Shame

I want to write a few word here from my book, Repair Your Life.  It is regarding one of the worst of the repercussions we suffered as a result of our child sexual abuse.

While you are in recovery, you will hear a lot about shame, that feeling of humiliation that stems from guilt.  There are two different kinds of shame:  healthy and unhealthy.  Healthy shame, a result of our own actions, is a positive motivator.  If you badmouth a friend in a moment of anger, the guilt prompts shame  which brings about a need for restitution and a restructuring of what you discuss.  When you work your way through the Twelve Steps you will learn how to deal with healthy shame without feeling less of a person.  As time goes on you will see healthy shame as a valuable tool for removing negativity.  In addition, it will give you the courage to face many day-to-day situations which used to cause you embarrassment.  When combined with courage and assertive-ness, it brings great strides in your confidence as well as the growth of your soul. 

            Unhealthy shame, on the other hand, is that secret part of us that feels such low self-worth we become immobilized.   No other word so aptly describes the one attribute that keeps child sexual abuse secret.  This kind of shame is the direct result of other people’s actions.  As is usually the case, when dealing with the action of another, this one is more difficult to overcome and more painful.  Instead of adjusting our behavior patterns to keep an uncomfortable event from repeating, we have to depend on an adjustment in others.  Sometimes modifying our behavior will generate that adjustment, causing the shame to pass. 

            Shame caused by sexual abuse does not pass that easily.  Upon that original shame we build years of additional shame, locking it into that closet in our minds, until the burden becomes unbearable.  Trying to live a healthy life while you are buried in shame is impossible.  That shame is the infection that needs to be lanced.  When someone belittles us in public or rebuffs a kindness in front of co-workers, shame crawls like a physical discomfort over our body.  It tells something about them, not about us.  However, untreated sexual abuse victims have such low self-worth that they are unable to see this.  Once recovery is completed, your response to such actions comes from a place of strong self-esteem.  You will be able to foil such opponents with “I” statements such as “I’m sorry you feel that way.  Perhaps we can talk privately once you are feeling better.”  The more you practice this, the easier it becomes.  Eventually you will almost welcome any challenge to your ability to turn a negative comment or action into a positive response.  The resultant feeling of confidence empowers you.  Personal power is one of the primary purposes of recovery.  With that one quality you can be and do anything you want.

            Make a list of your shame, all those things you’ve done over the years that weigh heavily on your shoulders.  Once you enter a Twelve Step Program, you will be doing this in more detail.  Don’t just list the things you did, list what others have done to you.  This exercise is to get your feet wet and begin seeing the results of what happened to you when you were younger.  Mostly, it is an attempt to see the truth.  Armed with this you can begin making quantum leaps in self-confidence.

I found, while I was in recovery, that making a list of my shame was a horrendous task.  Once I had completed this “fearless and moral inventory” as I worked my way through Codependents Anonymous I knew, as per Step Five that I needed to “admit to God, to myself, and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.” How could I possibly bare my soul by sharing with another human my many wrongs. The list was several pages long for I had decided to be brutally honest and leave no stone unturned.  I cringed every time I looked at it. It took me months to find my courage and share my list with a counselor I was seeing at the time. She forced me to take a hard look at not only this list but the list I had done of what others had done to me. Once she pointed out that almost everything on my moral inventory happened as the result of my father brutally raping me when I was thirteen, initiating five years of hell, ending only when I ran away from home, I saw that I bore little responsibility in my long list of wrongs. I could lay them all at my father’s feet.

They say that confession is good for the soul. It is. Try it.

For more information on my book, Repair Your Life, please see amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com

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