Most people who know much about men, know that anger is a frequent trait that we struggle with. It seems to be a reflexive emotion whenever we encounter frustration or disappointment. It comes out in road rage, kicking the cat, yelling at the kids, or abusing wives. It’s awful and it’s destructive.
A second emotion men struggle with is fear. In fact, fear is often the actual emotion lurking beneath the surface in men, that presents itself outwardly as anger. Men don’t know it, or don’t want to admit it, but what we are often angry about is fear of failure.
Humans are designed to long for the fulfillment of two profound inner needs: Relationship/Intimacy and Respect/Impact. While we all line up on a sliding scale in our thirst for these two, most men long first for respect; most women long first for relationship. Of course, there are exceptions to this pattern in both men and women. But that’s what they are…exceptions.
Because our deepest longings tend to be connected to our gender, our deepest fears do, too. If a woman longs first for relationship, her greatest fear is abandonment or betrayal; the loss of relationship. If a man longs first for respect, his greatest fear is failure, the loss of respect.
Not long ago a friend asked me, “What are the issues that bring out the most shame in men?” I thought immediately of the above way of understanding men. The issues that are most likely to bring up the most shame, have to do with failure:
- Failing college
- Loss of reputation
- Not measuring up in sports
- Getting fired
- Dishonorable discharge from the military
- Time in prison
- Body image
Men fear all of these, and once experienced, they can result in enormous shame—the sense of being unusually defective in worth, value and significance.
But nothing casts more shame than failure of sexual morality: promiscuity, affairs, porn, prostitutes, STD’s, strip clubs, abortion. These deserve their own list. They are why the Bible says, “Run away from sexual sin. Every other sin people do is outside their bodies, but those who sin sexually sin against their own bodies.” I Cor. 6:18 NCV
In my opinion shame is the deepest most frequent emotion many men feel, and they have no idea it’s there, nor how to combat it. As I’ve written in previous posts, you scratch the surface of just about any self-serving, self-protective, self-pleasuring or other-harming behavior in men, and you’ll find shame.
It’s the conviction that we don’t matter and no one cares anyway. So we’re going to compensate one way or another.
In that respect shame is both the source and the consequence of our sin.
How do we overcome shame?
- We renounce the lies of the Enemy that tell us we should be ashamed of ourselves.
- We claim the promise of God the Father that we are fully forgiven and fully accepted as sons.
- We remind ourselves of Scripture that says no one who trusts in God will ever be put to shame. (Ro. 10:11)
- We entrust a few well-chosen men with our story, our temptations and our hopes. In doing so, we have community with each other and the blood of Jesus transforms us. (I John 1:7)
For men, these three remain: anger, fear and shame. But the greatest of these…is shame.
Greater still? The grace of God, the truth of his Word, the hope of community and the power of the blood of Christ.
My greatest joy in life is my family. I know, that sounds like the comment you’re supposed to make as a man and father. All I can say is I literally shake my head in wonder at the family I have: my wife Beryl; my daughter Barclay and son-in-law Vince, their four daughters, Bella, Brynn, Brooke and Blake; my son Alec, my son Conor and daughter-in-law Bonnie, their daughter Gemma and son Calvin. Every one of them is a genuine gift. Beyond that, I have a calling that I live out through Peregrine Ministries. It is to help men: Understand their identity in Christ, Embrace their role as men, and Live out their God-given calling in life. Bottom line is I’m convinced men matter and I want to help them live life on purpose.
Right on, brother Craig! Right on! I had an affair 25 years ago, and nothing broke the building anticipation of forbidden pleasure. Not confession, not repentance, not contriteness. Not even fasting for 40 days, not once but twice. Only disclosure broke the power of that season of sin. Disclosure to my wife, to elders, and wounded parties (James 5:16). After rebuilding trust with my dear wife, over several years, I was still ensnared by shame for 15 years. Then I found a small group of guys to trust, and as we lived together in the light (I Jn 1:7) grace began to transform me. God’s love and forgiveness, they are so incredibly powerful.
Dave, thank you for your honest and courageous comments. Your words reveal a man on the journey of freedom from shame.
Although difficult to admit I’m sure all men personally identify with something in this post.
I’m pretty sure, too, Curtis.
Excellent insight. A critical challenge is to find that small group where transparency and confidentiality can be achieved and maintained. Fortunate is the man who finds such a group and stays committed to it.