For a variety of reasons, so many survivors of sexual abuse feel that they are bad for what happened to them. Here are some of the most common reasons:
I didn't stop it.
It felt good to my body - it felt pleasurable, even though it was wrong.
I didn't tell anyone.
At times, I even initiated with my abuser.
For women: I'm a slut. No one will want to be with me.
For men: I'm weak. I'm not a man. People will question my sexuality.
For all: I deserve to be treated like garbage - by myself and others.
Survivors often feel that they should have been able to save themselves, that they were complicit in their abuse. Perpetrators manipulate and control their victims to maintain the abusive relationship. Secrecy.
Because of the shame they feel, survivors often do not disclose their abuse and only continue to carry their shame. Silence.
Conversely, those that do not understand the psychological manipulation that goes along with sexual abuse fail to empathize with survivors and often defend shame, rather than the survivor:
Why didn't you say no?
Abuse always hurts - where are the bruises?
Why didn't you tell?
If you initiated, then you're just as much to blame.
For women: She's a whore. No one would want to be with her.
For men: Men can't get raped. What man would say no to sex? He'll turn into an abuser.
If a survivor does come out, it is not uncommon for family/community to want to keep the abuse private. They themselves fear the shame that many associate with sexual abuse, and especially with incest. This only allows the abuse to continue to fester and the victim feels their family is ashamed of them.
More Secrecy, Silence, & Judgment.
Shame is often what pushes survivors into self destruction. Be it depression, sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, anger issues, obsessive compulsive disorders, or suicide.
Shame is the voice in our head that tells us we're not good enough. That we don't deserve happiness. We don't deserve to feel proud of our accomplishments. We don't deserve to be loved.
The scary thing about shame, is that it cannot be conquered without allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. No matter what happened in the past - surviving it requires entering the wound and digging around, not covering it up and hoping it will heal on its own. Shame is like shrapnel in the wounds of abuse and it needs to be extricated, which can't be done with closed eyes.
It cannot be ignored. It cannot be forgotten. It can only be faced head on.
Shame is the bully standing in your way when you want to go in a positive direction. Every step you take - no matter the direction, shame is there saying, "where do you think you're going?"
You can't run from it- you'll find yourself going in circles. And many people do. Trying to escape shame through short term pleasures - drugs, materialism, sexual relationships. Like Brene said in her talk, "You gotta dance with the one who brung ya." Shame got you here, but you don't have to leave with it. You do, however, have to face it before letting it go.
In order to release oneself from this 'dance' with shame, a survivor must look at the damage, dig into the pain and accept three very important things:
1. The abuser chose you and chose to abuse you. Your abuser was in a position of power and used it selfishly for their wants and without concern for your needs. No matter what that power was - strength, maturity, intellectual dominance, they used it to their advantage, not your benefit, even if they convinced you otherwise.
2. You were vulnerable. Be it naivete, low self esteem, or fear that you could not defend yourself or provide for yourself if your abuser left you. Whatever it was, you must absolve yourself from taking responsibility for your abuse. You were in a position of weakness and it was exploited.
3. You are just as worthy of happiness and respect as any other being that has or will exist on this planet. Yes, you are. This is not debatable. You do not deserve shame. Shame is a bully that chose you, but you do not have to chose it.
It takes courage and conviction to accept that. But when you do, you will realize you don't have to stay on the dance floor with shame. You will see other faces in the room - joy, peace, kinship, ambition, and gratitude for life.
Shame may still be around. It may rear it's ugly head and try to get into yours - but it can be defeated. It may leave you scarred and bloody - but when you allow yourself to connect with others, you will realize we all have scars.
Just because scars can't be seen doesn't mean that they don't exist. And when you can find someone who will sit with you and show you their scars - you'll realize they don't define you. Past abuse cannot be erased, but in the story of your life, it's a chapter that has ended and you're writing the next chapter right now. Dare yourself to have the courage to write an amazing end to your story.