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Controlling God Through Core Shame

By Dr. Margaret Paul
December 31, 2006

Every day I hear clients say to me, regarding their beliefs about God, "God is not going to be here for me because I am not good enough." In essence, they are saying, "I am in control of whether God is unconditionally loving. My self worth, or lack of it, determines whether the Spirit of Unconditional Love is here for me." This article discusses how we came to believe that we could actually control God.

(The follow is excerpted from Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By God?)

Every day I hear clients say to me, regarding their beliefs about God, "God is not going to be here for me because I am not good enough." In essence, they are saying, "I am in control of whether God is unconditionally loving. My worth, or lack of it, determines whether the Spirit of Unconditional Love is here for me."

How did we come to believe that we could control God?

Some of us were brought up by parents whose "love" was conditional. We had to earn our parents' love by our acting the way they wanted us to. In the process, we learned many ways to control getting the "love" (in reality, approval) that we needed. And we probably projected our parents' feelings onto God. We believed that God's love was conditional. (It's not. It's a free and unconditional gift.) We believed we could win God's love by being "good" and doing things "right." This got us into even deeper water, since "good" and "right" are usually defined by parents, teachers, religious leaders and others in authority, rather than by our own inner spiritual Guidance. In reality, "good" is whatever is truly loving to ourselves and others.

Children are often systematically taught to try to win love from others and God. We train them in the art of control by controlling them and by rewarding their various attempts to control us (by giving them candy or kisses when they are good, for example). Parents try many ways to control their kids: anger, threats, sarcasm, punishment, criticism, judgments, withdrawal, physical violence, treats, money, shame and smothering. Kids, in turn, may try to get parental approval or attention by being nice, by caretaking (giving themselves up and doing what parents want them to do), overachieving, becoming invisible, becoming ill, acting out or having temper tantrums. Anytime we role-model controlling behavior by trying to control our children or reward their manipulative behavior with our attention, we teach them the soul-deadening art of control.

Many children learn to believe they can manipulate love by being good or doing things right. Until they learn that real love is a free gift and cannot be bought or bargained for, they will find endless ways to try to get it. They will try to be perfect, follow all the rules, be polite, always be right - or righteous. Being good may mean suppressing their sexuality. Being the right way may mean dieting or throwing up to the point of starvation to look right so others will love them.

Being good may even include children denying their own feelings and taking responsibility for other's feelings: Children are routinely told that focusing on themselves is "selfish." (When people with this kind of training grow up, they may continue the pattern by following the rules of a church, being a community do-gooder or being self-sacrificing not because they are moved from their hearts to do so, but in the hope of earning others' and God's approval.)

All of this training in how to control others in order to get the "love" we need ultimately leads to the avoidance of personal responsibility for our needs, feelings and behavior and the absence of loving, compassionate behavior toward ourselves and others.

Loving vs. Controlling Behavior

Loving behavior is personally accountable behavior that nurtures and supports our own and others' spiritual growth and highest good. It is behavior that is consciously intended to give something helpful - like support, compassion or understanding - to ourselves and others. Controlling behavior, which is often unconscious, attempts to get something (like safety, love or attention) or to avoid something (like rejection, disapproval or loneliness). Loving behavior is satisfying in itself and is not attached to an outcome, to getting something back. Controlling behavior always has an expectation of a certain outcome attached.

For example, you can give to your children because it gives you joy to do so, or you can give because you want them to love you, take care of when you are older, or have others see you as a good parent. You can have sex with your partner for loving or for controlling reasons, too. You may want to share and express your love, or you may want to get loved, distracted or affirmed, or avoid your partner's anger or disappointment. You can donate money to worthy causes purely for the satisfaction it gives you, or to get publicity, a tax break or a place in heaven. While the action of giving to your children, having sex or donating money is the same, the energy behind a controlling intent feels totally different to the receiver than the energy of a loving intent. Loving behavior feels nourishing while controlling behavior feels lonely, smothering or draining to the receiver.

In the same way you attempt to control the outcome with others, you may attempt to control the outcome with God. You might pray, go to church or temple, tithe or do volunteer work in order to make God love and protect you, rather than for the pure joy of doing so and from the deep desire to serve God. Religious dogma is often based on an attempt to control God. If you belong to the right religion you will go to heaven. This gives people a sense of control over God: I only have to believe the "right" thing and I am safe. Each religion has its rules - don't work on Saturday, give away a certain percentage of your earnings, don't divorce, sacrifice yourself for others - to ensure God's grace. The problem is that none of these rules has anything to do with love and compassion. Worse, they teach you that you do, indeed, have to give yourself up - that is, deny your own inner truth and follow someone else's teachings - to be loved by God. In fact, they teach that it is only in giving yourself up that you will be loved by God. While this may give you a sense of safety, it does not move you along your spiritual path toward becoming more loving and compassionate.

The doctrines and dogma of religion have nothing to do with opening to God, which is what spirituality is all about. Opening to God does not mean giving yourself up in the sense of ignoring your own needs and your own truth or going along with what other people want or what they tell you God wants. Opening or "surrendering" in the spiritual sense means that you release the will of your wounded, false self and invite in the will of love, compassion, truth and wisdom - the will of God. You cannot surrender and attempt to control the outcome of things at the same time. Letting go of the outcome does not mean that you do not decide what you want and do everything in your power to get there. It means that you come from the faith that your soul is being supported in your highest good at all times and that you cannot always know which outcome is best for your soul's growth toward wholeness and oneness with God.

When compassion has a higher value than control, we do not judge things in terms of right and wrong. Instead, we look at our own and others' behavior and try to understand the values and preferences behind this behavior. We try to understand the very good reasons we all have for feeling, believing and behaving the way we do. We try to learn and understand rather than judge. To be on a spiritual path is to accept that you need to put aside your concepts of right and wrong, good and bad, and embrace instead compassionate learning, understanding and acceptance as your way of being. Sadly, control rather than compassion has become the most prevalent way of life.

Shame as a Form of Control

One of the most common forms of control is shame. It can be a little difficult to see how feeling ashamed is a form of control. Let's start by reviewing how core shame - the false belief that you are essentially bad - begins. When, as infants and young children, we were neglected, shamed or physically or sexually abused, we had only two choices about how to see things. We could see the truth, which was that our parents were wounded and did not know how to love us, and that we were helpless to do anything about it. Or we could believe the abuse was our fault - that we caused it because we were defective, inadequate, unworthy and unlovable.

Because admitting we were helpless might have filled us with the deepest despair - especially as infants when having some power over getting our needs met was a matter of life and death - most of us chose to avoid the truth. Instead of recognizing our parents' inability to love, we blamed ourselves. We developed core shame ("It's my fault they don't love me. I'm worthless") as a brilliant defense against that despair. After all, if we believe that it is our fault we are not loved - that we are so bad we cause others to be unloving to us - then the power to change this, to get love, is in our hands. We can try to be good or do things right. Thus, we hope to control getting the love we need from others. We do the same thing with God.

We become addicted to shame because it protects us from the truth that we really have no control over others and God. We can't make them love us. While we can influence whether others like us or approve of us, we have no actual control over them. Yet, if we operate from the false belief that our best feelings come from others loving us and giving us what our parents didn't, we will continue to try to control getting this. Until we know that our best feelings come from giving ourselves the love we need and sharing that love with others, we will continue to try to control getting love from others.

Until we give up our illusion of control over others and God, we will never understand what we do have control over: our own choices and our own intent. Personal power, which is knowing what we do have control over and taking action, eludes us until we accept that we are helpless over other people and God. The paradox is that we cannot move into personal power until we accept our powerlessness over everything but ourselves.

Giving up control becomes easier when you open to God and discover how irrelevant trying to make God love you is. There is nothing you can do to earn God's love and nothing you can do to stop it, other than shutting it out of your consciousness. You can abandon God, but God will never abandon you. God's love for you is as ubiquitous as the air you breathe. When you know you are loved no matter what, control becomes superfluous.

Despite what some religions say, knowing God and feeling shame are mutually exclusive. When you know God, you also know that the perfect love that is God exists within you, that the essence of your soul is God, is love. When you know that you are love, you move beyond shame and beyond the need to try to manipulate anyone or anything into loving you.

For years I attempted to help people heal their core shame, yet over and over I found they could not get free of their awful feelings. Affirmations didn't help. Therapy didn't help. Nothing seemed to help. One day when one of my clients was expressing her feelings of shame, I got the sense that shame was not the root feeling. Then I heard my spiritual Guidance telling me that the woman's shame was a protection against far more painful feelings: helplessness and loneliness.

Shame is simple to heal, but it is not necessarily easy. Your shame will vanish when:

  • You have the courage to feel your loneliness when someone's heart is closed toward you rather than attempting to control feeling the depth of that loneliness by deciding it is your fault that the other is closed to you.

  • You have the courage to feel and accept your helplessness over whether someone opens or closes his or her heart to you.
  • You are willing to take responsibility for compassionately managing - with God's help and the help of others - your feelings of loneliness and helplessness and to gratefully accept this opportunity to evolve your soul.

Practicing Inner Bonding and learning to lovingly manage our feelings of loneliness with others and our helplessness over others is the key to healing our core shame. Until we are willing to feel these feelings instead of protect against them, we will continue to use our shame as a form of control.


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