I’m fairly certain one of my earliest blog posts shares the same title as this one, but the words have been a truth I have held tightly through the healing journey. Not my shame. I remember my therapist telling me when I was around 17 years old that the shame I was carrying did not belong to me. Diane Langberg, a respected counselor/researcher/author/speaker, calls this type of shame “inflicted shame.” She defines it as “the shame of one person inflicted on the self of the other. It is the shame belonging to the perpetrator but carried by the victim” (Langberg, 2015, p. 133). Many, if not all, survivors of childhood sexual abuse experience this type of shame. And it is not even ours to begin with.
Shame attacks the identity of an individual whereas guilt attacks the behavior of an individual. Guilt is quite often justified, the result of a sinful action; however, shame is one of Satan’s tactics of holding a person captive. Guilt says, “I did something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.” Shame infiltrates every aspect of our being and prohibits us from being able to see ourselves and our world as God desires.
When I reflect on my inflicted shame, it began the night the routine abuse started- when I was eight years old and quietly, but quickly, walked from my abuser’s bedroom to my bathroom sink and attempted to scrub his semen off my small hands. That is the first time I felt dirty. Not a muddy, been playing in the woods all day dirty, but a soul-penetrating dirty, that doesn’t wash off under the faucet. It was more than a physical dirty. The shame told me that I deserved what my abuser was doing to me. Shame said that I was unworthy. The shame was compounded by the secret I was instructed to keep. It could not be spoken, “or else.”
The impacts of shame continued to manifest in my life during my disclosures of the abuse and in the years following. When I would speak up about some of the things my abuser did, shame reminded me there were some acts that were unspeakable. Shame said, “you can’t tell anyone about that or you will be judged forever.” Shame during my teenage years told me that “no one will want to know the real you. You are only good for what your appearances can offer.” Shame led me to believe that rather than becoming a doctor, I should aspire to become a playboy bunny. Shame, that was not mine to begin with, tossed me into some deep, dark valleys. It was only the spiritual light that could lead me out of them.
My therapist and my youth pastor are the two people who initially helped me see the light. It took literal years of them pouring truth into my heart and mind before I began to recognize that I did not have to live with the shame my abuser inflicted on me. Here are some of the truths that helped me step into the light.
- Psychoeducation on abuse and trauma. I had to comprehend the dynamics of abuse and the power my abuser had over me. I had to see the little girl that was being abused, not the woman I seemed to become overnight who I believed should have stopped what was happening. I had to understand the impacts of trauma.
- Talking and trauma narrative. Shame festers in silence. I had to be able to speak the words of my experiences. I had to take back the power which silence had stolen. I told my story at my own pace and in my own words in a therapeutic environment with trusted individuals.
- Reclaiming my identity. The identity shame gave me became normal. Even though it was unhealthy and often resulted in more pain, it felt safe because it was what I knew. I had spent more time with the identity of shame then I had as a normal little girl. I had to recognize that it was not the identity God gave me. I sought scripture passages to reveal how God viewed me. I had to make lifestyle choices that would align with God’s view of his daughter.
- A whole lot of prayer and accountability. I pray for God to help me see myself and others through eyes like His. My youth pastor, therapist, and others prayed for my healing in the years after the abuse ended. When I feel myself starting to slip into old thought patterns that lead to a place of shame, I reach out to someone I know will hold me accountable. Have people in your life who will speak the truth even when it’s hard to hear and believe.
- Take back power. A pivotal moment in my healing journey occurred when I recognized that I could take back the power my abuser and Satan had over my life. I decided that I didn’t want to live according to the desires of my abuser and Satan. I decided that I would grow into the person God designed me to be. I decided to follow God’s will for my life wherever it led. I found my worth in simply being a human that God created for a purpose. I decided my purpose mattered.
I would be lying if I said I never struggle with shame. It is not a “follow the directions and fix the problem” kind of experience. However, I hold on to God’s truths tightly and they have the power to lift me out of the valley when I allow those truths to permeate my entire being. Shame will not be a part of my identity.
Langberg, D. (2015). Suffering and the heart of God: How trauma destroys and Christ restores. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press.