If you have been hurt by someone close to you, it’s likely you are bothered by feelings of shame. Maybe you find that it is hard to stop beating yourself up over small mistakes you make. Maybe you can’t stop thinking about the way you look to other people. Maybe you feel bad about yourself and you are not even sure why. Just because you feel shame doesn’t necessarily mean that you have done anything wrong or that there is anything wrong with you.
Research on Betrayal Trauma has found that if you have been abused by someone you are close to or depend on, you may be affected in particular ways. One way you might be affected is that you may feel a lot of shame . When you feel shame, you may focus on beliefs that you are bad or flawed, rather than noticing that someone is hurting you. In addition to feeling shame, people who are hurt by someone close to them are also more likely to forget that the abuse happened or “dissociate” or feel spacey. Forgetting, spacing out, and feeling shame may all be different ways in which your mind tries to protect you from knowing about abuse, or at least knowing how bad it is or was.
Why would your mind keep you from knowing?
People who are in danger will sometimes try to get away from the thing that is causing them danger, or maybe try to fight it. However, if you really need the person who is hurting you, for example if they are helping to raise your children or they are paying your bills, you are in a bind. If you fight or flee, you might lose those resources. In addition, if the person is violent, then fighting or fleeing might result in more violence and harm. As a result, sometimes your mind can simply block you from even knowing about the abuse to protect you from further harm. Or you might know that something feels bad, but make sense of it by telling yourself there is something wrong with you instead of recognizing that it is the other person who is doing something harmful.
You may also feel shame because of ways the abuser acts toward you. Dr. Jennifer Freyd, an expert on betrayal trauma, came up with an acronym called DARVO, which stands for “”Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” What that means is that the person who is hurting you may make you believe that you are the one doing the hurting and they are the one being hurt. They may deny that the abuse ever happened or even say something like, “You are the one who is hurting me by saying that I hurt you.” This response makes things even more confusing and causes more shame and not knowing.
If you have experienced abuse and had periods of shame and not knowing, your mind may have been trying to protect you from further harm. At the same time, shame and not knowing may cause problems in other parts of your life and may keep you from finding resources that could help you be safer. With the support of resources like domestic violence centers, hotlines, safe friends and family, and/or a trusted therapist, you can learn to recognize when you are feeling shame even though you’ve done nothing wrong. You can notice, “Oh, this is shame I’m feeling. It’s telling me I’m no good but I don’t have to listen to it.” Then, with the help of your support system, you will have more power to decide what works for you.
I know it can be hard to reach out for help, but reaching out can be a very powerful step in the process of healing from trauma and shame. If you are in the Portland area and ready for some support, feel free to contact me at Portland Psychotherapy, or take a look at some of these resources:
Local Oregon resources for adult survivors of child abuse and for survivors of domestic violence:
- Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence: http://ocadsv.org/looking-help
- The Gateway Center: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/gatewaycenter/
- Portland Women’s Crisis Line: http://pwcl.org/
- Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service: http://oaasisoregon.org/resources
- Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network: https://www.rainn.org/
- International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation: http://www.isst-d.org/
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline: http://www.thehotline.org/