Guilt and self-esteem

 Almost all victims feel guilty but there are two types of guilt; real and false. Real guilt is a fact, whether one feels guilty or not is irrelevant.

False guilt is a feeling of guilt when one is not factually guilty- when one has no responsibility for wrong doing.

Perpetrators work very hard to deny their own guilt and heap guilt onto their victims. As a sexual abuse victim I was very good at assuming guilt even though I was not guilty.

I read this story years ago and its always stuck with me. I feel its worth sharing. Author is unknown.

Once upon a time there was a pretty little girl. She lived in the country and loved to go for long walks in the open fields. She always wore a pretty white dress and loved to stop and pick wildflowers. She  had lovely, long golden hair.

One day while she was picking wildflowers an evil man came upon her and carried her off through the woods. He dragged her through thorny bushes and a stinky swamp. He tore her pretty white dress. Her face and arms were cut badly, but he didn’t care. Her beautiful hair was disheveled and torn. He took her to his dirty cave and abused her.

Terrified, weeping, she was finally able to break away from him, running blindly, wildly. Although her cuts stopped bleeding and the bloodstains dried, she kept running. She ran until the moisture from the swamp and mud had dried. She was free of him, but her dress was torn and filthy, her face and arms were badly cut, and her hair was matted with mud and twigs.

The next day she found a cape and wrapped it tightly around herself to hide the mud, bloodstains, and scars. She used the cape’s hood to cover most of her face. She never removed the cape; to do so would have meant exposing the filth and the wounds.

Years passed. One day she met a mystic who could mend her dress, cleanse it pure white again, and erase the scars from her arms and face. She asked for help and was given all she asked for: Yet she found the change difficult to accept, for she had lived long with the torn dress, mud, dried blood, scars and protective cape.

She found that her soul was more scarred than her arms and face had been. Her spirit was more torn and muddied than her dress. As she walked away from the mystic he called after her; “You must now let go of the cape, for it will only remind you of the past. You must now smile at the sun, or you will forever fear the darkness of the cave. You must now comb your hair and wash your face, or you will forever think of yourself as being ugly.”

That to me is a good description of our torn, stained and bruised self-esteem from the result of sexual abuse. We deal with false guilt and these feelings of false guilt are the logs that fuel the fire of low self-esteem.

It was like the perpetrator used the axe of sin to cut the logs of guilt then heaped them upon the fire of your self-abasement. His hand may have lit the match….but our hand must pour on the water of forgiveness, self-love and kindness.

Abused women frequently feel guilty about almost everything…..I was like this and I am still working on it……I have often asked myself why I am so quick to feel guilt or shame…….with the Lord’s help I am a lot further than I used to be in processing false guilt but I know I still have a ways to go…… but I know that even in this, one step at a time my heavenly Father walks this road with me.

4 thoughts on “Guilt and self-esteem

  1. Wow, thank you so much for this post! It’s so timely for me. I’ve been struggling the last two days to understand some of the ways I treat myself and the pressure I put myself under. Could be a cape clutched tightly around my shoulders. I have some more work to do.

    Welcome Back!


  2. Seems I am always learning and growing in the area of guilt and shame….peeling away the layers… regards to false guilt-owning what is mine and letting go of what is not mine to own…allowing another to own what is theirs even if it causes discomfort for me….I always thought that assuming guilt that wasn’t mine in a relationship was the easiest route or “spiritual” even…but I am learning that it really is a cop out and isn’t healthy or helpful- for myself or the other person….I did it to avoid dealing with conflict or causing waves in a relationship….and also to avoid acknowledging pain in my own life…..


  3. It’s me, Theo from the RH Forum.

    For some reason, I understand this way too well. And I find that in throwing off the guilt and shame, those around me are perplexed.

    I am not fitting neatly into my box anymore. It’s causing problems.

    Your point about assuming guilt in the relationship that’s not yours as being falsley spiritual, and the easy way out, is so true.

    FInding this out myself.

    Excellent post.


  4. Jim, I am honored that you have been reading here and thank you for your kind & encouraging words.
    Yes, we are often adept at holding onto feelings of guilt and responsibility for all sorts of things for which we factually carry no responsibility. This is a message that often permeates our entire lives.

    And you are so right, I found too that as I worked on identifying where my responsibility ended and others began, it had a ripple effect in my relationships, especially my marriage. And for quite some time it was very uncomfortable and it took all I had to not “back peddle”, to not take back everything and carry on as before.
    What seemed “normal” was no longer normal to my husband. Even though he sometimes didn’t know what to do with the change…it really was a good thing.
    When I was making the choice to be healthy and not live in the dysfunction any more it naturally upset the dynamics of the relationship and what had been “working” up until then. Not only did it look different but he didn’t know what to do with the change.
    But when we are committed to change, when we reach the point in our lives where we are willing to address the unhealthy aspects of our own lives and our relationships it will cause our spouse and others discomfort….and often they are forced to reflect and work on their own responses…their own need for change…every time I would choose to deal with an unhealthy behavior or thought, it would force my husband to deal with his own unhealthy behaviors or thoughts, and it also accomodated my unhealthy behavior….talk about dysfunction.
    Its an uncomfortable place to be…for both parties but for different reasons….transformation is not an easy process.


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