Hiding Our Faces


We might think that people who have lost their jobs or who have completed their formal education but have so far been unable to get jobs would seek understanding, support, and encouragement from their faith communities. We might think so, but much of the time we would be wrong.

Psychiatrist, professor, and theorist Donald L. Nathanson has provided us with “the compass of shame” which indicates the four natural but non-restorative responses to high intensities of the shame-humiliation affect: withdrawal, attack-self, avoidance, and attack-other. The first response to shame is to hide one’s face or wish to. People caught in sustained shame affect do not seek to be understood, supported, and encouraged; they seek to be rendered invisible and left alone. So, they stop attending worship services for the same kind of reasons they stay away from class reunions: they do not want to have to explain their situations or answer questions about their job searches. In our current recession, few people who have lost their jobs or have been unable so far to secure first jobs will wish to give weekly non-progress reports to even the most well-meaning and truly caring inquirers.

Shame does not make us want to be seen and understood. It does not welcome sympathy or encouragement. It wants to be hidden from sight.

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