The worst part of being a survivor of child abuse is that pervading feeling of shame. That you are bad, dirty and responsible for what happened to you. You were the cause of your abuser behaving wickedly towards you. You instigated them to react to you in such an obnoxious manner. And so you hide, pretend, cover up, act normal and fake niceness. Just so that no one will know your dark, dirty secrets. Your abusers have shamed you into silence.
Origins of Shame
Even though my mother’s death was a big loss, As an 11-year-old, I still felt confident that I would be able to navigate life. That was my mother’s legacy, she gave me the skills and gumption to carry on. However, what she did not foresee was that the dangers I would have to navigate would arise within the family. The very people who were supposed to protect me and keep me safe were the ones who would abuse me.
When my aunt accused me of trying to seduce her husband, at first I was shocked. But when my grandmother just mutely witnessed what was happening and did not defend me, it destroyed that last vestige of self-esteem. The feeling that I was responsible for the abuse was a terrible burden I have carried for nearly all my life.
Shame is one of the most pervasive feelings that overwhelm survivors of childhood abuse. As children and as adults, we feel that there is something about us, something wrong with me that makes us ‘less than’ others, that caused us to be mistreated by the people who were family.
The Burden of Shame
Shame is like a dirty rag we carry hidden within us. It just does not leave us. The more we hide it the more and more it stinks. Particularly if one has been sexually abused. It is the reason we don’t feel confident, pretty, smart, or generally good enough.
All of my adult life I have spent trying to cover up my feeling of shame. If anyone asked me something about my life, I’d do my best to deflect the queries back to them. I just couldn’t bear to talk about my shameful life. I feared that if they came to know I was the black sheep of the family, they too would not want to associate with me.
Finding Our Voices
Getting over years of feeling ashamed is an uphill task. It is very painful as you have to bring to light all that you hid deep within your soul. Nevertheless, healing from your abuse means understanding that you were the one wronged. It was the perpetrator who was wicked. Once you understand that, you need to share your story with someone who understands because airing out our wounds is the only way for them to stop festering in the darkness.
For me writing this blog has been difficult but gradually the stink has slowly diminished. The fact that strangers have acknowledged and accepted me. And that I have been able to reach out and change the mindset about abuse has been liberating. Recently, when I shared my abuse story in another online publication, I felt naked initially but little by little the shame I carried began flowing away. I no longer felt dirty.
Dr. Maya Angelou Rendition of her inspiring poem – And Still I Rise
Developing Compassion and Self-Worth
Getting over the feeling of shame requires us to develop compassion for that little, confused and helpless child. We were not responsible, we were victims. we are not the evil ones. We need to stop blaming ourselves and let go the feeling of responsibility for what happened to us. Further, we need to tell ourselves, that we are good and decent human beings. Everday I read out loud Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Woman. Yes, that’s me.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
The Crippling Shame of Incest / Sexual Abuse
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou