Sexual abuse is a deeply traumatic experience that often leaves survivors grappling with overwhelming emotions, including shame and guilt. These feelings often arise from misplaced self-blame and societal misconceptions about sexual abuse. Overcoming these feelings is an essential part of the healing process.
In this article, we will shed light on the complex interplay between shame, guilt, and sexual abuse while also offering practical strategies to help you, as a survivor, navigate your way towards healing, self-acceptance, and empowerment.
Understanding shame and guilt
Shame and guilt are complex emotions, and they can be particularly intense for you as a survivor of sexual abuse. Shame is the belief that you are inherently bad, unworthy, or tainted.
You might feel as though you are somehow responsible for the sexual abuse, even when in reality you are not! Sadly, shame can be debilitating, affecting self-esteem and self-worth.
Guilt, on the other hand, is the feeling of responsibility for a specific action or event. As a survivor, you may feel guilty for not having prevented the abuse or for any perceived mistakes made before, during, or after the incident.
Overcoming shame and guilt
Acknowledge your feelings
Again, as a survivor of sexual abuse, you may often experience intense feelings of shame and guilt, even though you bear no responsibility for the abuse inflicted upon you. These emotions can lead to self-blame, low self-esteem, and a profound fear of judgement, which may hinder your healing journey.
One of the best ways to cope with and recover from such a traumatic incident is to understand that these emotions are natural responses to a traumatic event and do not define your worth or identity in any way.
Educate yourself on trauma, recovery, and self-care
Understanding the psychological and emotional effects of sexual abuse can help you make sense of your feelings. Educating yourself about trauma, recovery, and self-care strategies can provide valuable insights and empower you with knowledge.
Many resources, including books, articles, and online courses, are available to help survivors and their loved ones navigate this challenging journey.
Break the silence
One of the essential steps in overcoming shame and guilt after sexual abuse is breaking the silence surrounding the experience. Speaking out about the abuse, whether to a trusted friend, family member, therapist, or support group, can provide a sense of relief and validation. As a survivor, you must recognise that your feelings are valid and that you are not alone in their struggle.
Seek professional help
Therapy and counselling can play a pivotal role in overcoming shame and guilt after sexual abuse. Mental health professionals, especially those specialising in trauma, can provide you with a safe space to explore your emotions, challenge negative beliefs, and develop coping strategies. Seeing a therapist can give you a safe space to open up even for incidents that may be hard to open up to friends and family.
It is also important to speak to a lawyer, especially an attorney specialising in sexual abuse cases. The sexual abuse lawyer will offer emotional support and create a safe and empathetic environment for you to share your experiences and feelings. For example, a lawyer specialising in Catholic church sexual abuse will have a deep understanding of the emotional complexities involved in such cases, as victims will often experience a profound sense of betrayal.
This is particularly the case given that perpetrators are frequently trusted figures within the Catholic community, such as priests, bishops, or other clergy members. In fact, victims of Catholic abuse have historically faced stigmatisation within the Church and sometimes in society at large. They may be ostracised, blamed, or shamed for coming forward with their allegations, which can deter others from reporting abuse.
Learning to be kind and compassionate toward yourself is a crucial aspect of healing from shame and guilt. It is essential that you understand that you deserve love, respect, and care, just like anyone else. Practicing self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a dear friend.
Additionally, you should recognize that forgiveness does not mean absolving the perpetrator. It is about releasing the hold the abuser has on your life, allowing you to move forward without carrying the burden of anger and resentment.
Have a supportive network
Society often places unfair blame on survivors of sexual abuse, perpetuating feelings of shame and guilt. Surrounding yourself with supportive and understanding individuals can significantly impact your healing process. Challenging societal stigma through education, awareness campaigns, and open conversations can help dismantle these harmful beliefs.
Fostering a supportive environment is more likely to help you overcome your shame and guilt. It is vital you understand that the responsibility lies solely with the perpetrators of the abuse. Connecting with support groups or online communities comprised of fellow survivors can provide you with a sense of belonging and solidarity. Sharing experiences and coping strategies with others who have walked a similar path can be immensely validating and empowering.
Learning to establish and maintain healthy boundaries is crucial for survivors. Respect your own limits and communicate them assertively to others. Setting boundaries empowers you and reinforces a sense of control over your life, which can significantly reduce feelings of shame and guilt.
Overcoming shame and guilt after sexual abuse is a profound and courageous journey that requires time, patience, and support. Start acknowledging your feelings, then take proactive steps to gradually reclaim your life and move towards healing and empowerment. Remember, you are not alone, and with the right support, it is possible to overcome the emotional scars of the past and embrace a brighter, more hopeful future.
Jeffrey Grant, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.