Have you ever been falsely accused of something? Maybe it’s an attack against your character or someone believes you did something you didn’t do. How did you feel? Angry? Hurt? Sad? What did you do? Did you defend yourself? Attack back? Hide in a corner and cry?
If you have never been falsely accused, I can tell you about it because it has happened to me. In fact, it just did. And the worst part was that it was via letter. No chance to answer, defend myself, fight back, or let the attacker know how her words affected me. You see, this letter contains lots of assumptions about who I am (and who my husband is – he was included in the accusations), what I have done, and what I believe. An attack against my character. Ugly stuff.
When I first read the letter, my immediate inclination was to go to the person who wrote it and confront her. I was shocked – downright flabbergasted. I wanted to ask her why she would say the things she said and CONVINCE her that she was wrong – what she wrote about me is not true! But I knew that would not be wise. In my highly emotional state, I would probably (most definitely) make things worse. And I would probably cry. So I prayed instead, and texted my husband to let him know what had happened.
Then I reached a point where I wanted to fight back. I wanted to accuse her of being the exact thing she accused me and my husband of being. And as I thought about what I would say to her, I recalled a story in Brené Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”. In this book she recounts receiving a critical email from a “fan.” Brené’s immediate reaction was that of anger, confusion, and shock, and her immediate impulse was to lash back at the sender in an equally critical manner. She wrote several draft responses, but ultimately did not send a single one. Instead, she called a dear friend and worked through what was happening internally, emotionally. She came to realize that the email had triggered her shame, and while her first response to being shamed was to shame back, she practiced shame resilience instead, and through the process of recognizing what was happening and talking about it, she was able to get through it without shaming back or sinking into the shame pit.
While I was processing what the heck had just happened, I was trying to identify everything I was feeling. I consciously asked myself if shame was part of it, and when I remembered the story Brené told, I realized that yes, I had been feeling some shame (mixed with hurt, anger, shock, disbelief, sorrow). But then I thought DUH, of COURSE I felt shame – I care what people think about me, right? I wrote an entire post about this! It’s no wonder the words I read hit me so hard. Realizing that my reaction was totally in line with who I have discovered myself to be actually helped me to start thinking clearly about what had happened and what to do about it. I was able to practice that shame resilience that I have learned through reading Brené’s books.
And as I thought more about what prompted the author to pen her words and actually send them to us, I started to feel for HER. Obviously something has happened to her in the past that influenced this behavior. If I confronted her about her letter or responded in kind, would she even have ears to hear my words? Probably not.
My Christian faith tells me that I can expect persecution and suffering in this life, but that Jesus knows how I feel because He experienced persecution and suffering, too. In fact, it was this exact thing – being falsely accused – that led to His crucifixion on the cross. When I thought about this, I realized that Jesus didn’t fight back. He didn’t fight against His accusers and try to defend himself against their unfounded accusations. He didn’t have to because He knew who He was – God’s child. I don’t have to fight back, either, because I, too, know who I am – WHOSE I am. Do I want my accuser to know who I am and to know that the conclusions she has drawn about me are false? Yes, I do – my earthly desire to defend myself hasn’t magically disappeared. But I only want that if she is willing to listen to me. If she has already made up her mind about me, I stand no chance of changing it. This wasn’t the first time I had been attacked and falsely accused, and I am sure it will not be the last. But I know who I am and who I am working to become, and I have the tools now to get out of the shame pit that accompanies being wronged in this way. It does not take away the pain, but it sure speeds up the recovery.
So what am I going to do about this? I’m not sure yet. Quite possibly, nothing. But I can tell you what I’m NOT going to do: I’m not going to attack back, I’m not going to defend myself and plead my case for why she should like me, and I’m not going to fall into the shame pit and believe the lies that were written about me. Knowing what I’m NOT going to do is even more important than what I am going to do. And knowing what I am NOT going to do is the true reflection of who I am.