the signs are, some of the warning flashing lights on the dashboard of our soul that would say, hey, you might want to at least take a look at this? Yeah.

Yeah, no, that's a great question. Some of the ones that I can think of off the top of my head and had read from the introduction, so even if it's not the kind of low self-esteem, low functioning, I'm not really doing much in life. The alternative is like the successful, you know, in your case, it sounds like someone, your counselor was like, you're very over committed. Like you're very, very busy. And so workaholism is something that- Isn't she a good counselor? Like she's remembering all the things that we said.

She's not even writing them down. I know. Oh my goodness. So yeah, overwork, burnout, exhaustion, overcommitment, that, you know, is not the typical like, oh, I think you struggle with shame. But oftentimes there is something there that's worth looking at more deeply. Like someone who struggles with restlessness, like I just don't experience rest. I feel like that it's like, where is that coming from? Oh, that's kind of yours. Oh great, is this a day counseling session?

But I mean, not restlessness and that you can't relax, but there's always, you're always wanting to do something and that can look great. You know, it can be further advancing the kingdom of God, but it can also be, but why do you want- See, I like this analyzing Dave. Okay, I'm going to step out now.

You two can just have a conversation. Honestly, Esther, though, the practicality of your devotional, like you ask these questions. Whose opinions have really mattered to you in the past? Whose approval do you seek today or what disapproval do you fear? In what areas are you tempted to strive to prove yourself?

What standards do you fail to meet? Those are just really good questions that you can look at. And I'm not saying that that necessarily means you have shame, but it's just good to analyze and think through. Well, I got to tell you, when I hear those questions, well, the first thoughts I have is how that affects marriage.

That's what I was thinking. Because often you feel that from your spouse. I'm not measuring up. I want your approval. I'm not getting your approval. You've told me many times I'm not getting your approval. And so you feel a sense of shame from your spouse.

And you can blame them. It's probably more internal, but it's definitely a part of a marriage. It's part of any relationship.

Father, daughter, parents to child. But, man, as you read that, I'm like, that is right in the middle of every marriage. But I was thinking it'd be cool to do this devotional as a couple.

Because you go deep into some of the inner workings of your thoughts and lives and fears and hopes. I remember leading our women's ministry at church. And at the end of the successful ministry year, our team sat down. I said, let's give each other a name. As we've worked together, you can see the gifts, you can see the passions that each of us have. And so let's go around and say what we've seen in one another as we've worked so hard together.

And so we went around this table of maybe eight of us. And each one was these dynamic, powerful, beautiful, or empathetic names that we would give. And then it came to me.

And this older woman, who I really respected, said to me, Ann, they all had these biblical, beautiful names. She goes, Ann, you're the energizer bunny. And, you know, I'm like, and we all laugh. And she goes, you just keep going and going and doing and doing.

And everybody's like, yeah, you get so much done. And I drove home in the car feeling discouraged by that. Like, is that a good thing? And the next morning I was getting ready and I looked in the mirror and I felt this, like this word come over me as I felt like I heard, your name is striving. And I felt like it was from God, but it wasn't a shame word.

It was a revealing kind of word. Ann, you're striving so hard to be successful or loved or to be important or just for me. You're striving. You want to do so much for me. You're already loved.

I've given you everything you need and you don't have to strive for me. Oh, I was wrecked. I started crying. And I thought, Lord, I want to perform for you. I want you to love me.

I want to reach the world for Christ. And yet I felt this. But I, daughter, I want you to know that you already are loved. You don't have to do anything to receive my love or to earn my love.

I've already given my life for you. And that was powerful for me. Yeah, and I would say everybody wants that. So how about we talk about that tomorrow? How do you get that sense of well-being that I'm, title of your book, Known and Loved? Yeah.

That's what we all want. There can be a variety of yellow flags, so to speak, when we can maybe spot them in our lives, things that are like warnings. And when those flags pop up, it's important to pay attention to them because they might be indicators of something bigger going on beneath the surface with us. And maybe we wouldn't label them as shame by looking at it on the surface, but it could be what's actually happening.

And we aren't even aware of it. I'm so thankful we were able to get this kind of help and insight today from Esther Liu because the element of shame is such a huge monster to wrestle with for so many of us. I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Esther Liu on Family Life Today. Esther's written a book called Shame, Being Known and Loved. This book really helps offer a kind of a compassionate roadmap for those wrestling with shame, as I mentioned before, and guiding you toward redemption through God's grace and his practical wisdom. So you can get your copy right now of Esther's book called Shame by going online to, or you can find it in the show notes. Or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today.

Just request your copy of Esther Liu's book called Shame. Now, it's the month of May, and that's a big deal for us here at Family Life Today because thanks to the generosity of some really amazing donors, every gift given to the Ministry of Family Life Today all month long is going to be doubled dollar for dollar up to $550,000. So for example, if you gave $100 a month, it's actually going to be doubled to $200 per month all year long when you donate this month. To find out more, you can head over to and click on the donate now button at the top of the page. When you become a monthly partner with us, you get a lot of benefits, including a copy of Neighborhoods Reimagined by Chris and Elizabeth McKinney as our way of saying thank you to you. In addition to that, when you become a monthly partner, you get to participate in our new online community and be part of the conversation here at Family Life, including a live Facebook event with David A. and Wilson themselves and me on June the 5th. So head over to, click on the donate now button at the top of the page and have every dollar that you give doubled up to $550,000. More details at Now tomorrow, Esther Liu is back with David and Wilson to talk about the impact of shame on things like our relationships, our parenting and our own self-worth. That's coming up tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of David and Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-22 07:34:56 / 2024-05-22 07:46:51 / 12

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