Shame-based identity or Grace-based identity
I have found that there are two basic ways of approaching a sense of personal identity and self-esteem. One is a shame-based identity; the other is a grace-based identity.
The foundation of a shame-based identity has to do with what you do or achieve or accomplish as the gage of your worth in life.
A shame-based identity believes that you are only as good as your successes. Therefore, when you fail you are a failure. When you make a mistake, you are a mistake.
A shame-based identity believes that your worth is determined in comparison to others. Therefore, we end up rooting for others to fail or to do worse than us so that we look better in comparison.
With a shame-based identity, since our worth is contingent upon out-shining others, it is easy for us to develop habits of denial (not admitting to our faults or failures), lying (pretending to others that we are better or more successful than we are), envy (resenting the successes of others), judgmentalness (looking upon others with a critical heart), or depression or even self-condemnation (kicking ourselves for not achieving what we demand of ourselves).
A shame-based identity produces a difficult way for us to live with ourselves, and a difficult way for us to live with others. No wonder rates of depression are so high in our nation!
The foundation of a grace-based identity has to do with finding worth and identity in being loved rather than in accomplishing something. For love is not something that is earned but is that which is received as a gift.
A grace-based identity believes that your worth comes not from what you do or fail to do but from the love that God extends to you. It is not that you are as good as your successes or as bad as your failures; it is that you are as good as God’s love for you. So when you fail, your identity need not be that you are a failure but that you are one who is loved nevertheless. When you make a mistake, your identity does not become that of a mistake; your identity remains that you are one who is deeply loved.
With a grace-based identity it becomes possible to develop habits of humbleness (you don’t have to try to assert yourself as better than others), honesty (you don’t have to con people into thinking you are better than you are but can face the truth about your faults and failures), cooperation (your worth is not dependent on trying to out-shine others), mercy (as you learn to accept your own faults and failures, you can also accept them in others), security (you might lose your successes or the approval of others, but you will never lose the love of God), and hope and gratitude (as you learn to find your identity in the love of God, you begin to find evidence of God’s love and goodness all around you).
With a grace-based identity, we can begin to see ourselves and others as God sees us:
- We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1)
- We are fallen yet restored (Genesis 3 & 2 Corinthians 5:17)
- We are precious in God’s sight (Isaiah 43:4)
- We are reborn by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5)
- We are the temple of God’s Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)
- We are God’s work of art (Ephesians 2:10)
- We are the beloved children of our heavenly Father (1 John 3:1)