Permeating Shame

At five years old I learned what a finger to the lips meant — not to be silent, but to be silenced.

Every week at an unknown time, I would be lured into a closet, door closed, and taken advantage of. I’d focus on anything except what was happening; a stain on the corner of the carpet, a comforting scent of the jacket that was hanging just above me. I did not know what was being done to me, except that I couldn’t tell a soul.

Not even ten years later in an intended meaningless school relationship, I would be raped. A punishment for misbehaving. Silence, do not tell, next time it will be worse. It would happen again, more violently. A knife to my back, hands around my neck, threats of further action.

Adulthood lead to the inclination of having beers with your boss, being taken advantage of when you’re too drunk, and shame. So much shame.

Shame is more insidious and all-pervasive than any other emotion. It’s a feeling that ruminates as being exposed and unworthy. Shame will corrode your body like a poison whose only intended goal is to rid you of any remaining self confidence you might have left.

Being a victim comes with the deepest form of humiliation, violation. It will also gift you with a sense of defeat, alienation, and guilt.

Guilt and shame can feel almost indistinguishable, but I believe the small distinction is important. Shame can be seen as a feeling from a public exposure of vulnerability, where as guilt is private, coming from a sense of failing to measure up to our own standards. When people find out about the abuse, we normally feel ashamed, exposed. If we feel we caused our own problems, it ceases to feel as exposed or vulnerable to the same degree. This made me blame myself for the abuse. It’s easier, or maybe less painful, to feel guilt instead of the shame of hopelessness.

Something that has taken me almost twenty years to figure out (and still struggle with everyday), there is nothing to be shameful about. There is no reason to feel guilt for abuse that was given to you. It was not your fault that you stayed. It was not your fault that you drank too much, it was not your fault that you trusted someone who betrayed you. It’s not your fault that you were too scared to do anything about it. When someone crosses a boundary, whether it be violent or just inappropriate, it is no longer fully in your control.

The shame that you experience may never fully disappear, but the silence can.

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