Feeling Shame around Healing
By Neha Patel, Previous Practicum Student, The Gatehouse
“Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection. Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?” (Brown, 2010). This is a question that may come up for some survivors of childhood sexual abuse. You are not alone in feelings of shame, fear, or disconnection.
Shame is a feeling that many survivors experience. Feelings of shame have been noted to contribute to feeling like a prisoner in your own body (The Gatehouse, 2020). In relation to vulnerability, feeling shame of expressing your vulnerability, can connect with your personal moral compass and it is not wrong to feel shame (The Gatehouse, 2020). Shame and guilt are genuine experiences of someone who has been traumatized by childhood sexual abuse (The Gatehouse, 2020). One reason for these feelings may be that we live in a culture that imposes shame and guilt on people.
What is the difference between shame and guilt? One way to think about it is that shame goes inwards and focuses on the self (The Gatehouse, 2020). For example, “I am a horrible person.” In comparison, guilt focuses outwards and on the actual behaviour (The Gatehouse, 2020). For example, “I did something horrible.”
Self-sabotage can also be closely related to feelings of shame as there can be so much shame attached to the sense of self. Shame can lead to self-sabotage as it can contribute to self-worthiness and feeling like they are not enough (Thompson, 2020). Self-sabotage relates to childhood sexual abuse survivors as they can self-sabotage as a coping mechanism to cope with the trauma from their experiences. Some survivors may have these thoughts as they think that there is nothing they can do or, no matter what they do, they are not worthy enough for anyone (Thompson, 2020). As a result, survivors who self-sabotage may predict and believe that they are going to be rejected (Thompson, 2020). It is important to take these negative thoughts and restructure them in order to adjust behaviours in one’s healing journey. To do this, individuals must be consciously aware of these thoughts and make an effort to change them. Here is one tool that might be helpful to reframe what is surfacing for you.
The STOP Technique
S – Stop – Stop whatever you are doing. Take a step back. Disengage from the situation. Take a break and put everything off for just a few minutes.
T – Take. Take a deep breath. And another, and another. Give yourself 15 seconds of just focusing on your breath. Feel the breath moving through your body.
O – Observe. Notice your thoughts and how your body is feeling. Name the emotions you’re feeling and consider why you are feeling that way, with no judgment.
P – Proceed. Move forward in an intentional way that honours your needs and feelings. What will really make you feel better or help you cope?
Other feelings that may arise in relation to shame include feeling embarrassed, weak, or vulnerable. All these feelings can make it difficult for survivors to reach out for help and therefore impact their healing journey. However, it is important to remember that seeking help is not a weakness. Seeking help shows strength. It takes courage to speak up, share your story, and have your voice heard. Showing courage is one way to break down the culture that imposes shame. Courage is a big step in healing as it can lead to greater connections. Always remember that you are worthy. You are not alone.
Brown, B. (2010, June). The power of vulnerability [Video]. TED Conferences. https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en
The Gatehouse. (2020). Phase 1 peer support group program participant manual.
Thompson, S. (2020, December 10). Self-sabotage [Audio blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.blogtalkradio.com/personaltransformation/2020/12/10/self-sabotage
The Wellness Society. (n.d.). The Stop Technique. Retrieved from https://thewellnesssociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/STOP-Technique-PDF-1.pdf