Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame

Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame

by Aubrey Gayel Sampson


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Christian women have allowed shame to condemn and confine them for far too long. If you’re ready to turn things around, Aubrey Sampson—a pastor’s wife, and an advocate for at-risk women—invites you to become an unashamed woman.

Using the model of a house, “Sampson identifies eight major lies of shame such as: I’ll have more value when I change; I cannot experience freedom from shame; My past is unsalvageable; and Shame is only traumatic.

Written with a strong biblical theology and humorous authenticity, as well as true-life stories shared by women of all ages, Sampson equips readers with tools for an ongoing spiritual discipline of “shamelessness.” Sampson deals directly with the shame that comes from comical moments in life, as well as from sexual abuse, eating disorders, addiction, abandonment, and other real-life issues. She also encourages women to transform their life’s story into ministry, creating ripple effects of hope and healing that can change the world.

Written for any woman whose self-worth has been stolen, Overcomer gives her the courage, in Jesus, to reclaim it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310342588
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 10/06/2015
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 821,373
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Aubrey Sampson is passionate about empowering women of all ages to experience freedom from shame. An author, speaker, and church planter, Aubrey lives and ministers in the Chicagoland area with her husband, Kevin. She is also a mom to three young sons, which is to say she spends most days in her pajamas, drinking entirely too much coffee. Connect with Aubrey at www.aubreysampson.com and @aubsamp.

Read an Excerpt


By Aubrey Sampson


Copyright © 2015 Aubrey Sampson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-310-34258-8



* * *

Dismantling the House That Shame Built

I was uberfabulous in middle school. That is to say I had purple and pink braces and my bangs were teased up to the clouds. I had a jean jacket with shoulder pads, a jean purse, and a jean skirt. So yeah, I was pretty awesome. But in the eighth grade, I developed an unfortunate condition that redirected the course of my entire middle school career. I came down with D-cups.

Eighth grade was also the year I discovered my first love. Several times. I was obsessed with Dylan McKay, the rebel character of the TV show Beverly Hills 90210; Alex Pawlak, my basketball-playing boyfriend; and two ninth-grade boys named Hoppy and Bo (yes, really), who rode my school bus.

My school district bused a few unlucky freshmen along with the middle schoolers, and they hated riding with us "little kids." But to me, these older students were gods. The boys had facial hair. The girls wore miniskirts. They chewed tobacco and talked about their parents' divorces. They were 90210 made flesh. The day Hoppy and Bo invited me to sit with them in the back of the bus, I knew my life was about to change forever. Me! An eighth grader! Invited to sit in the back of the bus with the cool kids.

They included me in their inside jokes, showed me how to tie a cherry stem with my tongue, and (because this was Oklahoma) taught me the art of dipping. On my first and last attempt, I stuffed the fat wad of tobacco into my lower lip and waited to experience whatever thrill I was supposed to feel. After about thirty seconds, I threw up all over the floor of the bus.

I was humiliated, mortified, certain my new status of cool was forever covered in puke. All of my fears quickly evaporated when Bo put his arm around my shoulder to comfort me. "I'm sorry, cutie. I should have known you couldn't handle it."

Oh, the power of that sound, the siren call of that sweet nothing, "cutie." These high school boys think I'm a cutie. My entire sense of self, my total identity, had changed. Suddenly, I was no longer Aubrey, the awkward eighth grader. I was Cutie, the object of affection. For what felt like the very first time, I was noticed by someone other than my parents. I was somebody. I mattered.

I sat with Bo and Hoppy on those worn-out avocado bus seats, enraptured. High on their attention, intoxicated by their flirtations, I idled away time fantasizing about Hoppy inviting me to the high school dance, or daydreaming that Bo would ask me out on a date.

A few months into the school year, Bo finally popped a question: "Hey cutie, have you ever played Fire Drill?" I tried to come up with a cool answer to hide the fact that this was categorically not the question I had been hoping for, but before I could form a coherent response, Bo was yelling, "One, two ..."

Wait? Are we playing now? Aren't you supposed to run around the outside of the bus or something? I barely had time to register what was happening. On "three," Bo lifted my arms over my head, shoved me flat on the bus seat, and hissed, "Hurry! We're close to her stop!" After taking a quick look to make sure no one could see him, Hoppy lifted up my shirt and groped my D-cups.

When I think back on that day, I can still remember some details. I can vaguely recall the stinging sensation at the back of my head because a strand of hair was caught in one of those stubborn metal window latches. I remember praying the other kids on the bus wouldn't turn around and see what was happening; I was afraid they'd make fun of me. I noticed Bo's acne scars for the first time and wondered how I'd never seen them before. Honestly, though, I wasn't aware of much, except for one overpowering emotion. A feeling, at the time, I would not have been able to name. Now I know — I felt shame. I was ashamed because of what was happening, but there was another shame, deeper and more toxic. I was humiliated because it was happening while I was wearing a white training bra. I didn't want Hoppy and Bo to think of me as an inexperienced, unsophisticated little girl. I was ashamed of myself.

When the bus lurched to a stop in front of my house, the boys released me. I readjusted my clothes and blundered off the bus steps, shaken and confused. I could still feel the calluses of Hoppy's hands against my skin and hear Bo's taunt ringing in my ear: "I like your little white bra, cutie. You better not tell anyone about this, cutie."

My favorite nickname reduced to a jeer.

I stood in front of my house, my mom playing inside with my little sister, and wondered what to do. I could run inside and tell her everything. She'd hug me and cry, probably call my dad. My parents would have sought justice. The police would have been involved or the school, or Hoppy's and Bo's parents. I never would have had to ride the bus again.

But I was scared what the boys would think. I was nervous they'd tell their friends. I didn't want to be uncool. I didn't want to uncutie. Frankly, I wasn't entirely sure that it wasn't my fault — that it wasn't my body's fault for developing those breasts so early.

The thirteen-year-old in me didn't have the vocabulary to describe what had happened. The Office on Violence against Women defines sexual assault as any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. But I didn't know the term sexual assault even existed. If I did, I'm not certain I would have given myself permission to use such a strong word. Assault would have felt too big, too powerful, too important somehow. It would have made me seem like the victim of something. I wasn't sure I wanted to be a victim. I wasn't even convinced I was a victim. I liked them, after all. I vied for their attention. Did I invite this?

When evil entered the world, God asked Adam and Eve what happened. Adam's response was simple: "The woman made me do it." At thirteen, without any hesitation, I believed the oldest lie in the book: what happened was my fault because I was female. I never told a soul.

As a grown woman and mother to three sons, I want to shake those ninth-grade boys and say, "What were you thinking? Who taught you that was okay? You better not lay a finger on any other girl!" I want to yell at the bus driver, "Where were you? Why weren't you paying attention?"

Mostly, I want to grab the hand of that scared little girl standing in the driveway and lead her into the house. I want to wrap my arms around her and say, "Let's go tell Mom. She'll take care of this. Daddy'll know what to do."

I want to look her in the eyes, stroke her cheeks, and say, "Hey, precious girl. It's okay. There's nothing to be afraid of. You are made in the image of God, and this was not your fault. You do not need to be ashamed."

I want to attend to her, cry with her, and assure her that keeping silent will be worse than the momentary discomfort of telling. More than anything, I want to protect her from what will happen in the months and years to come.

What Is Shame?

Shame encompasses such a wide range of emotions it can be difficult to define. Perhaps the simplest way to understand it is to think back on a moment when you experienced it. You may have felt embarrassment, discomfort, or self-consciousness. Shame can also express itself in much weightier emotions, such as when we feel humiliated, inadequate, or injured.

Another difficulty with shame is that so many women live under the weight of it without knowing it because they've been conditioned by culture and life experience to accept that feeling as normal. Shame is simply always there. It's that familiar yet profound feeling that we don't measure up. Dr. Brené Brown, a leading expert on shame in women, describes it this way: "People often want to believe that shame is reserved for the unfortunate few who have survived terrible traumas, but this is not true. Shame is something we all experience. And while it feels like shame hides in our darkest corners, it actually tends to lurk in all the familiar places, including appearance and body image, motherhood, family, parenting, money and work, mental and physical health, addiction, sex, aging, and religion."

While it's certainly not the only emotional issue we deal with, like my friend Lonn Obee says, shame is similar to the phenomenon of learning about a new car you've never heard of before and then suddenly seeing it everywhere. (That's the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, for you trivia people. You can now show off at parties.) Once you begin to recognize shame, you realize how much it permeates your life.

Think about it. Maybe you regularly view life through the lens of other people's expectations (real or imagined) and you're beginning to buckle under the pressure. Maybe you're ashamed of how you look. You want to control your changing body, so you obsessively count calories or exercise compulsively, and you're weary from the effort. Maybe you regularly criticize yourself. You feel the need to be all things — smart, sexy, and successful — but you are tired of striving (and failing) to measure up to some elusive standard of womanhood. Perhaps you feel self-conscious about not having a boyfriend or a happy marriage when all of your friends seem to be content in their relationships. Perhaps a friend stabbed you in the back, one of your parents was emotionally or physically absent, or your loved one has a secret addiction, and you think it's all somehow your fault. Shame is lurking in all of these things.

You could be stressed about your children and how you are handling things at home. The voice in your head says, I'm not a very good mother. Maybe you feel like a failure because life got hard and now your dreams are out of reach, or you just don't know who you are anymore. Perhaps you've experienced so much loss and grief that you can't help but think you're the problem. Maybe you go through life with ever-present feelings of inadequacy; you worry what other people would think if they knew the real you. Possibly you've been fighting a lifelong battle of some kind, and it seems like anyone else in your shoes would handle it better than you. Shame is hard at work in your struggles.

And there's the pressure we get in our Christian culture to operate above reproach all the time, which leads us to feel ashamed when we make even a tiny mistake. We may believe that if we aren't shaming ourselves, we're in danger of becoming prideful. So we beat ourselves up as the "better," more Christlike option. It's a vicious cycle. With family, culture, society, and even our faith community's expectations of what and who we should be, shame can be overwhelming as well as confusing. (I could go on and on, but at this point, I'm just depressing us.)

My first conscious experience of shame was birthed during, and grew to fruition soon after, the bus incident. The following weekend, a group of girlfriends and I went to hang out at the mall. While my friends were busy flirting with boys at the food court, I slipped away to go shopping at a lingerie store. If something like the bus incident were ever to happen again, I was determined not to be caught in some little girl's underwear. I prepared for the worst, covering one of my first experiences of shame with the defensive wall of sexiness.

The root of the word shame is actually derived from the phrase "to cover." Adam and Eve were so ashamed of their sin they covered themselves with fig leaves. Shame became their new wardrobe, and it became mine. I spent the rest of the school year riding at the front of the bus, never looking back, but always feeling Hoppy's and Bo's eyes on me.

The Shame Identity

In his book Healing the Shame That Binds You, John Bradshaw writes, "To have shame as an identity is to believe that one's being is flawed, that one is defective as a human being. Once shame is transformed into an identity, it becomes toxic and dehumanizing."

At its core, an identity of shame is the belief that, in whole or in part, I am not enough. Because shame has so many nuances and can trigger a wide range of emotional reactions, I've come to think of the shame identity as a house of lies made up of seven rooms. (See figure.)

As it did with Eve's first bite of apple, something twisted awakened in me after that bus ride, and I began to take up residence in a Shame Identity of my own. On the one hand, I was still a normal teenager: I had fun with my best friends; I performed well in school; I enjoyed my family; I was generally happy. But an inner emotional shift had taken place, and at such a young age, I was unable to name it or protect myself from it. As I look back now, I liken that shift to the difference between holding a cherished photograph of a loved one and being with that person in the flesh. Photographs capture emotion, evoking a smile, a laugh, a poignant memory. But nothing can compare to the sensory experience of hearing a loved one's voice, wrapping your arms around them, inhaling their scent, and seeing their laugh lines. Photographs are beautiful, but they are always only facsimiles of the real thing. Shame held out its hand to me that day on the bus, and I allowed it to drag me into a darkroom and develop me into the 2-D version of myself — still smiling, but a replica of the original.

You'd think an experience like that would have me screaming and running as far away from men as possible. As time went on, it had the opposite effect. I discovered that my body attracted attention, and I became needy for more. Over the next few years, I had one unhealthy relationship after another, always attempting to fill a growing emptiness, to prop up a withering self-esteem. I needed a man's attention or I felt like I was invisible. I struggled with body image and was so intent on gaining approval from the opposite sex that I forgot how to express myself. Without a boyfriend "educating" me, I didn't know what music or movies I enjoyed, what books I should read, what clothes I liked to wear. I didn't know my own voice. In every sense of the word, I shrank. (Including those D-cups.)


While you may not relate to every detail of my story, I imagine you have known, at some point in your life, what it is to feel unworthy or disqualified, what it means to feel like that 2-D version of yourself. You've probably shed secret tears behind locked doors. You may have painful memories or emotions of your own. You may have allowed yourself to disappear a little bit. I'm willing to bet the little girl inside needs to learn how to believe she can overcome her shame.

In construction work, there are multiple ways to demolish a house — detonation, wrecking ball, even bulldozing. But there is also a gentler demolition technique known as deconstruction, in which a house is carefully dismantled in order to reclaim and repurpose the valuable and beautiful elements. Throughout this book, we'll carefully break down the walls of shame and dismantle all seven lies one chapter at a time, but not with a wrecking ball. Instead, we will gently deconstruct the shame from your life, all the while preserving the valuable and beautiful elements in order to rebuild your soul — in order to allow you to begin taking up space in your life again.

My prayer is that through the pages of this book, you will be built up and equipped with all the tools you need for restoration: a practical theology for overcoming shame, biblical truths, next steps, discussion questions, prayers, a little laughter along the way, and inspiration from personal stories written by brave women who've overcome shame in their own lives. Returning to my story, I'll share some of the more painful experiences from my life, along with some of the more absurd ones. (Hi. My name is Aubrey. I'm a woman who inadvertently causes scenes in public.) Together, we'll raze the shame so we can raise the roof on a new identity that's free from it.


Excerpted from Overcomer by Aubrey Sampson. Copyright © 2015 Aubrey Sampson. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword by Shannon Ethridge, 13,
1. Let the Demolition Begin,
2. Cracks in the Foundation,
3. An Eviction Notice,
4. Tending to the Broken Parts,
5. Welcome to the Neighborhood,
6. Room for Work and Play,
7. For the Days You Lose It in Public,
8. Finishing Touches,
9. Grand Opening,
Acknowledgments, 175,
Notes, 177,

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