Penny Parks in her book “Rescuing the Inner Child” says that the most crippling aspect of incest is “self sabotage caused by misplaced feelings of guilt”. So many victims of abuse internalize guilt and shame within themselves when really it belongs to the abuser. The result is feelings of poor self esteem, people who are willing to accept so little in their lives and relationships, and even more sadly, when good things come along they are reluctant to embrace or do not feel they are worthy of them.
Sexual and physical abuse, in particular, scars the victim deeply, and often the victims falsely blame themselves. They continue to carry this false sense of guilt with them throughout their adult lives and relationships.
Recovery from abuse involves breaking the conspiracy of silence and deception perpetrated by abusers. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, we are as sick as our secrets. Only the truth, however painful, can really set us free. Secrecy keeps us chained to our abusers.
Part of the cycle of abuse is that abusers are very skilled at blaming the victim. Many abuse victims internalize these false accusations and begin to blame themselves. Sexual abuse victims often carry a false sense of guilt and shame. I have found part of breaking the silence is to talk about the abuse and the effects it has had and continues to have on us. Talking with a qualified, caring counselor, a recovery group or one or two trusted, close friends helps us in our journey of truth.
Sometimes, at least for me, it seems I make progress only to have something trip me up and then I must go back and face the false guilt again. Slowly I am understanding that false guilt is a major reason why I so often live in fear. The fear of abandonment, failure, rejection, so many of my fears are the result of feeling guilty for something that doesn’t deserve it. Even now, as an adult I still struggle with false guilt. A counselor once told me that I was like an open receptacle, like the electrical plug-ins in a wall; if there was any guilt or blame to be had I would be the one to quickly accept it. Even when it wasn’t my fault, just plug it in to me, I’ll take the blame. False guilt. It is often easier for me to accept blame for something that isn’t mine because then I don’t need to go through the work of processing and accepting what is or isn’t mine, taking responsibility for what belongs to me and allowing others to own what is theirs. By doing the hard work of placing blame where it belongs and accepting that I am not to blame for everything, I am then free to accept the truth that I am not responsible for the wrong choices of others. Something as a child I had been programmed to believe.