Thursday, August 22, 2013

When Shame and Blame is Not Yours to Bear

Children are innocent. They carry no shame or blame.
Is a child to blame for being sexually abused? Of course not. Anyone who blames a child for being the victim of such a heinous act is clearly not in their right mind. Yet the adults who were sexually abused in childhood often do blame themselves.

I receive posts and emails from adult survivors just about every day. They almost all carry shame and blame for what happened to them. They chastise themselves for the choices and lack of choices they made as children. They apply adult values and morals to what happened to them. And for the lack of action they took as children. Typically:

They blame themselves for not stopping the abuse. 
 (As if they could have.)

They blame themselves for not telling.
(As if they believed they would be believed.)

They blame themselves for liking the attention.
(As if they are to blame for being a vulnerable child in need.)

They blame themselves for feeling loved.
(As if they are capable as children to determine what true love is.)

They blame themselves when their abuser abuses others.
(As if they are responsible for what the abuser did.)
(As if the reasons above make them responsible.)

Children don't tell for a variety of fear-based reasons.
  • They fear breaking up the family.
  • They fear the way they will be judged by the adults in their lives
  • They fear abuse of other family members, and believe that by "allowing" the abuse to continue with them they are protecting others in the family.
But the number one reason children don't tell is that they are afraid they won't be believed. And that is a legitimate fear.

Too many adults don't believe when a child discloses. Not only is this lack of believing a huge betrayal in the child's life, it sets that child up for further abuse. And later yet, for abuse in relationships.

If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse, the next time you go to blame your Self for that abuse, try this 5-step exercise:
  1. Identify the age you were when you were abused. 
  2. Seek out a child of that same age (a niece, nephew, grandchild, neighborhood child, etc).
  3. Look closely at that child. Pay attention to the size and abilities of that child.
  4. Ask yourself, "Would I blame this child for being abused?"
  5. If the answer is "no", substitute your child Self for that child. If the answer is "yes", you're beyond the help of this blog.
We can usually see the above logic when we apply it to others, because it only requires logic. Not so easy to apply that logic to our Self because emotional judgments enter into the picture. Judgments that we don't usually apply to others who are in the same boat.

Shame and blame for abuse belongs squarely on the abuser.
End of story.


  1. If only there was a way to eliminate the abuse in the first place, then the problem of self blame would be eliminated.
    Short of that, this post should aid those who have suffered at the hands of someone else.

  2. Thank you for your insight, Anonymous. We do have a long way to go when it comes to stopping abuse. What I believe is most important in our imperfect world is the ability to heal from any kind of adversity. If each of us does something loving and purposeful, we'll make the world a better place.


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