Who does shame really belong to? It depends on who carries out the offending act.
Some of my coaching clients and others I support through local organizations who have experienced abuse, often say that they ‘feel so ashamed’.
Please know this: if someone else harmed you in any way, the shame is not yours. While many who have been abused feel shame for a variety of reasons, it is not really theirs to carry.
Sometimes people feel ashamed because they think they ‘allowed’ the abuse by not getting away from the offender. It could be you were too young to comprehend what was happening until it was too late. It could be that in the moment you were shocked by what was happening and your brain instantly engaged your ‘fight/flight/freeze’ mode, not allowing you to move, or indeed even think clearly. It could be that the offender simply over-powered you or restrained you. It could be that your body responded to sexual stimuli, which is out of your control, and is a natural physical response. Do not despise your body for doing so. However, if you were a minor and the perpetrator was in any position of power over you, then they were the offender, not you.
Whatever happened to you, you are not to blame. Shame belongs to the people who harm you. Yes, even if it was someone you loved and/or cared about, or respected.
The photo above is of me wearing a bright yellow dress my visiting grandmother brought me. It was lovely, but the colour drained my spirit. My mother always dressed me in the warm beige, brown, gold and yellows that she loved. The more I asked for pinks and blues, the more I got her choices. I put the yellow dress on and when I didn’t light up in a smile my mother smacked me across the face. I went outside and attempted to thank my grandmother for the dress, but I burst into tears and felt ashamed, sad, and helpless.
No one has the right to use anyone for their own perverted gratification. It is simply wrong to violate a child or youth in any way. There is nothing a child could do that justifies someone abusing them.
Each individual will react in their own unique way when abused. Each of us is different in how the impact of any type of abuse will affect you at the time; and in the days, weeks, months and even years to follow.
What’s most important is that you understand, in every cell of your being, that you were not to blame. The heavy load of shame you may be carrying is not yours. It belongs to the abuser. Whether or not they take responsibility is not something you can control. What you can control, is to shed the weight of shame.
Get help. Talk with someone who is a caring and empathetic listener. Sometimes it takes time and experience to find the right person. Beware of anyone who just wants to ask you questions you may not be ready to answer, or who wants to suggest that you should have done something to prevent the abuse. Walk away from them.
You deserve to be heard, and helped. And, you deserve to know that shame is not yours when it was dumped on you by someone who used or abused you. Tell yourself, “The shame I feel is not mine. I release it and let it go.”
Repeat frequently, until it is gone. You deserve to be free from shame that is not yours.