When it comes to healing the shame of abuse, the biggest hurdle is breaking through the idea that the abuse is somehow our fault. The experiencer seems to feel that they should have, and could have, prevented it. If they hadn’t done this, or had done that, it wouldn’t have happened. So, the abuse must be their fault.
In this article, I will give you lots of ways to think about abuse in a different way. I hope that this will help you to begin healing the shame of abuse.
Know That It’s Not Your Fault
The first thing to know is that the abuse is not your fault. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. A naked woman lying in the street is not an invitation to rape. Leaving your keys in your car is not a permission to steal. Being trusting or confused is not a license to be defrauded.
This can be a hard concept to swallow, as many abusers use a variety of tactics to avoid responsibility for their feelings and behaviors. Here are the most common ones.
- Blaming – if someone never apologizes or uses creative logic to make things your fault, you could be dealing with someone with abusive tendencies.
- “I Didn’t Say That” – someone who says things and then pretends that you’re mistaken can’t be trusted. They rely on your goodwill and reasonable nature to assume that you must be mistaken. People are fallible. It’s plausible. However, when this is often the case and you end up doubting your own sanity, it’s not you. It’s them.
- Catastrophizing – this is creating a mountain out of a molehill. When something’s as simple as a change in plans results in insults, emotional blackmail, and threats of breaking up, it’s time to wonder if this is a tactic to control you. The threat to their ego is real, but their way of handling it is abusive.
- Confusion – this could be done through deflecting, stonewalling, gossip, and even lying. If you can’t tell what is what, the person you are dealing with is not trustworthy and may be abusive. It’s best to keep your distance. Healthy people are firm, fair, and consistent.
- Denial – most of us know someone who will deny taking a cookie when we see them with their hand in the cookie jar. However, the denial doesn’t have to be this extreme to be problematic. Healthy people tell the truth.
- Minimizing the damage – when someone excuses their behavior by saying, “It wasn’t that bad’ or “It was just a joke,” this is another way of invalidating your feelings. Over time, this can severely damage your self-esteem and confidence.
- Playing the victim – when someone lets you down and then turns it around so that you’re apologizing to them, you know you are dealing with abuse. It may be true that you had a hand in what went wrong, but this doesn’t let the other person clean off the hook for their part.
- Normalizing abuse – if someone slowly introduces you to abusive behaviors and boundaries violations, it can creep into your life. When you see it on television, in movies, and among your peers, it can seem like everyone is doing it. Everyone is not doing it. It’s still abuse. A lot of people grow up in abusive situations and don’t realize that they are traumatized because of this, so they don’t seek help. Seek help.
There are many other strategies that abusive people use to confuse others and diminish their power and control over their own lives. You didn’t do anything wrong by being in the path of someone who abused your trust. It’s not your fault.
Get Out of the Abusive Situation
It’s incredibly hard to heal from an abusive situation when you’re still in it. You are going to be bombarded with the same tactics as before to make you feel like the bad guy for abandoning the person, being disloyal, or stabbing them in the back, or something like that.
When your nervous system is in defense mode, you go into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. If you fight, it’s all your fault. You’re the combative one. If you leave, you’re the bad guy for abandoning him/her. If you freeze, that’s great. Now you’re right where they want you. If you fawn, that’s also great because they get to be the center of attention.
So, there is no way to win except to get out. Once you’re out, you can work on resetting your nervous system and begin the work of healing. You won’t be able to think clearly while you are in trauma mode.
Don’t Shut Down
A lot of people deal with abuse by shutting down, not trusting, and being more guarded. When we do that, our light diminishes. We have less joy for ourselves, others, and life itself. I wouldn’t advise that. Don’t let one bad incident limit you – even if it was horrible.
Trauma happens because hurt people hurt people. We can only give what we have. If you refuse to stay in darkness, you will not only heal yourself but give those around you a chance to heal, too.
Learn Healthier Ways of Being
Some people grew up in abusive situations. Others fall into them. It can happen to anyone. Abuse can rob anyone of their confidence and optimism.
Falling into the guilt, shame, and abusive behaviors that come along with being connected to an abusive person is learned. It’s not who you are. Fortunately, this means that new things can be learned, like healthy boundaries, empathy, kindness, self-awareness, and other-awareness. If you need help remembering this, or learning it for the first time, reach out.
If you’ve never had healthy relationships, surround yourself with healthy people. Learn how they live. Turn off media that focuses on pain and abuse. We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, and if the environment is lonely, desperate, and toxic, we will be, too. Wholesome is healthy.
Healing the shame of abuse doesn’t happen overnight. Leaving is not all you have to do. Healing is a process, but everyone can grow from surviving to thriving. You’re not “damaged goods” because something undesirable happened. As Khalil Gibran said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”