How Even Advocates Shame Victims

posted in: Child Abuse | 0

I want to follow up on something I shared on the News and Reviews blog yesterday.

It was some comments on a blog article related to shame, and a discussion with a therapist about how shame is the thing that tells us we are broken, different, and how it makes us see ourselves as outcasts, no matter how much we may or may not actually be, though that is irrelevant because we become one anyway.

In my experience as a survivor, and as someone who has talked to, chatted with, and tweeted with, other survivors, I have come to the opinion that there are two kids of shame that a sexual abuse survivor can take away. The first one is very instinctual, and even childlike, if you will. As children, we don’t understand the vastness of the world, and society, around us. Everything we experience is in relational to our own existence. The world appears to revolve around us, if you will. At this young age, it is easy, natural, to assume that if something bad is happening, it says something about you as a person. If you’re being abused, surely you did something, or are something that deserved that. This can play out in a lot of different ways depending on your upbringing and traditions, but think about how many times we use these phrases:

  • Good things happen to good people (or bad people get punished)
  • You get what you deserve
  • God (in whatever form or name) blesses those who obey
  • You create your own reality

Now imagine yourself as a child being abused. Why is this happening to you? Clearly because you are bad, or didn’t try hard enough, or deserve some punishment. In essence, the abuse is a result in a flaw that exists in you, not the abuser.

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Like I have already said, this kind of shame is difficult to overcome. It becomes a core belief at a young age, and it can take quite a lot of time and work to understand the greater picture, that the abuse was about the abuser, and their flaws, not the victim.

But, even after that, there’s another level of shame that many survivors have to deal with. The shame of being a survivor.

You may, at this point, be tempted to assume that once you understand the abuse was not your fault, it had nothing to do with who you are, etc. that you are out of the shadow cast by this incredible level of shame. Not so fast my friend.

The abuse may not have been your fault, and all of us in the advocate community, and among your support network, will be quick to remind you of that. Unfortunately, you may also get more than a few messages from that same community that you are now, and will forever be, broken and damaged beyond repair.

This is where I think we, as a community, fail survivors. As with many things, I do believe it is done with good intentions, but I think there are also plenty of unintended consequences.

All I have to do is take a look at Twitter when a news story breaks about an abuse claim, or an abuser being charged, convicted or sentenced and it will take all of about 1 minute to see some variation on the following:

“Yes, but the victim is serving a lifetime sentence, they will never be well, and will always be an outcast”

Think about what you’re telling survivors with that:

  • Yes, we believe you
  • We support you
  • We know the abuse was not your fault
  • But, your life is over, destined to be a miserable failure

Gee, thanks for the encouragement.

Look, I get it. We desperately want the world to understand how serious, how damaging, child abuse is. I know it is. I lived it too. It is a horrible, devastating, thing to live through. It changes the trajectory of your life in myriad ways that probably none of us completely understand. But it doesn’t have to break you. It doesn’t automatically mean that you will never amount to anything, never experience joy and happiness in your life. It’s a barrier, but it’s not a barrier that has never been overcome.

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I want you to go read the blog post I linked to yesterday. I want you to pay particular attention to how Carolyn and her therapist talk about shame. I want you to remind yourself that people who believe they are broken, that there is something inherently wrong with them, act broken, and fulfill that vision of themselves almost without fail.

Now I want you to picture what your life would be like if only you weren’t broken.

Go ahead, what would it look like, what possibilities would there be?

Now I want to tell you something that too few people are saying to you.

You are not broken. You are here, right now. There is life in you yet. 

The abuse injured you, and it will take time, effort, love, compassion and kindness (especially toward yourself) to heal that injury, but you are still here. It can happen, it does happen. Among the millions of survivors out in the world, there are countless examples of people living lives that they are proud of, creating accomplishments that are beyond anything I could cover in one blog post..They are survivors just like you.

Now I want to tell you something that too few people are saying to you.You are not broken. You are here, right now. There is life in you yet. Click To Tweet

Advocates, if you truly want to support survivors, shout to the rooftops about how damaging abuse is, and why it should never be tolerated. I support you 100%.

Let’s just try and find a way that doesn’t also involve telling survivors that they are irredeemable, alright? We have enough undeserved shame to overcome, don’t add to it.

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