In my last blog, I introduced the topic of contempt and how we can use it to cope with painful experiences. We do this by either placing the focus of our anger onto ourselves (self-contempt) or by placing it onto others through the symbols they represent. I shared some of my personal experiences with both reactions. I first learned about this topic from Dan Allender’s book The Wounded Heart.
For this article, I want to focus on the “functions of contempt.” Why do we cope this way? How is contempt serving me?
The Functions of Contempt
Contempt Diminishes Shame
Shame is one of the most insidious emotions. It is no surprise that we will do almost anything to avoid feeling it. Turning our contempt outwards creates an illusion that others are the source of shame. I can control that by not letting anyone in too close. Or turning the contempt inwards means that while hating myself, I can’t be caused to feel shamed by others. I already believe the worst about myself. No one thinks less of me than I do. Using contempt to diminish the feeling of shame doesn’t make it go away, it just kicks it a little further down the road. We must keep up the avoidance techniques to continue avoiding shame.
Contempt Deadens Longings
Quoting Allender, “Contempt is a cruel anesthetic to longing. As long as I turn my condemnation against myself, I block the potential of your movement toward me and my longing for you to care. When I turn my condemnation against you, I am free from believing that I want anything from you. In either case, contempt kills longing.”
I believed that if I could convince myself that I don’t really need anyone else or that I don’t deserve anyone’s love or care, then I never have to really deal with anyone’s interest in getting to know me. While I was rarely interested in sports (a symbol I attached my contempt for men to), I taught mself to hate them. If I hate sports, then I never have to feel the longing to be accepted through being one of the guys or part of a team.
When we have experienced abuse in the past and try to allow ourself to feel our deepest longing for intimacy, we often get overwhelmed and are reminded of the abuse. Abuse often happens in an intimate (close, trusted) relationship. Feeling that need, the longing of their soul, makes us feel weak and ashamed. Contempt is the tool we use to ensure we remain disconnected from the longings of our hearts.
Contempt Provides the Illusion of Control
“For many the raw reality of life in a fallen world is too much to endure; therefore, more acceptable, more controllable explanations must be found. Contempt provides a strange antidote for the struggle of confusion, terror, and helplessness.” – Allender
Feeling out of control makes us feel helpless. Victims of abuse were taken advantage of because of their inability to stop their abuser. Their sense of control was taken from them through the abuse. Attempts at control can take on many forms. I may dress unattractively so that no one will notice me (self-contempt). Or I may dress provocatively to attract others, only to feel contempt for them when they are drawn towards these “damaged goods”. People only want me for how they can use me.
If something is always wrong with me, then I always have something to work on, giving me the illusion of control. I can lose weight or buy better clothes. If something is always wrong with everyone else, I am in control of who I let in and how close they can get to me.
Contempt Distorts the Real Problem
Allender again, “At one point, it appears as a poor self-image, and at another, as a bad attitude toward others. Whatever its form or function, one thing can be assumed: Contempt hinders the work of God. It directs our sight away from our deepest longings and deflects the focus from our depravity and need for a Savior to an attack against our own or another’s dignity.”
We ignore our own depravity and blame everyone else for our problems. (Being abused is never the victim’s fault. A person does have control over how they respond to the abuse.) Adam blamed God and then Eve. If they had done the right thing, Adam wouldn’t have been in the mess he was in. God gave Adam the woman and she gave him the fruit, but he was unwilling to look at his own rebellion. His contempt was turned outwards.
Our self-contempt distorts the real problem too. This can be tricky because it can look like conviction over sin. In actuality, it is usually a denigration of some element of my dignity, rather than a sorrow over my depravity. If someone confronts us when we have done something wrong, we might get so lost in our “sorrow over sin” that we don’t actually address the real problem… contempt for ourselves.
Help! I have contempt! What can I do about it?
Here are a few thoughts about steps we can take to address the issue of contempt in our lives:
Raise Your Awareness
If you’ve read this far, you are already doing this. Stopping to think about how contempt is at work in your life is the first step. Is my contempt directed inward or outward? What are some of the symbols I’ve attached contempt to?
Once the awareness of a problem arises, it can suddenly all feel overwhelming. Simply pausing for a few moments of reflection can become a big trigger and send us running right back into our patterns of contempt. This is an excellent time to stop and pray. Ask God to help you to face into the truth about yourself. Ask Him for the ability to sit in the uncomfortable spaces that self-reflection can bring. Ask for His help and healing.
This article has provided some education, but take it a step further. Grab a copy of The Wounded Heart that I’ve quoted from. Seek out other sources of information that will lead to a better understanding and self-awareness. Our friend, Dr. Veronica Johnson, wrote a series of articles for our blog about dealing with Trauma. Trauma and Stabilization is a great resource, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed.
Seek the Support You Need
The hard truth about the healing process is that we simply cannot do it alone. This is why WGA has support groups to give people a chance to get outside of their own heads and share with others. This can be scary, but the rewards are so great. Left to ourselves, we often create very distorted views of ourselves and the world around us. Other people in a safe environment can more easily see past those distortions and help us see more clearly.
Roger began working with WGA in October of 1996 as the Assistant office Manager. Since that time, he has worn many hats and served in several different positions, including Assistant Program Director and Operations Director. In April of 2007, Roger assumed the position of Executive Director.
Roger attended West Texas A&M University, where he studied Music Business. Much of his training has been “on the job,” where he was mentored by the ministry’s Founder, Mary Heathman, and the Program Director, Scott Kingry. He holds a BA from West Texas A&M University.
Roger, his wife Jill, and their daughter Julia and son William, attend Celebration Community Church where Jill serves as Senior Pastor.
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