Ashamed and Embarrassed.
That’s how I used to feel whenever I’d meet someone and they’d ask me about my parents.
My problem: My parents (specifically my mom and stepdad) were abusive, maniacal drunks and I was deathly afraid of sharing this part of my history with other people.
When *Kim wrote me and said that she also struggles with sharing details of her abusive and traumatic past – I knew I just had to cover this topic in a blog post. And it’s perfect timing given that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Here’s what she wrote:
I was able to tell a new doctor that an unusual injury was the result of childhood abuse. I’ve always played it off as if no one knew why I had this damage. It was huge for me to say my neck was damaged when my stepfather beat my head off a sink. It was terrifying and I almost couldn’t but I took a deep breath and reminded myself I didn’t do anything wrong. I had nothing to be embarrassed about.
If you can relate to the embarrassment and shame that creeps in when questions, memories or thoughts of your abusive past pop up then today’s post is for you.
I’ve got 2 ideas that will give you a fresh perspective on the shame and embarrassment connected to the abuse in your past.
As someone who grew up in an violent home, I’m very passionate about this topic. And after years of hiding, hating on myself and feeling overwhelmingly inadequate, thanks to the abuse, I can tell you today that shame (in this part of my life) is not part of my game anymore.
My hope is that I can help you see that it doesn’t have to be part of yours either.
I’d like to give a big shout to Kim for sharing a deeply painful experience with me and for giving me permission to share it with you.
Once you’ve had a chance to read, I’d love to hear from you.
Have you had a breakthrough about your abusive past to share? How did you do it? What did you say or do differently that shame wouldn’t let you do before?
Tell me about it in the comment section.
Shame thrives in isolation. But when we connect with a community and share what we’ve been through the less power the shame has over us. As Brené Brown says,
“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Remember, your voice, experiences and insights are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
Thanks for reading each and every week:)
xx – dawn
P.S. *Kim is not our readers real name but what she shared here is the real deal.
P.P.S. This would be a great post to share with someone you know that struggles with the shame and embarrassment tied to an abusive past.
Before we jump in let’s get a few basic points out of the way.
#1 Abuse of any kind, regardless of the situation is never okay.
#2 Shame is not about something you did. Shame is a belief about who you are down to your core. It’s the painful idea that you are defective in some horribly irreversible way.
#3 Shame is an equal opportunity offender. Every human being, regardless of race, gender, income or age feels it. Studies have shown that even babies experience shame. So when it comes to shame it’s good to know that you’re not alone.
Even though everyone has access to it, what we’re here to focus on is shame that’s tied to abuse. Here are 2 ideas that will help you through the pain of abuse related shame.
#1 Instead Of What’s Wrong With Me – Ask What Happened To Me
I knew I made a big dent in my recovery when I stopped asking myself, what’s wrong with me and started asking – what happened to me?
The easiest way for us to make sense of our abusive situation is to saddle ourselves with the blame. We make ourselves the reason behind the abuse. And without sane, loving and compassionate insight we can very easily carry that blame with us for our entire lives.
And the longer we carry it, the more consuming the shame becomes. It’s no longer just an idea that we share with the abuser but one that bleeds out into every corner of our lives.
But if we can shift from focusing on what we think is wrong with us (which only feeds the shame) and instead focus on what happened to us, the shame will lose it’s grip. The shame will no longer make sense.
For example. I grew up in a horribly violent and abusive home. And unfortunately this impacted my ability to learn in school.
If I made it to school I was full of anxiety, I wouldn’t have my homework done and was all around not prepared for whatever was scheduled for that day.
And this makes sense given that the night before my parents were drunk and beating the blood out of each other.
How could any kid show up to school under these conditions and be expected to perform?
But when I was younger, I couldn’t think of it like this. Instead of understanding what was happening to me, I focused on what was wrong with me and this filled me with shame.
At that time doing poorly in school wasn’t an outcome based on what was going on at home but a reflection of my stupidity, thinking I was dumb and even being labeled retarded.
But as I got older and learned to shift my focus from what I thought was wrong with me to what happened to me – I realized I didn’t have anything to be ashamed of.
My learning disabilities weren’t coming from within me, they were a very logical consequence of my chaotic home life.
So the next time you catch your thoughts swimming in a toxic pool of shame try to pause. And instead of asking what’s wrong with me? Ask yourself, what happened to me?
#2 Let Shame Be Your Catalyst
Back in 2013, Eleanor Longden gave an inspiring TED Talk called, The Voices In My Head.
In a little over 14 minutes, Eleanor talked about her Schizophrenia diagnosis that followed the day she started hearing voices inside her head.
There are so many incredible bits of wisdom that Eleanor shared but the one that has stuck with me weeks after I watched her talk is all about her transformation. It’s about the woman she became as a result of her pain and shame filled diagnosis and journey. Here’s what she said:
“Now looking back on the wreckage and despair of those years, it seems to me now as if someone died in that place, and yet, someone else was saved. A broken and haunted person began that journey, but the person who emerged was a survivor and would ultimately grow into the person I was destined to be.”
This insight is coming from a woman who’s lived the pain of shame, hopelessness and humiliation. Who’s mental health status, as she recalled, became the catalyst for discrimination, verbal abuse and physical and sexual assault.
But as she’d grow to eventually learn, her journey also became the catalyst for the inspired woman she is today.
So, I want you to think about the shame you feel and how that shame could be your catalyst. Who’s the person that’s waiting to emerge?
Please know that Eleanor’s transformation did not happen overnight and I can probably guarantee you that yours won’t either. But I want you to see that the possibility exists.
That the shame that’s keeping you humiliated and afraid could also be the same shame that sets you free. It could be the catalyst that brings you closer to the person you are destined to be. As Karen Salmansohn says,
“Often it’s the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self.”
Click here to watch Eleanor’s talk. It’s one I highly recommend.