In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me. – Psalm 71:1-2 (NRSV)
One thing about living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the debilitating shame. The agonizing memory of helplessness and horror in the face of violence. The ruthless inner demons that taunt, “You should’ve done something different” or “It’s your fault.” The gaping pit that swallows you whole at the slightest hint of being helpless again, of failing again, of disappointing again.
Trauma-induced shame kills pride, and not the sinful kind of pride. Shame kills the joyful pride of being who you are in the skin God gave you. Shame leaves a residue of self-loathing, especially when the complex scaffolding of coping mechanisms falls apart in front of others.
Shame tears the fabric of trust between victims and their support systems. With every reassurance to a trauma survivor that “It wasn’t your fault” and “There was nothing you could do,” PTSD tightens its grip and whispers, “Don’t let them lie to you. You know you should’ve done something. You know you should’ve known better.”
The very first time I tried to articulate my traumas to a trusted listener, I couldn’t form any words. The shame of it all was too overwhelming to say aloud. I only wept. For an hour I wept, and for an hour he simply listened to my weeping.
Listening, as it turns out, was the first step of rescue I needed. An hour of being listened to without judgment allowed me to be everything I loathed myself for being but didn’t let others see: a complete wreck, a sobbing failure, a functional mess, an exhausted heap of terror. Even without words, my shame was heard and seen with immense compassion, giving me a glimpse of what it might mean (eventually) to give myself that same compassion.
Save me by your listening, O God. Set aside judgment, incline your ear, and listen with love as I fall apart in your presence. Do not let shame sink me, I pray.