Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Unit 6 Lesson 1, Letting Go of Shame and Guilt

It's been a while since I blogged a lesson. I have an hour or so before my son wakes up from his nap, so here goes...

Focal passage for this week: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1

Memorize it, friends... You are not condemned or guilty. In Christ, there is freedom from the shame you carry! The shame and guilt that are not even yours in the first place!!

Every victim of sexual abuse needs to recover from the shame and the guilt that result from the experience. Shame is the feeling of humiliating disgrace of having been violated. Shame tells you that you are bad. Guilt is the feeling that you did something wrong. You may carry a false sense of guilt caused by the burden of knowing some great offense was committed and the belief that you must be responsible. In the process of recovery, victims must let go of the shame and recognize that both the responsibility and the guilt belong to the person who committed the offense.

Cathy described in a counseling session how ashamed she felt about her body. "It feels dirty. It is dirty! As soon as my Dad would get through with me, I would immediately take a shower, but I could still smell him, and I knew I had done something wrong. I felt bad. I felt guilty, as if someone were watching. I felt evil.

"Believe it or not, my pastor knew something wasn't right with me and my Dad. He turned us in. I mean, turned my Dad in. It stopped, but now it's ten years later and I still feel so much shame. I think I'll be okay and I'll get dressed up and ready to go out. Then suddenly a picture will flash in my mind of his sweaty body on top of mine, and I'll lose it. I'm totally devastated. I feel dirty and evil all over again. Sometimes I think that if I wouldn't have these flashbacks, I wouldn't feel so guilty. The truth is sometimes I feel ashamed for no reason. I feel guilty for just existing."

In your journal, describe the difference between guilt and shame.

Shame is about personhood. It is related to lie #2 in unit 3 - I must be a terrible person for him/her to do this to me! Guilt is about behavior. It is related to lie #1 in unit 3 - It is my fault! Remember John 8:32, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." You are not a terrible person and the abuse was not your fault. THE ABUSE IS NOT A REFLECTION ON YOU. IT IS A REFLECTION ON THE ABUSER.

Shame invades both the mind and the body.

First let's look at shame as it appears in the lives of victims. This very painful emotion invades both the mind and body of the victim. It is planted in guilt, nourished by memories and watered by secrecy. "I know you tell me," Cathy continues, "that now that I no longer keep everything inside, I will get better. But it's been a secret for so long, I'm afraid to tell! Listen to me. (She was starting to whisper.) I'll try to tell you everything I can remember, I promise... but not today." Later Cathy does go on to tell her story, again and then again. First she discloses it in individual sessions and then in a sexual abuse support group. For Cathy, and for every victim of sexual abuse, telling the story is one of the most important and necessary events in achieving recovery.

Just like Cathy, you may begin to talk in a whisper as you speak about your experience of abuse. Choosing to tell someone about your abuse is perhaps the most difficult challenge of the entire recovery process. Many of you have been threatened emotionally and physically that you are never to tell a word about what has happened.

Many victims have been shamed into believing that if they tell, terrible things would happen to them or to someone close to them, perhaps their mother or sister. They had to hear such things as, "Everyone will know this is your fault," "Everyone will be mad at you," or "Mother will leave if she finds out." The threatening statements that some survivors have been led to believe go on and on.

Compare your feeling about talking about your abuse with Cathy's feeling. Complete the sentence: "When I talk about it, I..."

talk faster
hug a pillow
close my eyes
curl up in a ball

What were you told would happen if you shared your story? If you don't remember, describe how you feel about not remembering. What did you think would happen?

In my experience... My parents divorced 3 1/2 years after I told my mother of the abuse. She never believed me, but divorced my father because my "allegations" had destroyed the family. She took me to see a gynecologist when I was 11. The doctor confirmed a stretched hymen, but not a broken one (which would indicate intercourse, which had never happened). The doctor was unable to say for certain that I'd been sexually abused. Someone recommended counseling for me (I don't know who, but I was under the impression that it was court mandated). So I went for counseling at the county mental health office every week for the next year. After their divorce, my parents continued dating and my sister and I went to visit him often. I protested to my mother, but she insisted that I go on visits with him "to protect my sister". She still did not acknowledge that the abuse actually happened. She also told me that if I made any further "accusations" of abuse or told anyone about the unsupervised visits with my father, that the state would take me away and send me into foster care where I might be treated much worse. So, I went to counseling that year, and every year thereafter, and never once told of the ongoing abuse. I felt threatened into silence. Scared. Abandoned. Rejected. Helpless.

Back to the study guide... Talking about the abuse is difficult for all survivors. It may be more difficult for some than for others. Each survivor remembers as much as he or she needs to at each point along the recovery journey. Let God put each memory in its place and in its proper time. Remember to let yourself be "where you are". Seek to accept yourself as a person in process. You are growing and changing. Give yourself time. Comparing yourself in a negative way to others will hinder your recovery.

Assignment for the lesson:

Write your own paraphrase of Romans 8:1. What does this verse mean to you?

1 comment:

mile191 said...

Thank you for your message of hope today. I appreciate it so much more than you realize. Thank you...Thank you....