Posts Tagged ‘Shame’

I have been traveling and have not been able to tend to my blog. If you posted a comment that is not appearing yet, this would be why. I will try to catch up in the next couple of days.

Yesterday, we got on the topic of child abuse in my Sunday School class. We read a Bible verse about the Israelites “throwing their sons and daughters on the fire” (child sacrifice), and someone made a comment about this no longer happening today. Of course, I climbed up on my soapbox and talked about the many ways that children are still being sacrificed in our society – through child pornography, turning a blind eye to suspected abuse, etc. I talked about it being everyone’s responsibility to intervene on behalf of children. I then quoted the statistics – that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 to 7 men are sexually abused by age 18. (I didn’t have the statistics for all forms of abuse, but including physical and emotional abuse would obviously increase these numbers.)

One father of two children (ages 13 and 10) was floored by the statistics and quite freaked out. I reassured him about how their best protection was growing up in a loving and safe home, which he is already providing. Then, he asked an interesting question that I would like to explore here – If such a high percentage of the population has been abused, then why don’t child abuse survivors have a stronger public voice? He pointed out that, even if 1/10 of those who had been abused spoke out, it would make for a powerful advocacy group that the rest of society could not ignore.

I don’t have a clear-cut answer to his question, but my first instinct is that the culprit is shame. As long as a person feels shame for being abused, he is much less likely to announce publicly that he has been abused and speak out about what society needs to do to stop the abuse. I think another culprit is that a large percentage of child abuse survivors have not worked through the healing process. Many live their lives pretending like it did not happen and/or using various coping strategies to avoid facing the healing process. Then, they heap on the shame of the coping mechanism, believing that nobody will listen to “an alcoholic,” “a cutter,” “an anorexic,” etc.

This man makes a good point – we have the numbers to change society. If enough of us spoke out about our own histories, we could change public misconceptions such as the widespread misconception that repressed memories mean that the abuse didn’t happen or that all abused children just grow up to abuse others. (Please know that I do not intend this blog entry to be a guilt trip for any child abuse survivor to speak out before he or she is ready to do so. I could not have done it a few years ago, and I know how hard I worked to reach a place where I could.)

I think the other hurdle is public resistance to hearing our stories. Most people can handle hearing about my “mainstream” abuse, but they turn into skeptics if I discuss any of the less talked about abuses, such as ritual abuse or animal rape. “Good” people don’t want to believe that this level of evil and depravity exists in the world. (I only wish I had that luxury!) It takes someone who has worked through the healing process and is very confident in his or her own truths to fight through that resistance. I believe only a very small percentage of child abuse survivors have healed enough from the less talked about types of child abuse to have reached a place that they feel confident enough to take on societal denial like that. I have done it – I still get shaky when facing a roomful of people who don’t want to believe that child abuse can be that twisted.

What are your thoughts on this? There is no question that we have the numbers to change society’s perception of child abuse and fight back, but we are not yet making much of a wave in society at large. Why do you think that is? How can we change this?

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I have been reading the book The Shack by William Paul Young. I have been focusing upon different words of wisdom in the book that can be applied to survivors of child abuse. See my first post for more information about the book.

Today’s quote is a biggie for me and, I suspect, for many of you. The quote is kind of long, but this is all really good stuff:

The darkness hides the true size of fears and lies and regrets…The truth is they are more shadow than reality, so they seem bigger in the dark. When the light shines into the places where they live inside you, you start to see them for what they are…

“But why do we keep all that crap inside?” Mack asked.

Because we believe it’s safer there. And, sometimes, when you’re a kid trying to survive, it really is safer there. Then you grow up on the outside, but on the inside you’re still that kid in the dark cave surrounded by monsters, and out of habit you keep adding to your collection…Some folks try with all kinds of coping mechanisms and mental games. But the monsters are still there, just waiting for the chance to come out.” ~ The Shack pp. 176-177

I see the “monsters” as all of the lies that I internalized as an abused child – that I am unlovable; that everyone in my life will betray me; that I cannot trust anyone; that I must be perfect. When I keep them in the dark, they seem larger than life. However, when I shine the light of self-love onto them, I see these lies for what they really are.

I have experienced the feeling of these “monsters” always wanting to come back out. I will make marked progress in my healing. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, the “monsters” will come out, and I will feel the punch of the shame and self-loathing all over again.

Like the author says in the book, I will try all sorts of coping mechanisms to “tame the monsters” with varying levels of success. Ultimately, the more compassion that I show myself, the easier it is to tame the monsters.

I still have not conquered my monsters. I think my monsters are part of my “evil wolf.” I can starve them, but I never seem to be successful in killing them off altogether.

My therapist has advised me that, after I win a battle with my monsters, I should “go to the beach” in my head. The beach is my safe place. He says that I need to take some time to nurture myself after one of these “battles,” and “going to the beach” in my head has been a good way to do this.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Yesterday, I wrote about a date rape memory that I just recovered. I now have the full memory, not just the “during” but the “before” and “after” parts, too. Those are the most telling parts for helping me accept that the date rape was not my fault.

This is the first time that I have wrestled with my level of responsibility for being raped. All of my other rape memories happened when I was a child. The vast majority happened when I was under age 11. I never struggled with who bears responsibility when an adult rapes a child.

Recovering the memory of a date rape was hard because I was an adult. How much responsibility do I bear for what happened? After analyzing the flashback, I have concluded that I bear no responsibility for being raped. Rape is not a natural consequence of being naïve or passive, and nobody deserves rape as a punishment for these traits.

The date rape happened when R (my ex-boyfriend) wanted to “talk” about getting back together. Of course, he wanted the privacy of his dorm room. His idea of talking was making out, and he just took from me. He did not ask: He just took.

We had been dating for 10 months. We had repeated discussions about how I (thought I) was a virgin and did not plan to have sex before marriage. There was no discussion about this being “the day” that I wanted to share my “first time” with him. He just took it.

I won’t go into the details of the “during” other than to say that I just laid there. I did not respond or participate in any way. No, I did not fight him off because I was no longer “there.” But I sure as h@#$ did not welcome or participate in the date rape.

The most telling part comes in the “after.” Let’s assume that R thought this was mutual and that I had just “given” him my virginity after being reluctant to have sex for 10 months. Wouldn’t you expect us to share a smile or small talk as lovers? Wouldn’t he have at least walked me back to my dorm room?

None of this happened. I did a “walk of shame” alone back to my own dorm room. I don’t remember his “reason” for not accompanying me, but that hardly sounds like the afterglow of two consensual lovers, does it?

The shame I felt in that “walk of shame” is the most powerful part of the memory. It was in that moment that I decided that it was 100% over with R. It was also when I decided to pursue another guy I knew really liked me so I could ensure that it would stay over with R. I also refused to be alone with R after that day, even when he came around multiple times, trying to “force” me back into a relationship with him.

This situation would not hold up in a court of law, but it does not need to. I am not prosecuting him. What matters is that this was not my fault. I did not ask to be raped. I did not participate or give the impression that I was into the sexual contact in any way. The fact that I did not claw his eyes out was not an invitation to my body, doubly so after 10 months of saying “no.” Why would I suddenly change my mind after I told him that it was over?

As I recovered the memory, all I did was criticize myself and point out how “stupid” I was for X, Y, and Z. Now, I am trying to send myself multiple messages of “it was not your fault.” I did not ask for this.

The fact that I gained a lot of weight after this happened, after maintaining a healthier weight since moving out of my mother/abuser’s house two years before, drives home the level of shame I felt over this incident. This happened in February or March. By the summer, I already had a doctor putting me on a diet because I was over 30 pounds overweight.

This was not my fault.

Related Topic:

Trauma Thursday: Risk of Date Rape for Sexually Abused Adopted Child

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Dark Skies (c) Lynda BernhardtThe most popular article on my blog is one entitled Recovering from Childhood Animal Rape. That article has already had over 300 views. I am not telling you this to toot my own horn. (Most articles have far fewer page views.) I am sharing this information to drive home that you are not alone.

When I faced my own memories of animal rape, I was horrified to say the least. This was the form of abuse that my sister most separated herself from, whereas for me, it was the vaginal rapes. Animal rape had not even entered my radar because I was soooo not ready to deal with it.

Then, my sister and I were talking on the phone, and she was saying that there was one abuse that she feared we had suffered but did not want to face. I said it was okay to ask if I had any memories of whatever it was. She said, “It involves a dog,” and then I was free falling. I had a flashback right then and there of being raped by a dog with a camera taking pictures. I confirmed her suspicions and then had to hang up.

Thank goodness for my friends over at Isurvive, and I am so grateful for the chat room. I self-injured, but that did not help with the shame. I was so sickened that I could not look another person in the eye.

I worked up the courage to tell an off-line friend, who knows my whole story. I could not look at her for the rest of the visit, even though she was very supportive. My biggest concern was whether this was the abuse that made me less than human. How could a person participate in bestiality and still be human?

My friends, both off-line and on-line, were quick to point out that bestiality does not equal animal rape. I did not choose the sexual contact, so this was rape, just like all of the other sexual abuse was rape. It took me a while to be able to accept this truth.

Healing from animal rape was hard, but I did it. I can now talk about it without feeling even a hint of shame. Why should I feel any shame about it? I did not choose it. The abuse was an indicator of how contemptible my abusers were but has no reflection on me. I was a precious diamond both before and after experiencing animal rape. NOTHING that another person does to you can change who you are.

I have found a lot of freedom in facing my history of animal rape. Now that I have found my way to loving myself, even after knowing that I was once a victim of animal rape, I feel confident in loving myself no matter what another person ever does to me. Through this realization, I have taken back my power.

If you suffered from animal rape as a child, you are not alone. Many other people know the same pain and shame. You do not deserve any of the shame that you are feeling. That shame belongs squarely on the shoulders of your abusers. You did nothing wrong.

You are a beautiful and precious person just the way you are. Even being raped by an animal could not change the beauty and value of who you are.

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Frog statue (c) Lynda BernhardtLast week, I focused on my perceived lack of social graces and how it was making me feel like a fish out of water. I had a near panic attack going to a birthday party last week, even though two of my good friends were throwing it for their sons, whose birthdays are only a few days apart. I had a bunch of close friends there, but that didn’t matter. I had to take over-the-counter medication to calm myself down so I could even attend.

One of my friends noticed that I wasn’t quite right and asked if I was okay. Of course, I started crying. I couldn’t talk about it there, or I knew I would fall apart. I made a joke about inheriting my sister’s social anxiety disorder, to which she replied that at least I was comfortable in social settings. That made me laugh.

I still cannot quite pinpoint what got me so worked up. I was triggered – obviously – but I cannot exactly say what needed (or still needs) healing. All I know is that I felt a lot of shame, even though I know I have no reason to feel shameful.

I didn’t feel “normal,” and that dredged up all of my childhood insecurities of not fitting in anywhere. A wise friend reminded me recently that there is no “normal” and that we fit in as well as we believe that we fit in. I think there is a lot of truth to that.

I am “normal” in that I am a “normal” trauma survivor. A part of myself longs to be “normal,” defined as “fitting in” with those around me. And yet, I question if that should be my goal. Do I really want to spend an hour discussing the pros and cons of choosing off-white versus eggshell for the trim in my kitchen? No, honestly, from the bottom of my heart, I don’t give a #$%&. It’s all white to me.

For some reason, I was deeply triggered, and it shook my confidence in myself. I questioned whether being me was enough. The bottom line is that I am who I am, and that is not going to change. I can pretend to be another person, just as I did for most of my life, but that won’t make me “normal.” That’s just a mask. I don’t want to wear a mask any longer.

It seems like the people who are “normal” just want to be “superheroes,” and those who are “superheroes” just want to be “normal.” Most people do not seem to be happy with who they are. But the bottom line is that it does not matter if I am viewed as “normal,” “abnormal,” or a “superhero.” I can only be me.

And when it comes down to it, it is only my opinion of myself that matters. If I told my friends that I was feeling insecure about myself, they would rally around me and tell me how much they care. But I know from experience that I will not feel their love unless I first love myself. This isn’t about anyone else – it is about me.

I am probably overanalyzing myself and my reaction, in part because I don’t like feeling so badly. The bottom line is that only I can choose to accept or reject myself. No matter which path I choose, the opinions of everyone else are not going to change how I feel about myself. It’s up to me to decide what “normal” is for me and embrace myself, regardless of how I measure up to anyone else.

Related topic:

Warped Reality of the Abused Adopted Child

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Man facing ocean (c) Lynda Bernhardt

In my last few posts, I have been discussing healing from degrading abuses that generate an enormous amount of shame. One such type of abuse is sexual abuse by an abuser of the same sex. While child abuse is about power and dominating a child, there is something more sinister about experiencing abuse by a member of the same sex.

Sexual abuse by a person of the same sex can cause a person to question his or her sexual identity. This is particular difficult when the child’s body responded to the sexual stimulation involved in the abuse. The person might believe that because the body responded with pleasurable sensations, he or she must have liked it. This is not the case. If anything, having your body respond to sexual stimulation during sexual abuse only makes the abuse that much worse because it feels as if your own body is betraying you.

The human body is wired to respond favorably to sexual stimulation. Whether a woman or a man stimulated your body, your body only responded as it was designed to respond. Just because your body responded to the sexual stimulation from the abuse does not mean that you wanted it or that it was okay. Your body’s response is not “worse” because your abuser happened to be a member of the same sex. Your body’s response had nothing to do with sexual desire. A child’s sexual responses should never have been awakened by a man or a woman.

People who have been sexually abused by a member of the same sex often struggle with additional shame. They fear how others will receive this information. They worry that people will assume that they must have homosexual tendencies because of the abuse. Your sexual orientation is separate from the abuse, and you are not destined to be either heterosexual or homosexual based upon the gender of your abuser.

Many women struggle with abuse by women because they fear that they will not be believed. Society has reluctantly accepted that some men sexually abuse children, but female abusers get very little press. Unfortunately, women abuse children, too. See my series on mother-daughter sexual abuse for more on that topic.

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Animal skull (c) Lynda Bernhardt

In my last couple of posts, Working Through Shame After Child Abuse and Recovering from Childhood Gang Rape, I have been discussing shame that arises out of experiencing particularly degrading forms of abuse. Perhaps one of the most degrading and shame-inducing forms of abuse is animal rape. Most people are too embarrassed to discuss this topic with another person, even with a trusted therapist or friend, because the level of shame and degradation is so great. Even people using anonymous messages boards for abuse survivors often hesitate to raise this topic. If you are a survivor of animal rape, you are not alone, and the shame that you are feeling is not yours to bear.

The wording of what you experienced is important. Some abuse survivors label the animal rape as “bestiality,” but bestiality implies consent. If you were a child whose abuser chose to orchestrate sexual contact between you and an animal, then what you experienced was not bestiality – it was animal rape. What the animal did to you was rape just as surely as if a man had done the same thing to you.

Some people who have suffered from animal rape fear that this is the abuse that is beyond healing. They fear that another person could never look them in the eye again if they knew about the abuse, and they feel as if the shame might swallow them up. Please hear this: Nothing that another person ever did to you – even raping you with an animal – can change the value of who you are. Yes, the animal rape was a huge load of manure dumped on the pile, but even a Mount Everest of manure piled upon a diamond cannot change the value of the diamond underneath. You are still precious and worthy of love. Being raped by an animal did not change this.

I know several people who experienced animal rape as part of their child abuse. These people have been able to talk about it and heal from it. You can, too. The shame is not yours to bear.

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Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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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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Drooping Flower (c) Lynda Bernhardt

Feelings of shame is another hallmark aftereffect of childhood abuse. I have never met an abuse survivor who did not struggle with feelings of shame before healing. While I no longer feel shame, I used to live my life with a cloud of shame hovering over me at all times. I was ashamed of being myself.

The shame that you feel is not yours to bear. What you are actually feeling is your abuser’s shame. When someone abuses you, he offloads his shame onto you, leaving an innocent child to bear the burden.

I had a vivid flashback that captured this point. After my abuser finished harming me, he strutted around like a proud peacock while I, the innocent party, cowered in a corner feeling an immense amount of shame. He was the person who did something wrong, so why was I the one feeling shame?

When an abuser harms a child, I believe that more is happening than just a physical act. I believe that two souls come together, and the abuser’s soul dumps out his poison into the child’s soul. The abuser walks away feeling relief from the absence of shame (for a while, anyhow) while the child walks away with the burden of very deep shame.

Unfortunately, many abused children grow into adults without ever purging this shame in a healthy manner, and their deep-seated self-loathing permeates every aspect of their lives. They see themselves through their abusers’ eyes rather than through the eyes of truth, and they fail to realize how precious they are.

I compare this to a person heaping a large pile of manure on top of a diamond. The diamond is precious, but if it sees its reflection in a mirror, it will believe that it is worthless. No amount of manure heaped on top of a diamond can change the value or worth of a diamond. We abuse survivors have to find a way to remove the manure (the shame) so that we can clearly see how precious we are. Nothing that anyone ever does to you can change the value of who you are.

Related Topic:

Telling Your Sexually Abused Adopted Child: “It was NOT Your Fault”

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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