This past week I’ve been percolating and contemplating the origin of shame. It’s a universal experience we’ve all had at various times in our lives, but what is the root cause of it and what purpose, if any, does it serve.
I am particularly curious about it’s correlation to childhood trauma and the far reaching impact it has throughout the lifespan long after the initial, traumatic experience of childhood abuse has occurred.
Many of us who are survivors of childhood abuse and neglect have had to travel the arduous road of releasing guilt and self-blame for the abuse we suffered. However, the tentacles of shame are often the last of trauma's impact to loosen its’ poisonous grip on our lives.
Why is that ?
In asking this question I had to revisit some of the dark memories of the trauma I experienced as a child. When you are a victim of physical and especially sexual abuse, a message which says, ‘You’re bad, dirty, wrong, worthless’, is seared within your psyche and soul. And depending on your age at the time, and where you are developmentally, there is oftentimes an inability to process and make meaning of what is happening to you.
Being beaten with ironing chords, shoes, belts and whatever-else the abuser can get their hands on, especially when done in rage, communicates the message to you that not only are you Bad, but you are not wanted, you’re hated and worthless. You become a thing, less than human and certainly not loved. It is within this environmental soil that the energy of shame takes root and begins to proliferate within the psychological, emotional and spiritual marrow of an abused child.
They erroneously believe they are inherently flawed and lacking in some way. Why else would my Mother/father, auntie, uncle, cousin, Grandmother/father (because unfortunately, the abuser is more often than not a close family member or someone we know) treat me this way ? I must be the the problem. Something must be wrong with ‘Me’ becomes a core, unhealthy belief that takes up residence within you. Thus, shame takes over and transposes the actions of the abuser, along with the responsibility for the abuse, onto the abused child.
This is also the case in situations of sexual abuse, and emotional/verbal abuse and neglect. The origin of shame is the same.
When considering the purpose shame serves, I truly feel it is a catalyst for healing. It propels us into asking vitally important questions about who we are, our inherent worthiness and love-ability. It serves as the impetus to heal from the childhood trauma we endured.
But, once it’s purpose has been served, we must release it!
Shame becomes an insidious toxin that creeps into the crevices of every corner of our lives when we continue to live as if the messages we received as abused children are true.
Healing in earnest entails feeling the pain of the abuse and wounding that incurred as a result of it, and allowing that pain to be released and transformed into self love. The end result is the Full knowing and integration that not only were we not to blame for the abuse we suffered, but there is absolutely nothing wrong, bad, flawed, or shameful about us. It is then that shame dissipates like a vapor and we are left standing in the truth and beauty of who we really are.
At some point in time anyone who has survived some form of abuse, be it verbal/mental/emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, will go through the multi-layered process of reclaiming their voice, and their power. A friend of mine wrote the following poem that captures this perfectly:
“I gave my self a voice because everyone else was quiet.
They never spoke about it.
They never spoke about it.
I gave myself a voice”.
There is an insidious, poisonous , and deeply embedded belief for many of us who have survived some form of abuse, that we are not allowed to express our feelings about our experience, especially when those feelings are rage, anger, hurt or pain. Oftentimes, a silent message is communicated to us to stay mute and keep the peace, because God forbid we should upset our abuser or those that love them.
For years, I played small out of fear, stuffing every emotion that threatened to emerge from their secret hiding place within my psyche. I questioned my recollection of events, and even when finding the courage to say I had been physically and sexually abused, I still found it difficult not to blame myself. If only I had been a better, little girl, talked less, questioned less, been less rambunctious and rebellious, been less cute, then none of this would have happened to me. For years, I found ways to justify my abuser’s behavior, making excuses such as,”They didn’t ask for an additional mouth to feed.” I could not see that I was the victim.
And then in my early adulthood the suppressed rage, hurt and pain I felt began to boil over and was expressed in really unhealthy ways. I preferred to fight with complete strangers rather than address the ones within my family with whom I was really angry and who had hurt me.
It would take years of therapy and alternative healing to begin to process and heal the damage that was a result of early childhood trauma. I found my voice. And today
I am becoming more solid and grounded in that voice.
I refuse to apologize for my feelings of pain and anger, (which are fully justified, and don’t require anyone’s permission for me to feel them fully), anymore!!
I refuse to carry the burden of other people’s expectations and demands that I remain compliantly silent to maintain their sense of “Ok-ness’. The maintenance of their falsely constructed image of martyrdom is not my responsibility.
My responsibility is to live in truth, authentically and unapologetic-ally. I am responsible for my feelings and others are responsible for their feelings.
I reclaimed my power.
I discovered I had a voice and chose to speak.
So, for those of you who may be on the journey of discovering that you are not to blame for what happened to you. For those who are waking up out of the potent, anesthetizing, slumber of guilt and victim shaming, take courage and remain hopeful. You never have to apologize for your existence!
So, hold your head high Beloved and let your voice, finally be heard.