Archive for September 1st, 2010

A reader emailed me and asked me to discuss how I was able to turn my shame, guilt, and anger from myself and direct it outward toward my abusers. The reader talked about the dynamic that child abuse survivors know well – knowing in your head that you are not to blame while, in your heart of hearts, you completely believe that you were at fault.

I struggled with the shame and anger much more than I did with the guilt. I was only a toddler when the abuse started, so I never had a problem with believing that I was at fault for causing the abuse. No toddler could possibly invite that upon herself. On the rare occasions that I struggled with guilt (such as when I recovered the memories of my sister and me being forced to do things to each other in the presence of our abusers), I was able to lean upon my attitude toward my abuse in other areas and recognize that I was not to blame. I never once touched my sister without an abuser forcing me to, so I moved through the guilt phase very quickly.

However, the shame and anger were completely different stories. Let’s take them one at a time. I will focus on shame today and then on anger tomorrow.

While I have struggled with shame on and off for my entire life, I can think of two particular times when I thought I would die from the shame. The first time was when I first started recovering the memories of my mother’s sexual abuse. I saw a friend who I thought of as “pure” and “good,” and the sharp contrast with how I felt about myself was simply too much to bear. That is what catapulted me into considering ways to kill myself, which in turn forced me to acknowledge that I needed a therapist. The second time was when my sister inadvertently triggered me about the animal rape.

In both cases, I could not look anyone in the eye. I felt too dirty and disgusting to make eye contact with another person. It was a miserable time that I hope never to have to relive.

The first time, I got through it through therapy. I found a good therapist who would tell me repeatedly that I did not deserve the shame. Through sheer repetition from an outside source who believed in me, I started to push through some of the shame.

Another thing that really helped was confiding in a friend who did not reject me. If she could hear my “ugly” story and still want to spend time with me, then perhaps I was not as “ugly” as I feared.

One more thing that really helped me break through the shame was telling my story on Isurvive, which is a message board for child abuse survivors. As I recovered each memory, I would write about it, and several fellow child abuse survivors would tell me how strong and brave I was. I needed lots of outside validation that I did not deserve the shame before I could begin to believe it.

I dropped back into the shame full force after the first animal rape memory came. I could not look my best friend in the eye, but I forced myself to tell her my story. I did the same things that had worked before, and I forced myself to face the truth once and for all … that NOTHING that anyone ever did or does to me has the power to take away my value. Once I “got it” after the animal rape, shame has not plagued me since. It took an enormous amount of effort to push through it, but I am so grateful that I did.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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