Shame can be one of the most crippling emotional spirals, overwhelmingly strong and because of its nature, one of the hardest to talk about.
Shame is not guilt or embarrassment although as with many other emotions it may exist alongside them.
- Guilt is the response of the conscience; the twinge we feel when we have broken a rule or gone against a value.
- Embarrassment will not cause a person to loose all sense of their identity or to feel despair or hopelessness.
Shame is not related to what we DO but to who we ARE and what we believe about ourselves.
- Shame, and the defense we build to protect ourselves once in the spiral, will rob us of joy, ease, spontaneity, freedom and the virtual knowledge that we are truly worthwhile as individuals and deserves love and intimacy.
It is without doubt, the single most common feeling that keeps victims and survivors of sexual abuse and rape, silent – the exact effect that an abuser desires. But in reality you shouldn’t be carrying that shame, you have nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the shame doesn’t belong to you; it belongs to the person abuser, the person who abused you, regardless of who they are.
It is difficult at first for us to identify shame, or share it. Discussing an incident of remark that has touched one’s shame can be very difficult because of the risk of feeling the shame again.
The shame associated with sexual abuse, as a child or adult victim, ingrains itself into every aspect of our thoughts and actions in our lives. For whatever reason, we feel ashamed for what happened to us and we blame ourselves for having been abused.
We can see the abuse as our fault in some way, perhaps because we ‘failed’ to speak out then, stop it, or even perhaps because we may have enjoyed some aspect of the abuse, such as physical sensations or the closeness of another, something that was missing in other areas of our life? Know and get used to this idea… the body will respond to touch or stimulation in a way that it is programmed to, sometimes even if your conscience or mind doesn’t want it to. That can be difficult to comprehend but not understanding it can allow shame to grow.
We may see the abuse as a sign we were to blame. Perhaps you imagine that you were ‘giving off signals’ saying “look at me, abuse me”. No one ‘gives of signals’!
We can end up seeing the abuse as a, excuse for living a life that resembles a life not worth living and ‘allow’ the abuse to live our life, instead of living the life we want to and bloody deserve to. People make lots of decisions, conscious and unconscious, and act out in all sorts of ways. The decisions we make and actions we take to hide or ‘push away’ thoughts and feelings can be, and often are, detrimental to our health, e.g. drug use, alcohol misuse, self-harm. All of these things can be part of the excuse for living a life ‘not worth living’, but the reality is that rather than an excuse, there is a reason you did these things. Change it!
We can see the abuse and its after effects, as an excuse to behave badly, differently or alternatively, making sure others avoid us at all costs, but the reality is that we’re remaining in isolation. Break the silence!
We may see the abuse as something we’ll never be able to overcome and as such, don’t even bother to see if it is possible. Well guess what? it is!
We may see the abuse as a way to remain locked up in our own world, isolated from everyone, never letting people in to know the real you, and to love you, as you feel unlovable, unloved, and dirty. You’re not dirty at all!
We easily see the fact that the abuse hurt us and if anyone enters our world again we run the risk of being hurt again. So we invent an equation – best to avoid being hurt again by not letting anyone close. We have to take risks and chances, start off with calculated risks!
Shame doesn’t belong to me.