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Archive for January 10th, 2008

Girl with bucket (c) Lynda Bernhardt

A friend of mine is struggling with feeling deep shame about a particularly traumatizing incident she suffered as a child. While it is so clear to all of her friends that she was not responsible, she is having a hard time working through the shame after this abusive incident.

Unfortunately, this is a common theme among survivors of child abuse. Child abuse survivors who suffered severe and ongoing trauma might label one particular incident of trauma or one form of abuse as even more shameful than the others. For example, a person who was both physically and sexually abused might feel deeper shame about one of the abuses, even though both were traumatizing.

People who suffered particularly degrading forms of abuse might attach even deeper shame to those events. Examples include gang rape, same sex rape, or animal rape. The child abuse survivor might have told herself that she was okay as long as X did not happen. Then, when she has a flashback of that very thing happening, she must face that she was not spared the one form of abuse that she most wanted to repress.

I faced this deep shame about one particularly degrading form of abuse. My sister, who suffered most of the same abuses that I did, asked me if I had recovered memories about this form of abuse. Her question triggered the memories, and I rapidly nosedived emotionally. Fortunately, I had a good support system in place because the urges to self-injure or die were nearly unbearable.

I had trouble looking anyone in the eye. I believed that this particular form of abuse was the one that put me over the edge and made me subhuman. I could not accept that I was an okay person after experiencing this form of abuse. I also could not believe that anyone would want to be around me if they knew about it.

What I came to realize was that nothing that anyone ever does to you can change the value of who you are. I was a precious diamond, and that did not change, no matter how much manure my abusers piled on top of me. I have been able to remove the manure, clean myself off, and I am now just as precious as I ever was. My abusers did not have the power to make me anything that I did not want to be. The power is in my hands, not theirs.

When it comes to child abuse, I have heard it all and experienced most. There is nothing that another person could ever do to you that will lessen your worth. You are a precious person exactly as you are.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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