By Kim Barthel
The healing process from survivor to victor is an individual and deeply personal journey. Once we experience trauma from abuse there’s no standard path to feeling better. No prescriptions available. We are all unique, with our own stories and complex patterns of behaviour that even we don’t always understand.
Yet, thank goodness, there are some supportive ideas that help to ease the journey for all of us. After all, for thousands of years people have been having soul wrenching problems on this planet, so you’d certainly hope there’d be some learning from experience on this topic. But it wouldn’t always appear so; some of us stay in the same ruts and keep the same self-defeating patterns we have always had. And some of us might even think that the odds of becoming a victor, from where we are today, has as remote a chance as we have of winning the lottery.
Healing from abuse actually has excellent odds, but if you are looking for something as simple as a magic pill that offers an instant fix, you won’t find one. Healing from abuse is hard work, and it takes self-awareness and commitment over time. There are things we can do to help ourselves get out of survival mode, however, and into more positive living. Even small positive changes add up over time, and then become a whole new way of being.
One specific thing we can all do, worthy of mention in this first of hopefully many blogs on this site, is to do what we can to erase shame completely from our lives. This step alone helps us move out of our painful rut, and makes a huge difference in how we treat others and ourselves. Of course getting rid of shame is not easy, but when we do it lifts the weight off our shoulders lightening the burden of pain we feel. When we’re trying to climb out of our own emotional trenches, the extra useless weight from shame keeps us falling backwards. Where does shame come from? First of all shame is very different from remorse, which is like the bit of guilt we feel when we realize that we did something that hurt someone else. Healthy remorse serves in a positive way to preserve our morality- which teaches us right from wrong. Feeling remorse is specifically about a particular behaviour or incident, and behaviours do need criticizing from time to time in order for us to learn. But shame is a whole other story; it’s deeper than guilt and it makes us feel worthless as a person.
Shame can be caused by others’ blame (with or without reason) or from our own sense of guilt. When we can’t get rid of this guilt it graduates into shame and when it arises from life’s traumas it is like a poison that warps the soul. By its very nature it keeps us shackled to the initial pain of the trauma that binds the heart and mind. Feeling shame creates self-hate, and often tragically, shame also creates silence. It prevents you from getting honest.
The antidote to shame is compassion, and this starts with compassion for yourself. If you’ve been feeling ashamed for years because you didn’t tell on your uncle when he first abused you, or kept abusing you, then that shame prevents you from healing. It is possibly eating you up, and maybe even holding back who you are. And you have to give yourself permission to shake it free. Compassion is like the soothing sense of caring like you’d have for a child- and you need it for yourself to even begin your healing.
When abuse happens to you, what’s often the reality is that the pain you suffer most is not from the actual abuse incident but how that incident is dealt with and how you feel about it today. If you release yourself from whatever shame you or others put on you about the abuse, you will absolutely feel lighter. “It was not your fault”, the most powerful line from the movie Good Will Hunting, is powerful because it is so true.
Shame is perhaps the biggest barrier to healing and perhaps the most offensive obstacle we face before we call ourselves victors. Given it’s as powerful and as taxing on us as it is, we can afford to show ourselves some compassion and move forward in victory.