“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.” Anais Nin
In cases of sexual assault, shame is almost always a subsequent factor. Even if one was told “It’s not your fault,” the chances are high that one still blames themselves in some way. For me, this was absolutely the case. David had not only convinced me that we were in a relationship, I had my sister J processing out loud with me about whether or not our sister L held me partially responsible as well as her treating me as a threat with her boyfriend, a friend dismissively telling me that I should have known better, and another friend scoffing at me that it takes two to tango. There was my sister L who said “he was the one who was wrong,” but because of what J had said, her words were tainted in my mind. They didn’t impact me as deeply because I heard her lead with “it doesn’t matter what you did.” I heard that and wondered what she believed I did. I instead believed a lie that I was part of what happened to me… After all, didn’t he give me a choice? Didn’t he tell me that I could say I didn’t like it? Couldn’t I have just said no or told someone? Couldn’t I have just said stop at any time? As a result of misunderstanding, my ignorance, and believing the lies I was told, I experienced deep shame.
As an adult, for a long time I rationalized that the poor treatment I experienced by J was a result of my inability to communicate well, for being overly emotional, for not being considerate or thoughtful… if I just changed my wording, my behavior, myself, then perhaps I’d be more respectable and lovable, I’d become more worthy… but nothing ever felt like enough. Accusations still came that I was still self-righteous and judgmental, that I was condescending and belittling, that I thought of myself as so special. At one time, I laughed with her at a comment my father made about me being a catalyst in my family, thinking it was a bit much… and later she’d spit the words at me as if I’d believed it about myself.
I witnessed abusive relationships around me and because I saw my own responsibility in the mistreatment I was experiencing, I perceived the same in others. I counseled a number of women into allowing their partners, friends, and family to continue to mistreat them. As if whatever they were doing, no matter how wrong it was, justified what the other person was doing. While it’s true we can’t control how others treat us, we can choose to stop someone’s mistreatment of us by not allowing it. I didn’t realize I was doing this until just these last couple of years. How confusing for these women in my life! If only I had become aware of my own shame and the lies I had been believing about myself… instead I perpetuated my rationalizations into the hearts and minds of other women.
The sexual assault I experienced changed me. I lost a part of myself… my innocence, my dignity… and it was replaced with shame. I became overwhelmed with simple tasks and such struggles began to define what I could do, who I could be with, and how I could act. I felt stuck and I felt like I would never be able to come out of it. Between my trauma and my struggles to regain what was taken from me, the emotional immaturity of my sister J impacted me deeper than I could have realized and was because of what had happened to me. Her harshness brought me back to a child-like place I had to mature in. I was repeatedly violated and humiliated because of what lies I was still trapped in. However, due to the things I’ve been learning about PTSD, I am discovering how to reclaim my safety and dignity with each panic attack and finding my grounding. It no longer has to define me.
Facing the problems that my shame has created has been daunting. I had to address what I was feeling to even discover it. I had to feel my true emotions about how those around me responded to my sexual assault instead of cover them up with sugar cookies and roses. I had to allow myself to process through the grief of what I had lost and who I was never going to be… to end up seeing the truth. My perception was skewed… I see that now. I’m excited to see the world through different eyes… eyes not clouded by a lack of self-love. How could I ever truly love anyone as God has called us all to in Mark 12:31 when I didn’t see how much I didn’t love myself; when I saw myself as less than, inadequate, damaged, worthless, and unlovable.
It’s okay to give myself compassion for being traumatized, for being hurt, for making mistakes, for not being who everyone may think I should be. It’s okay to give myself compassion for simply being me. It’s okay to have compassion on myself. It’s okay to not hate myself for messing up. I need to stop hating myself.
I am not less than, inadequate, damaged, worthless, or unlovable.
I am not garbage.