How to Prevent Grief over Special Needs from Morphing into Shame

My husband sang on the worship team so I sat alone during church services.  Sometimes I came late, sat near the back, and cried through one or two hymns.  My teenage daughter with autism was struggling with her faith and my other child missed church due to an undiagnosed illness.  I was grieving their difficulties and absence. A few people noticed and gave me a hug or a word of encouragement.  I appreciated those moments, but most of the time I was alone and few people knew about my grief.  Little by little I drifted out of touch with old friends because their children were doing well and mine were struggling.  Supportive friends had walked alongside my special-needs family for years—but this season felt different. I felt I shouldn’t be grieving AGAIN. I didn’t want pity from friends—it was getting embarrassing.  I wanted to feel like their equal—content as they seemed to be.

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Then little by little, I can’t say when, that grief turned into shame that further isolated me.  I had nothing to be ashamed of, but shame doesn’t care.  It accuses you and makes you feel guilty for things over which you have no control.  It tells you that something is wrong with you or your family which caused the struggle.  It makes you second guess your decision to give your child some space to sort out faith issues.  It causes you to feel guilt that your other child is sick.  And instead of reaching out for support, it makes you want to hide so others don’t ask about why your kids aren’t at church.  It makes you wonder if people are talking or wondering about you, and it leaves you isolated.

Appropriate shame (as a result of wrongdoing) has an offer of repentance or apology that leads to freedom and healing. FEELING SHAME WHEN YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG KEEPS YOU IN BONDAGE.  IT’S SATAN’S TRAP.

Something about illness and disability encourages shame to lurk closely– even if there is nothing to be ashamed of.  Perhaps it’s the association with weakness or dependency.  This connection doesn’t win friends and influence people in our culture.  And SHAME THRIVES WHEN LEFT ALONE IN THE DARK, AWAY FROM LIGHT, INTERACTION, PERSPECTIVE AND PURPOSE.  THE MORE WE ISOLATE, THE MORE SHAME GAINS STRENGTH.


Here are some ways to beat it:

  1. Know grief is not shameful—it is a normal part of life. To remember this, reach out to a few trusted people and/or seek counseling.  Speaking out loud what is on your heart takes power out of misplaced shame, stifling it’s growth.
  2. Know that difficulty happens to everyone and you are not exempt. Remind yourself you are not alone—or better yet, join a Bible study or support group where participants are willing to share their difficult stories so you will hear that you are in good company.
  3. Remember that God has good in store for you and your family. While you are not exempt from trouble, you were not created to cower in it.  You were created “to do good works which God prepared beforehand for you to do (Ephesians 3:5-6).”
  4. Consider how can your grief can transition to a good work.  Take one step in this direction (maybe talk about it?) even if you are not fully ready to commit or are unsure what it looks like.
  5. Speak truth to yourself and post it on your walls. Here are some Biblical truths to get you started.

Do not be ashamed  of your weakness (disability, illness, grief, idiosyncrasies) or of things that happen which are out of your control :

  • But he (Jesus) said to me (Paul), “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults. (1 Corinthians 12:9-10).
  • So rejoice when you suffer, for suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us for God has poured out his love through the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.(Romans 5:3-4)

Keep your hope and confidence in God as you grieve—don’t succumb to misplaced shame.

  • Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame.  (Isaiah 45:17).
  • No one who believes in the Lord will be put to shame. (Romans 10:11, 9:33)
  • For Christ, himself, is our peace (Ephesians 2:14)

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