Where Does Shame Come From?

Several years ago one of my clients, Judy O, was featured on television news story about the incredible resilience of the human spirit. Judy made the courageous decision to show the statues she created as part of her recovery from extreme physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, because she “doesn’t want her abuse to be wasted.”

Judy, who has since died, was committed to helping stop child abuse by letting people know what it feels like to be an abused child — and she was successful.

Most people who have the courage to look at her statues recoil in horror. Many of them report intense feelings of anger, guilt, and shame. They naturally feel angry at the abusers. Sometimes they feel guilty, as I did myself, for taking advantage, however minor, of a small child’s vulnerability. But why do they feel shame?

Although the TV segment was beautifully and sensitively done, alluding to, rather than actually showing the most horrible things, some viewers were still profoundly moved. When Judy first saw the show, she felt both fear and shame, feelings which didn’t diminished until her friends told her how moved they were by her suffering and her courage. But why did she feel shame?

Shame is what we feel when we believe there is something irretrievably wrong with our very being — and that someone else can see it. It is a feeling of wanting to hide, to vanish completely, to never show our faces again. It is an intensely painful emotion, and very common among trauma survivors and witnesses to traumatic events.

People who are traumatized by abuse or by other events, either as children or as adults, often believe that the trauma happened because of something wrong with them: that they caused it, even when they know logically that they were victims. Witnesses sometimes feel ashamed about their relief that it didn’t happen to them.

If you are a trauma survivor and feel ashamed to tell about your experience, gather enough courage to tell someone. Seek help for yourself — healing is possible! And never, never, never, never, hurt a child or knowingly allow one to be hurt!

Is this you? “I don’t need therapy, but I could use some advice about…”
[tags]Sexual Abuse, Personal Growth, Psychotherapy, Emotional Problems, Inner Child, Abuse[/tags]

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