22nd Jun 21 | Go Back
Feelings of guilt and shame can be a common experience for people (or their families) who have been sexually abused or assaulted. Often, they can be the most challenging feelings to overcome. Perhaps because they have a lot to do with how a person thinks about themselves and others. Many people use the terms guilt and shame to describe the same thing. However, they do have subtle but important differences.
Guilt – A feeling of responsibility or remorse. Often around something we ‘believe’ we have done to another, whether true or imagined. Guilt is about how we might feel regarding other people. A person may feel guilt about how something they have done has impacted another.
Shame – A painful feeling about something a person ‘believes’ to be wrong or improper. Shame is a feeling a person has about themselves. The emotion is aimed inwardly. To feel ashamed of who they are, or something they or another person has done (whether imagined or real).
“I don’t like myself” “I don’t like letting people in”
“I hate it when everyone is looking at me” “I feel exposed”
“I don’t want to burden others with my feelings” “I don’t deserve…”
“I don’t want to talk about it” “I’m angry all the time”
“I’m – or the things I do – aren’t good enough” “Shame makes me feel vulnerable”
“I am bad, wrong, not good enough, disgusting because of what happened to me”
Shame can be difficult to recognize because it can be so hidden. It can sit behind may other parts of a person that make them who they are. For example, a person may feel shame about how their mind thinks, how their body looks or feels, achievement, status, their gender, or their sexual self or the abuse that happened to them. They may feel shame about their sense of self (who they are), their values, relationships, their culture, and their age or how they are aging.
Therapy is a safe way of gently unravelling how unhealthy shame may be preventing you from having a better relationship with your ‘self’ and therefore living a more fulfilling life. This can take time, patience, and a lot of healing. One of the key things that can help heal unhealthy shame is pride. Learning to develop pride in your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and experiences.
A whole person is not just made up of the impact of the abuse they experienced. A person is a rich, complicated, deep, and vast infusion of many different parts. Finding pride and holding onto it can help uncover all these other parts of who you are.