Archive for February 4th, 2011

A reader emailed me with a topic suggestion. The reader is having a difficult time dealing with the shame of child abuse, and the shame is interfering with the reader feeling like a part of the family. The isolation the reader feels is reinforcing the shame, and the reader wants to know what to do about it.

I have been in that terrible place, and it is truly miserable. The shame is one thing that drove me to enter into therapy. The shame was so heavy and dark that I could not look anyone in the eye. I didn’t know how to interact with anyone else because I felt like I was so dark and dirty while they were pure and good. How could I interact with them in my “filth”?

Fortunately, I got into therapy soon after this, which really helped me to work through the shame. I found it powerful to have a licensed professional tell me that I was not responsible and did not deserve to feel the shame. I also read several books written for survivors of sexual abuse that dealt squarely with shame and also talked with fellow child abuse survivors at Isurvive about how I was feeling. Isurvive was particularly helpful because I did not see why any of them should feel shame, and they were able to say the same thing to me.

To a certain extent, I had to do things that were good for me despite how I felt about myself. For example, I would tell myself, “I love you. You are safe. I’m sorry,” multiple times a day even though I did not believe of word of it. My therapist gave me “homework” to do kind things for myself even though I didn’t believe I deserved them.

If you haven’t heard of the “Good/Evil Wolf” story, read it here. I think there is an enormous amount of truth in that story. Each time you choose to think bad things about yourself, you are feeding your “evil” wolf, and each time you choose to treat yourself with kindness, even when you don’t believe you deserve it, you are feeding your “good” wolf. As you strengthen your “good wolf” through self-kindness, positive thoughts, and choosing to tell that negative voice inside to shut the h@#$ up, you will begin to lose the shame.

Being mired in shame feels so “normal” to child abuse survivors, and self-kindness feels foreign. To a certain extent, you are taking a leap of faith to try something different that you believe you do not deserve. I am glad that I took this leap because the shame, for the most part, is now gone.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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