Childhood Sexual Abuse – Shame & Guilt
Dr. Brene Brown states that “…guilt is holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort. She defines shame “…as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
Shame includes statements like “I am bad.” Survivors often share this and other examples of shameful self-attributions including “I am unworthy” “I am damaged” and “I am broken.” These are individuals who have tremendous courage, capacity and empathy for others. They are mothers, fathers, brothers, aunts, grandparents, friends and professionals. Often, their positive attributes are minimized by them when speaking about themselves. Shame is writing that script. The profound sense of shame and guilt that permeates their daily life experiences as survivors repeatedly overpowers the potential for acceptance of self-affirmations to surface.
Guilt – “I did something bad”. Often survivors will point out that they somehow caused the abuse to happen, they should have fought more or ran or told someone. Some hold onto the guilt of returning to the offender after being abused repeatedly. Such guilt statements are often reinforced by unhelpful societal responses of “Why didn’t you tell someone?” “Why are you coming forward now?” “Are you sure that happened he/she/they were such a nice person; they could never do something like that?” or “what do you think people will say about our family if they knew about this?”
Survivors attending The Gatehouse peer support groups are invited to share about their experiences surrounding shame, guilt and vulnerability. Often survivors disclose self-blame, intensified guilt, and a deep sense of unworthiness. Many survivors had led lives riddled by shame and guilt towards themselves and other experiences in the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse that they fear trying new things, they overthink and question themselves and others’ intentions in friendship and professional experiences.
How then do we unravel shame? How then do we deal with guilt? Let’s start with telling survivors that we believe them. For survivors reading this, you are worthy, and healing is possible. You were a child and it was not your fault.
“Thanks so much in helping me find the strength that I need to carry on in life, to start loving life, my family and most importantly myself.” – Program Participant
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By: Maria Barcelos, MA, BA, ASIST, Executive Director The Gatehouse
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The Gatehouse, a community based charitable organization that provides much-needed support, resources, and community to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Survivors of sexual abuse are in desperate need of our support and services and The Gatehouse relies on the generosity of individuals, foundations, and businesses to fund and expand our creative programs including peer support groups, art therapy, wellness workshops, conferences, and the investigation support program.
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