Shame in the Public Arena

In 401 AD, twenty-nine Saxon “slaves,” strangled each other to death with their bare hands in their prison cells. They chose this death rather than being forced to fight one another in Rome’s arena. Better death than shame. Their “owner,” the Senator Symmachus (famously known as the “Last Pagan”), wrote of them that they were a rebellious “band of slaves, worse than any Spartacus.”1

In the pages of the New Testament we see some interesting public events:

  • A woman taken in the act of adultery is dragged into the street by her accusers where she is threatened with public stoning.
  • Jesus is nearly thrown headlong off a cliff after speaking in the synagogue in Nazareth. (Luke 4).
  • Stephen the Deacon is publicly stoned after preaching about Christ.
  • King Herod issues orders to arrest more Christians after his execution of James is seen to please the people.

Public life in earlier centuries could be brutal and dangerous. In many locations across the world, little has changed. Recently, there has been a growing problem with spectators at American sporting events, shouting outrageous insults at players and throwing items (beer, bottles, etc.). No doubt, the problem is far more widespread.

But all of these events share something in common: the public use of shame. The language of shame essentially attacks who-a-person-is rather than what-they-have-done. A person who is guilty of murder thus becomes a “murderer.” And though this is technically true, it is also not true. The language of guilt isolates responsibility for a single event; the language of shame assumes that you are now that event waiting to be visited upon all. Guilt suggests punishment or restitution; shame declares that no matter what you might do, you will always be that person.

There is a world of difference, for example, between being wrong about something and being “stupid.” But, as one comedian has it, “There’s no cure for stupid.” Shame labels us as incurable.

The language of shame is far more powerful than the language of guilt. Guilt can be answered and atoned. Shame, however, has no atonement – it is a declaration of “who we are.” There is no atonement for stupid, ugly, incompetent, mean, evil, etc. On occasion, I have been accosted by those who use shame as a verbal weapon. Recently, in an exchange in which I was the object of someone’s labeling, I was told that no apology need be made when speaking the truth – that is, shame is fine so long as it is “true.”

Shame is not only permitted in our culture; it needs no apology.

There is a strange phenomenon about shame, however. I describe this as its “sticky” quality. When we see the shame of someone else, we ourselves experience shame. This can be as innocuous as watching someone’s public embarrassment and sharing the feeling of embarrassment. It is equally and more profoundly true in darker and deeper encounters. We cannot shame others and remain untouched. The very shame we extend reaches within us and takes us with it.

It is there, in its depths, that shame does its most devastating work. It is a primary creator and maintainer of the false self, an identity established largely through the energy of shame that leaves the truth of the soul shrouded in darkness. It becomes the source of acedia, in the words of the Fathers, or anger, anxiety, and depression, in modern parlance.

Unattended shame lives within us like a dybbuk, an angry hurt and hurting soul that breeds death. We ignore the role of shame in our lives to our own spiritual peril. Much that we imagine to be righteousness is only shame in a fancy disguise.

If you have ever engaged in one of the typical shame fights on social media, then think about how you felt when it was over (or even if you only read such a shame fight). There is no inner peace. There can be burning anger and a nattering inner voice of opposition that lingers for days. In terms of shame, it doesn’t matter if you are right. Shame loves the categories of right and wrong. It only matters that your opponent disagreed and that you shamed them. Shame is like the game of global thermonuclear war: the only option is not to play.

Shaming is easily justified by many. Whether it is doctrine, the Church, the state, the culture, whatever institution stands most in danger, shaming, like violence, is considered an effective tool in guarding the fort. However, it remains the case that shame cannot be used without causing damage to the one who uses it. Like the One Ring of Power, shame takes the one who uses it into the darkness and binds them there as well.

The mystery of our salvation cannot be found in living life on its most literal, surface level. Such a life can make no sense of forgiving enemies, doing good to those who hate you, rendering good for evil, being kind to all and sharing your stuff. In short, such a life cannot bear the shame of love. But only such love can know God. We only live by dying. We only heal shame by bearing shame.

Footnotes for this article

  1. Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Kindle Edition (2975).

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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59 responses to “Shame in the Public Arena”

  1. Byron Avatar

    Thoughtful and hard, Father. I think shame is even more deadly when we shame ourselves for our failures. “Self wounding”, on many levels, is a feature of our world.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    To a great extent, self-wounding is the echo in our head of having been shamed by others. Oftentimes, years ago. Shame is a “gift that keeps on giving”

  3. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father I have often thought and experienced aggressive Christian evangelism as a form of shaming behavior. Such experiences may be why I have held such strong reactions against Protestant groups who encourage such behavior. And in turn such reactions that I have had perpetuate the cycle of shame.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It can be done in a way that produces shame, no doubt. However, even here in the Bible Belt, I see less and less of such evangelism. The “marketing” has become far more sophisticated.

    There are many ways to encounter shame. For example, to visit a Church (let’s say an Orthodox Church) and not be welcomed is a form of shaming. It’s useful to be aware that almost any inquirer in their first early visits to an Orthodox Church will be experiencing some level of shame – simply in that will not feel as though they belong (exclusion) or how to behave, etc. They may very well have feelings of disappointment, which is a shame trigger. Hospitality (philoxenia) insists that we be aware of such things and take care to be of help.

  5. Byron Avatar

    Father, how much do changing cultural norms shame us? By this I mean that I grew up with certain expectations, from both family and the surrounding culture, and at times I find my failure to have achieved such things as deeply shameful.

    I wonder if change itself is deeply shameful as expectations that are deeply ingrained in us are not allowed to be met due to the sudden changes in societal/cultural norms. It seems to me that the pace of change in our world, especially now, is tailor-made to shame us as we struggle to either keep up or hold onto our definition as humans.

  6. Byron Avatar

    To be honest, I suppose I don’t wonder if as much as I wonder how best to survive in such an unfriendly environment. It seems to me that being rooted in the liturgical cycles of the Church provide the needed stability to combat this issue (although that may be too simple a reply…).

    The more I think about it, the more I think one has to be able to step away from the movement of society and culture to remain, or become, human.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    One author on shame sketches out 4 “paradigms” of shame: Unrequited love; Exclusion; Unwanted Exposure; Disappointment. (Burgo’s Shame) It’s an easy thumbnail, especially when it’s fleshed out, for thinking about things that engender shame.

    The ability to accept change at a rapid pace is one of the false “virtues” of modernity. In many ways, it is nothing more than the demand that the workforce and the consumers in our culture be willing to accept vast changes demanded by those who control the means of production and who market things to us. That we have an economy that presumes people will easily re-locate to find work is tragic and destructive, particularly to social systems and the extended family. It is extremely wasteful of resources and human lives. But, it is treated as a virtue.

    Classically, stability is one of the virtues. “Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” When the changes in our culture disappoint (you thought you had a career and then the company moved, etc.) it is almost inevitable that the narrative will blame individuals, not corporate structures. Those structures are described as “economic reality” etc., as if no human beings were involved in the decisions. Someone discovers (too late) that they “chose the wrong major,” etc., and will be shamed and mocked.

    So, I think your point is very much on target.

  8. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    It may well be as you say regarding evangelism. I have attempted to keep myself over the years as far as I could away from such behavior and on account of it did not desire to enter a Church. But for reasons of my husband’s type of work, he has in fact suffered more from this form of evangelism. One person in his sphere asked my husband to think about where he was going to be in the Rapture. My husband didn’t know what Rapture was in the moment. I suppose such things are discouraging because it encourages a negative perception of all Christians. And this too is a response to shame.

    When I did finally enter an Orthodox Church, I was very grateful for the very ‘low key’ approach. I was essentially ignored, and while this may seem paradoxical, I was very relieved and grateful. No doubt I’m the exception to the rule. There was no ‘welcome committee’, just an occasional soft smile or a nod. Had there been more ‘insistent’ friendly engagement than this initially, I might have tuned heel and left and would have had more difficulty to return. I was looking for God and feared the evangelical engagements of the sort I had witnessed in the past.

    Hospitality is indeed an important quality and a good word to differentiate behavior. I believe it is helpful if it is an exhibit of sincere love of others and sincere concern for the other, that is, to read the behavioral signals of reception in the other, and to be ever so gentle rather than boisterous, if need be. However I am sure there will be those among us who also would appreciate the boisterous approach. I suppose it might boil down to personality.

  9. Norman Coppola Avatar
    Norman Coppola

    Such labeling is not only a feature of shaming, but pervades thinking about identity. It utterly, ludicrously distorts who we are. How one feels or does is who one is. My sexual inclination is who I AM. My job is who I AM. My sin is who I AM.

  10. Essie Lyons Avatar
    Essie Lyons

    Father, this story of the Saxon slaves reminds me of the mass suicide at Masada, when death was preferable to what the Romans would do to them when captured. This seems to suggest that suicide is a reasonable and acceptable response to shame, which is a dangerous path to tread for those of us who battle with shame, both self and outer inflicted. Sometimes all it takes is an offhand comment or funny look to set the spiral going; better to die than to keep sucking the air needed for worthier souls. You say we only heal shame by bearing shame, but how do we bear it? Through love? How do we summon love when we feel we’ve disappointed even Christ?

  11. John Coolidge Avatar
    John Coolidge

    Father, can you recommend any further resources on shame from an Orthodox perspective? Online articles only whet the appetite for such a deep topic as shame and I have struggled to find anything more than a few talks on shame from Orthodox clergy and monastics. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

  12. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father, thank you for mentioning the 4 paradigms. Food for thought! Do you recommend his book?

  13. T Matthew Avatar
    T Matthew

    Thank you, Father. This discussion reminds me of one of my favorite C.G. Jung quotes, pasted below. I’d be interested to know your thoughts about it since I’m new to Christianity and found Orthodoxy through the Jordan Peterson/Jung door.

    “The acceptance of oneself is the essence of the whole moral problem and the epitome of a whole outlook on life. That I feed the hungry, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ — all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all the beggars, the most impudent of all the offenders, the very enemy himself — that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness — that I myself am the enemy who must be loved — what then? As a rule, the Christian’s attitude is then reversed; there is no longer any question of love or long-suffering; we say to the brother within us “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide it from the world; we refuse to admit ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves.”

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think that bearing shame is only possible in a “safe” and “secure” setting. Properly, the unconditional love of God is exactly that setting. Tragically, many people have been taught very wrong things about God and have enlisted Him among those who shame us. When I’m battling these kinds of thoughts, and need to be comforted, I often pray before the icon of “Extreme Humility” or an icon of the Crucifixion. It is the crucified Christ who sees all of us and says, “Forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” That is the unconditional love of God.

    I spent some time with Fr. Zacharias of Essex talking about this topic. His word to me was to sit before Christ (the icons help) and to pray, “O God, comfort me.” Become a child, and go to Him as One who desires to comfort us. Draw on stories like the Woman taken in adultery – and note Christ’s tenderness, or of the Woman at the Well, and see how kind He is to her. See how He forgives Peter. Look at how He exalts Paul. The stories of the saints that I treasure most are of those who came from very sinful backgrounds. God accepts us all.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sigh, I continue to work on my book on the topic. There really is no present single source that I know of. So, pray for God’s energy to help me.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jung had a lot of Christian influences in his thought and writings, though, taken as a whole he came to some very non-Christian conclusions – but that’s probably beside the point. The quote you offered is, I think, quite accurate. There are, in the long run, better guides than Jung – but your instincts in this seem to be good. God give you grace in your journey!

  17. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father, you are writing your work on shame here and returning answers to questions. In some ways, these interactions are better because they are more responsive, than a more static book. We are grateful for your work and ministry here. Nevertheless I pray for your continued work on your book too!

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, is not the current campaign to label everyone “racist” a perfect example of what you are talking about?

    There is also the penchant to label people who do not easily comply with all sorts of mental health labels.

    My son has experienced that frequently. Always a different lable. One “counselor” told him he should be lock up and was psychotic because my son said he was not afraid of death. The level of dehumanization in the mental health arena is astounding.

    With physical disease even the person suffering from the disease becomes secondary to the disease.

    In the Church our prayers of repentance carefully make the distinction between sin and participating in sin.

    There do seem to be instances when people forfeit their humanity and become the sin. Serial killers for instance.

  19. Essie Lyons Avatar
    Essie Lyons

    Thank you Father. I know in my mind that I distort shamefulness, as my sins are pretty vanilla. No murder or anything like that. But the sense of unworthiness is insidious, and compounded with each new rejection, disappointment etc. I will follow your advice and pray for comfort.

  20. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’ve been pretty blabby this morning, but I’ll mention one more thing. Childrearing has a huge impact on entrenching the child’s heart in shame. I’m afraid this culture might be among the worst in creating shame in children, although I believe it is not intentional. Sometimes unknowingly we amplify shame rather than quell it. Personally, I have not yet attempted the prayer you mentioned to Essie, Father. In my case it would be not only to heal my own heart, but to heal the wounds of shame I have caused in others also.

  21. SP Avatar

    “Nothing angers God so much or strips a man so bare or carries him so effectively to his ruin as calumniating, condemning, or despising his neighbor. … Condemning a man is saying, ‘he is a wicked liar, or he is an angry man, or he is a fornicator.’ For in this way one judges the condition of his soul and draws a conclusion about his whole life, saying it is of such a kind and condemns him as such. This is a very serious thing. For it is one thing to say, ‘He got mad’, and another thing to say, ‘He is bad-tempered’, and to reveal, as we said, the whole disposition of his life. It is serious to judge a man for each one of his sins.”

    –Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourse 6, On Refusal to Judge One’s Neighbor

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Racism is almost purely about shame – and its use to control and oppress. The current labeling of “racist” obviously uses shame as well – and will not succeed in healing the wounds and creating the repentance that needs to take place. Nonetheless, the legacy of centuries of overt racism in our culture remains and will be a long time healing.

    We never “become our sin.” We can be deeply buried and bound by it – but we never “become” it.

  23. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    It’s also interesting, Father, that you’ve used the words of the Public Arena coinciding with the Roman Arena. So much is related historically and socially between the two cultures and ways of doing things, such as entertainment. It does seem that we bolster and take enjoyment of the image of the modern gladiator, especially in the entertainment and glorification of the ‘super-hero’. Contrasting that with the men who decided not to participate in the Roman Arena certainly creates a form of cognitive dissonance, if we think about it.

    Also I appreciate the thoughts that Byron and Michael have brought to the table, such as on forced changes and transitions and racist-labeling. New words are now in vogue in the media, such as “virtue signaling”. And such usage could make us a bit more desensitized and cynical than we need be. Nevertheless, the more we become aware of how we as persons, participate in shaming others (and if endorsed culturally, this might not be an easy task), hopefully, the more likely we might unravel our participation in it, even if the shaming mechanisms we have inside us is against ourselves.

  24. Molly Avatar

    Thank you, Father, for these writings on shame. They have been transformative for me. In a world so incensed and hurting, I just pray that the Church might be known not for what she’s against but for her repentance and transcendence – for calling out beauty, tending to the wounded, and embodying a peace and compassion that surpasses understanding.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is not the opposition to sin that is lasting – but the promotion of the good. On the one hand, it’s the reason that civilization hasn’t destroyed itself. Sin and evil are terrible, but they lack substance. Grace permeates all things and holds all things together. It is our good deeds that are preserved and nurtured by God’s grace, whereas sin tends to collapse on itself. Evil regimes, for example, seem to collapse more often than they are merely defeated. I’m sure that there are people who would want to argue with me – but I am certain that I am right about this.

    This doesn’t mean that things are getting better and better – but that there is a durability in goodness and beauty and such that transcend the negative forces of evil and sin. Another way of saying this is that a “good” person does not mean a person who does not sin. The absence of sin is not the same thing as goodness. That, I think, is a common error.

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I for one will not argue with you on the collapse of evil regimes vs their defeat.

    The trouble with “fighting” is that we tend to become more like those we fight than is often realized and by feeding the opposition energy, they have more to run on.

    Alas humans are quite stubborn. We like to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.

    I tend to be too picky about the good as well. It has to be just the “right” good, etc. I am finding that most of the good I can do seems totally unrelated and miniscule to the massive wrongs being done all around me.

  27. Steve Gage Avatar
    Steve Gage

    “The trouble with “fighting” is that we tend to become more like those we fight than is often realized and by feeding the opposition energy, they have more to run on. ”
    What you contemplate, you will imitate. It’s a strange dance, and one must be careful of the battles they choose to take on. I am near paralyzed by the weirdness and downright evil I see all around me, and it’s getting weirder, both blatantly and in a more subtle fashion, day by day. I carry on, doing the next good thing as best I can. Help me Lord!

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Steve, Michael,
    It is helpful to think in terms of true ontology. Evil has no substance, no true being. It is always only a parasite and a perversion of the good, inevitably coming to nothing. Even the slightest good thing has more substance or being than all the evil in the world. That is something that the powers that “be” do not understand, nor do their minions in the media. What they imagine to be of value is often next to nothing, while they despise the true good.

    Ignore them. Live towards God.

  29. Steve Gage Avatar
    Steve Gage

    Thank you for these most helpful words/reminders. My equanimity has been sorely tried of late. It really is not that complicated, is it, and yet simple does not always mean easy. Some of us seem to overcomplicate things…

  30. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Steve, my wife and I end our morning prayers by saying: “This is the day, the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Some days I actually do that.

    My wife is an absolutely unwarranted gift of God to me. Her daughter loves me simply because I make her mom happy. I do not quite know how I do that. But, I do.

    Interestingly, I have met a number of my good friends through the internet, including my lovely wife, including a lovely young family in my own parish that is newer to the parish during COVID time.
    The good is always, as Father says, close to hand. Sometimes closer than hands and feet and quite small.

  31. Andrew Roberts Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    is the origin of shame due to the fall? Adam and Eve hiding from God after eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, then perceiving that they are naked and thus trying to hide from God.
    I recall reading an article of yours that said that even little children/babies feel shame.
    Do we then shame others to hide from our own shame, which we find hard to accept and painful to address?

  32. BeakerN Avatar

    I think shame is a huge burden that many of us carry, especially those of us with mental or physical illness who feel guilt & shame for not being like others, or not being how we once were. And shame for not having the faith that others have, & so on, seemingly unending.
    I read more than I comment here, but want to say thanks again for all the effort you put in here. I also wanted to ask if you & the commenters here would pray for me again – I’m still struggling with anxiety & depression , & still with the fears of Calvinism being true. Please could you ask the Lord that if he has brought me to knowledge of the Orthodox Church & a very different God because this is who he really is, that he make this more obvious to me in ways that really give me confidence.
    Thanks all, I’m spending far too much time on my own during this pandemic season & it’s not good for my kind of brain.

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is good shame and bad shame. Both have the same neurobiological mechanism. Essentially, it is the signal of a “boundary,” and is utterly necessary in a healthy human being – and carries no sin. It’s as natural as every other biological response. But, it also has a dark and toxic side, in which the emotions associated with it are deeply painful and distressing. The book of Sirach (Orthodox Old Testament) 4:21 says, “There is a shame that brings sin, and there is a shame that is glory and grace.”

  34. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Fr. Stephen,
    would that mean that if shame brings me to repentance and a turning towards God, then it is a good (which I believe is so), but if on the other hand it becomes a sort of inward paralysis and an inability to be open to grace and be healed it the becomes toxic to the self and to others.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    As one example, yes.

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I find the following prayer helpful especially if I say it slowly while consciously remembering all of the blessings God has given me. That and Psalm 50/51.

  37. Jane Szepesi Avatar
    Jane Szepesi

    What an enlightening essay, and great discussion.
    A suggestion for more Orthodox writing on the subject of Shame:
    Fr Thomas Hopko’s podcast series Speaking the Truth in Love on Ancient Faith Radio has over 40 references to ‘shame,’ including one titled “Guilt and Shame.”
    Here is the link to my search results:
    I love this comment of Fr Stephen, which I find so encouraging, “Even the slightest good thing has more substance or being than all the evil in the world. ” That brings to mind the tale of the old woman and ‘her’ onion.

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jane, et al
    A conversation with a friend reminded me that it’s important to understand that the nature of goodness is cruciform. It works in the manner of the Cross.

  39. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed Father, taking up the cross in humility does require an acceptance of healthy shame that such an act induces. We are at a boundary of what society might make of it and what the Lord promises—the Holy Spirit, The Comforter.

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    At this time I have a personal antidote: I look at the tomatoes in our garden boxes outside. They are the most beautiful tomatoe plants I have ever seen. I pass by them and I cannot help but be thankful to them and God.

  41. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Nothing beats home grown ripe summer tomatoes!

  42. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Thank you for reaching out, and for the reminder to pray for you – Please email me (same address) and let me know if your email has changed with your change from J to N.


  43. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, you are right but the simple translucent beauty if the plants themselves this year is remarkable. Brimming with vibrant life. Given that they are hybrids a cooperative work between God and man.
    I have one plant that is 5 ft. tall and still growing. The tomatoes are starting to set on and increase in size daily. All I do is water, fertilize lightly and tie them up on cages.

    We love tomato and cucumber salad cold with a touch of vinegar and a savory seasoning. Our bell peppers are also starting to take off. With sustained 100 degree heat already upon us. They need a lot of water.

  44. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father I was contemplating you comment on the cruciform nature of salvation and it occured to me that to really be cruciform, it also has to be incarnational. Is that right?

  45. Brigid Avatar

    I am reminded of Fr. Tom Hopko’s admonition: God wants our repentance, not our remorse. The latter leaves us caught in an egoic trap; the former restores and liberates us.

  46. Anonymo Avatar

    Father, thank you again for your illuminating and clarifying words about shame.

    I would like to know whether you know of and have engaged much with the work of Gabor Mate? If not then I think you have independently come to much of the same truth, wisdom and compassion in regards to the intersection of your interests. If so how would you characterise his work and its value? Forgive me if this isn’t appropriate but I would like to plug him and some of his stuff below.

    I have recently been able to engage more with the work of Gabor Mate a physician who developed a psychotherapeutic method called compassionate inquiry (emphasises compassion and curiosity in confronting trauma). His life’s work has been about deeply important topics like childhood development, addiction, trauma and the toxicity of modern culture. He has ADHD and was unique perspective on it too. I watched the recent movie called the Wisdom of Trauma, and have engaged with the other resources and talks of the event.

    Here is an excerpt of the film synopsis,
    In The Wisdom of Trauma, we travel alongside physician, bestselling author and Order of Canada recipient Dr. Gabor Maté to explore why Western society is facing such epidemics. This is a journey with a man who has dedicated his life to understanding the connection between illness, addiction, trauma and society.

    Trauma is the invisible force that shapes our lives. It shapes the way we live, the way we love and the way we make sense of the world. It is the root of our deepest wounds. Dr. Maté gives us a new vision: a trauma-informed society in which parents, teachers, physicians, policy-makers and legal personnel are not concerned with fixing behaviours, making diagnoses, suppressing symptoms and judging, but seek instead to understand the sources from which troubling behaviours and diseases spring in the wounded human soul. He points us to the path of individual and collective healing.

  47. Anonymo Avatar

    Your story touches my heart dearly, because I was in a similar situation to yourself not long ago. I will offer prayers for you.

    Your words seem poignant to me. May I offer some thoughts that I hope will be of encouragement?
    I also was wrestling with Calvinism and mental health issues till I gained the strength and surety to move closer to Orthodoxy. There was a certain time I realised God was calling me to action not endless patience. There is never going to a perfect time, and one will still have to make a Kierkegaardian ‘leap of faith’. I quote from him, “Leap of faith – yes, but only after reflection”. May God grant you greater surety, faith, courage and the opportunity to make such a tremendous leap forward. I say tremendous because I myself have been so blessed by the short time I have been in the Orthodox faith. Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

  48. BeakerN Avatar

    Thanks Anonymo, I feel encouraged by you. I’m glad you have moved beyond your times of wrestling with this & onto something better.

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am not familiar with him.

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Salvation is, of course, cruciform. My comment, however, was about the nature of the good (hence of all existing things). “Goodness” cannot be understood apart from the Cross. There is a tendency for us to want to abstract “good” as somehow independent of the narrative of the Cross. But goodness is cruciform: self-empyting, manifesting itself in what appears to be weakness, etc. Think of the attributes of love in 1Cor. 13.

  51. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    God is not an angry parent meting out punishment and shame.

    Our ‘wrong turn’ was toward non-existence or toward non-being and, more than anything, was/is a form of ‘accident’, using St John of Damascus’ meaning of the term accident.

    Here we are, then, in our struggles and due to our struggles we suffer anxiety and shame. The angry, judging parent seems to not enter such pain but delivers it. However, we now know more about such behavior and realize that such an angry hurtful parent was in turn abused as a child. And is still hurting, too.

    Some of our ‘theological’ and personal heart-felt descriptions of God fall into a mental category of the hurtful angry parent. However if we point to the place in our body where God resides, we should not point to our heads, but to our hearts. Christ enters our pain. If our hearts are wallowing in pain, so is our Lord. If our hearts are crying out, so is our Lord. If our hearts’ sorrows bring tears, our Lord cries.

    The Orthodox Church has her saints, but most of us who populate our temples are mainly garden variety sinners. I dare say most if not all of us are suffering in one form or another. Yet the Lord says, “I bring you peace”. And these words have substance and reality. But to receive this peace we must open our hurting hearts to the Lord. He’s with us. He loves us. He’s listening. Invite Him into your heart and He will bring joy to you within His presence. Because He is not the hurtful, angry parent.

    Let not your experience of shame, from whatever source it seems to come, keep you from opening your heart to God. He waits and knocks. He whispers His love to you in your heart, even through all the chattering in your head.

  52. Anonymo Avatar

    Thankyou Dee for your comforting words.

  53. Athanasios Avatar

    Father, I second Anonymo’s recommendation of Dr. Gabor Maté. His book on addiction, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts,” was transformative for me. It also confirmed for me that much of what modern psychology is starting to do is rediscover what those such as the monastics have known for a very long time. Some of your writings on shame and sin remind of Dr. Maté’s writings. He writes not only from the point of view of a researcher, but as someone who has spent many years working directly with “the undesirables” of any society. Outside the Church, I’ve rarely encounters people with such unrelenting empathy and love for others. You can get a sense of where he’s coming from, from some of the quotes from his book:

    While that book, in particular, deals predominantly with drug addiction, I found it had more widespread implications, especially when it comes to the addictions we face in our own lives (our passions), as well as the shame we burden ourselves with.

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for the recommendation. Because addicition are quite real (not at all theoretical), those who treat them inevitably come face to face with a lot of the experiential realities of our humanity. The recovery movement has made many important contributions to our understanding. For example, they paid attention to shame when it was being largely ignored. They helped bring it back into focus. John Bradshaw’s early work is very reflective of this (Healing the Shame that Binds Us).

    I’ll look some at Mate’s work. Thank you.

  55. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dependence is felt to be anathema by many and yet we are irreducibly dependent beings. Sin, it seems to me, a shifting of our dependence from God and Him alone to our passions: emotional, psychological and physical. Some shame, toxic shame, is a by-product of the conflict between our innate knowledge of where our real dependency should be and where we put it instead.
    Or so it seems to me. For me the practice of repentance reorients (slightly) toward genuine dependence on His mercy. Many other aspects of my life seem to acquire a better order in the process.
    The interface that allows, encourages and maintain a proper dependency I have found only in the Tradition and practice of the Orthodox Church. Bits, pieces and hints many other places but even those are seen more clearly in the light of the Tradition, teaching and practice of the Church which also shows the myriad false and misleading trails as well.
    Still, healing is a rocky road to be sure as the false dependencies and our illusion of independence keep us roiled. At least me.

    The history of opium in itself is a good study of both the attraction and the consequences of misplaced dependency.

  56. Marcus Avatar

    Recently, i was in a situation where i wanted to label someone a spiritual racist because of his dislike for the roman catholic church which i belong to. Thanks to this article and the most recent one on doing good to overcome evil, i think i know what to do. O Lord, please comfort me.

    Agatha, if you are reading this, thank you for replying to my query about the search function.
    Thank you Dee too! This place really is a safe harbor.

  57. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m glad you restrained yourself in reacting to someone’s antipathy towards your Church. I think it is a reach to invent a new category of “spiritual racism.” It’s very painful to hear criticism of your faith – but it can be a very complex matter. It’s best just to drop such conversations before they reach the level of name-calling.

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Marcus, no matter how many saints and holy people a church produces we each still a spiritual hospital and often we patients run amok. Even with our theological differences holiness still manages to get through the cracks.
    One of the most reverent gatherings I have ever been in was a Meeting of Friends. Sitting in silence reaching for God together. But, no Body and
    Folks can say what they want about the Orthodox Church. At some level their criticism is probably right but they usually miss the rest of the story.
    Romans 5.

  59. Agata Avatar


    Glad to help.
    I almost reached out to you, your interests in ‘physical culture’ are amazingly similar to mine. 🙂

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