Removing the Shame Associated With Childhood Abuse: Julia walked into my office and sat down on the couch without saying a word. She did not need to say anything for me to know that she was in pain. Her eyes radiated pain.
It was our first appointment together, the one where I spend most of the session asking questions and collecting information so that I can figure out how to best help my clients. But this afternoon the questions would have to wait. We just sat and the tears slowly trickled down her cheeks.
Handing her a box of tissues, I asked her in a gentle voice if she was alright. She said nothing, but shook her head no. We sat for several moments in silence. Her pain filled the room- I could feel it. It was intense. It was thick. She did not need me drilling her with questions. She just needed my presence. She needed someone to sit with her in her pain.
She attempted to speak several times, but her attempts were interrupted by her deep grief. Using a voice not much louder than a whisper, I reassured her that it was alright to take her time. I knew that whatever it was she had to say was extremely difficult for her to talk about. So we sat.
When she was ready she began to tell me her secret. A secret that she had been keeping for thirty years. A secret that she had never disclosed to anyone, not even to her husband. A secret that she explained was eating her from the inside out. A secret that she said was wrecking her marriage and destroying her life.
She spoke about the abuse that she had endured as a young girl and the shame that she had attached to her own victimization. Julia’s intense shame and self-blame had kept her from revealing her secret to anyone.
Through therapy, Julia was able to see that a child is never responsible for their own victimization. She was able to share her secret with her husband who responded with great love and compassion. Julia’s fear of rejection and judgment began to disappear, and she began to see herself as worthy rather than flawed.
Julia’s feelings of worthlessness, shame, and self-blame- feelings that often accompany abuse, were eventually replaced with feelings of self-compassion.
Julia’s ability to discuss her pain and reveal her shame opened the door to healing.
Julia is not alone. Adults who have a history of childhood abuse often carry great amounts of shame. Shame for keeping the secret and shame for being involved in the abuse in the first place. Many times adult survivors of abuse are left feeling worthless and flawed in some way. They often assume that if they reveal their abuse, others will judge them as harshly as they judge themselves. It is for this reason many people say nothing at all.
Unfortunately this does not promote healing. Healing often begins when the abuse is disclosed to a trustworthy person who is able to show empathy and compassion. Then the person who was once victimized can begin to see their worth- their worth that has been there all along.
*If you have suffered from past abuse and continue to suffer today, I encourage you to seek professional counseling to help you on your healing journey. When traumatic events are discussed, trauma can sometimes be re-experienced. For this reason, it is best to work with a trained professional.
*Names and identifying information have been changed to protect the confidentiality of those involved.
- Vulnerability and Shame- Brene Brown (sunshinedreamsandmamathings.wordpress.com)