August 21, 2002
Shame and Guilt

A piece of writing I did about 4 years ago as I dealt with my own feelings of guilt and shame and my feelings of failure because I couldn't believe that the abuse wasn't my fault.

It really helped me to put it into words, to give form to how I felt and to express how much I struggled with feelings of failure because I wasn't "healing" in the way I imagined all those "good and pure" people who were trying to help thought I should!

So it’s not my fault....?

I hear so much in my work with people who have been abused about the deep shame and guilt that they feel about their “role” in their abuse. On a personal level I spent 25 years beating myself up, blaming myself for the abuse I suffered. I always believed somewhere that I was responsible for what had happened to me...It was all my fault, no one else’s. Once I started to talk about the abuse and seek help so many well-meaning people worked very hard to show me that I was wrong, that I wasn’t to blame. I can still remember the reaction inside me as I listened to them. I would nod, look grateful and say, “I know...It wasn’t my fault”.

I was so convincing everyone thought I was great! I never quite managed to convince myself though... Deep inside I still believed I was wrong and bad and to blame. I tied myself up in knots…here I was getting help and I couldn’t even do that right! I knew that they were right, at least in relation to everyone else in the world that had been abused and raped, not to me though. I was too scared and too afraid of confronting the depth of my self-blame to ever question this. I didn’t want to offend the good (so much better than me) people who were trying to help me. I owed it to them to do it right...I agreed with them.

So, once again I abandoned myself. I disregarded how I felt. I left myself alone in that place of self-blame...cold and miserable and beyond redemption. One thing was certain, I had to hide seemed so important to everyone that I realised I was not at fault. I had no right to deny them this. If I did then I would only prove myself right. ...I would be bad and wrong and they wouldn’t want to know me. I would offend and hurt them and I couldn’t do that. I made myself acceptable to them... .I gave them what I perceived they wanted from me. I was strong and I coped... .I was good and did it “right”.

The thing is this that reaction in me was not solely based on my misconceptions of what was expected of me. There was, and I believe still is, a tremendous amount of pressure on those of us who have been raped and abused to be well, to “heal”, to become “survivors”. To find happiness and be all OK! Well, sometimes it just isn’t like that. Sometimes the reality is a long, long way away from OK! The reality can be so deep in shit that there doesn’t seem too much else there. All there is is the smell, the taste, and the memory of it. Yet all around people are saying its OK, you can heal. It’s not your fault.... Sometimes there is so much encouragement that there is no room left for the shit, no place for the pain and hurt and blame. No sign of any desire to connect with the reality that I was stuck in. Everyone wanted to see me as OK, as strong and coping. As brave and beautiful, that was what I felt was expected of me. So that was what I gave them. After all I had learnt to give people what they asked of me, that was my role in life. That was what I learnt at five years of age laying on my belly with my face in a pillow being raped by a grown man... .I knew how to give people what they wanted. So, once more I gave it to them...

Now, I know that they were right. I appreciate the truth that they tried to show me. I had to find it for myself though. It made no difference to me if they all said I was not to blame, it really didn’t help me that much. It didn’t change the fact that I believed I was guilty. The depth of their desire to get me to see my innocence ultimately meant that I couldn’t allow myself to confront my feelings of guilt, there just wasn’t the space for that. The pressure of their desire to see everything being all better didn’t give me the freedom I needed to face me, my truth, my feelings and experiences. I knew, and still believe it to be the case, that they were not ready to face the feelings that I had buried deep inside me, that would have been too much.

The crunch truth here is that in order to help someone who has been raped and abused the helping has to allow the truth of that person to emerge. If there is self-blame then there is self-blame. If there is self-harming, self-mutilation, despair and loathing then that’s the reality of that person and it needs to be respected and explored. It needs to be held and understood. It’s not crazy, wrong or bad. It is simply that person’s unique desperate effort to deal with what happened to them and IT MATTERS. It must not be argued with or dismissed. This is that person, this is you and I as we try and try to come to terms with what was done to us. This is the only way we know how... .it may be flawed, it may hurt us but it’s all we had, it is what got us through unimaginable pain and despair and IT MATTERS.

If we are to find our way through it must be our way. Each person’s way is unique to them. We have much in common, so much in common. This can be a source of great comfort and support; it can inspire us to keep going. To know we are not alone can give us so much. It must not however demand that we do it in any one way; there can be no dogma. If we are to be free then it is through our truth that we will set ourselves free. Our truth... .no one else’s. If we can have this, if we are given the space to be really, truly us - guilt, blame, shame and all, then we can and will do it. We will be free.

copyright Colm O'Gorman 1998.

Posted by Colm at August 21, 2002 03:41 PM

Dear Colm O'Gorman

Thank you for sharing your experience on this site. I was also feeling dismayed and oppressed by the insistence on "healing" and the (understandable) desire of people around me to see a "happy ending". I believe that you are absolutely right that survivors should be given compassion and respect whatever state they are in. I hope you have someone who gives you that support.

Posted by: *Rowan* on September 8, 2002 11:58 PM
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