Tag Archive | shame

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.

Who do you think you are?

Finally after much begging on my part I owned my very own pony. She was a beautiful jet black Welsh pony that stood about 13 hands high. She came with the name Stormy but I often called her Black Storm. She had a white blaze on her face and two white socks, and I loved her.  I spent all my free time with her, grooming her, feeding her, riding her and loving her.

Maybe she wasn’t the fastest or even the most elegant but to me she was special. I took pride in her and each day together was an adventure. Each outing an opportunity to explore and to escape. Some days we helped with the herding of the cattle, or we had to watch the cattle while they grazed along our 1/2 mile driveway making sure they didn’t venture out onto the highway, and some days were just for pleasure riding.

I rode this little mare bareback and sometimes we would go into the vegetable garden and raid the carrot patch. I would grab enough carrots for us both and then head out to our favorite spot where we would just relax in the warm sunshine. Often I would lie down on her back while she grazed and I would munch on my carrots watching the clouds float by dreaming of a different life. Storm would sometimes turn her head and that was my clue to give her a bite of my carrot. She loved carrots.

 Storm also loved running through the creek getting us both soaked.Time spent with Stormy was probably some of the happiest days of my childhood. 

Except for one day, a day I’ve tried to forget so many times but a day that haunted me for years. A day when a lie formed in my mind. A lie I believed and lived, words spoken that shaped so many of my decisions and desires in the years to come.

I had just come in from a leisurely ride and had to go through the yard and pass by the house in order to get to the barn. I did what any normal child does- I looked to the house to see if there was anyone home. I didn’t look to see if anyone was necessarily watching me, I simply looked to see who was at home.

But just as I looked at the kitchen window my uncle looked outside too. We made brief eye contact. And the next thing I knew he was outside in a rage.To this day I can’t remember all the exact details but I can recall the hurtful, wounding words spoken. In an explosive rage once again he was in my face. Shouting and cursing. And what he said would be forever imbedded in my mind.

“Who do you think you are?”

After those six words that he shouted at me, I can’t recall exactly word for word all he said but he was basically saying I was a nobody, that nobody wants to watch me or see me ride by. Why did I have to look to see who was home? On and on he went until his rage was spent. And my heart once more shattered.

I led my pony to the barn, shoulders hunched, head down and tears once again silently streaming down my face. I groomed, watered and fed Stormy and I wept into her mane. As I stood there hugging her neck, my face nestled into her mane, she seemed to understand and stood quietly while I wept. Once in awhile she would give a soft whinny and turn her head towards me nuzzling me softly.

I made an agreement that day that I was a nobody. No one wanted me, let alone to ever look at me. I wasn’t worth being noticed, being seen.

It was better to be invisible. I was too much and yet so often not enough.Who did I think I was? I would spend much of my life hiding from people, never wanting to be noticed or recognized. Compliments were scary and threatening. 

That day my uncle left me a powerful, shaming legacy- the belief that any attention to yourself is wrong or sinful.That’s why it took me so many years to risk looking back at my past….but I needed to in order to provide a context for change. We can’t be free if we don’t see it. My shame-bound self-concept affected me and my relationship with God and with others.

Years ago in counseling I asked God to give me “wisdom in the hidden parts” of my self-concept so that I could recognize the negative effects of believing that others were perfect and I wasn’t. The negative effects that had me believing I was worthless while everyone else was worthy.

I risked asking God to help me to learn to see myself as He sees me…..realizing that He does see…..that He desires to see me….that I am worth seeing…..He is different than my uncle who was a father figure to me….God longs to see me to see us.As His child He delights in me…..in who I am and what I do…..He does not shame me or tell me I am too much or not enough…..He does not question me asking me who do I think I am…..He knows who I am and loves me…..He loves me!

And He continues to teach me to live in the freedom of grace and truth…..breaking the bondage of my past, of the lies, and leads me into a future where I am increasingly released from shame.

The Fire

Outside.  Running down the hill in my bare feet.  Cool grass between my chubby toes.  Warm sun on my round face.  I was a good girl.  I was a smart girl.  I was a pretty girl.  They all said so. 

Inside.  The special room.  Straight even lines on the carpet.  Clear plastic on the couch.  Glass shelf.  Shiny things.  They were for looking not for touching.  One was round and clear and sparkly.  I wanted to hold it.  I imagined picking it up and feeling its weight in my hands. Oops.  Warm heavy feeling in the back of my pants.  Accident.  Other things on the shelves.  One looked like a deer.  It looked very pointy but I wouldn’t touch.  I would just pretend.  Grown ups talking.  They liked to do that.  That child is old enough to sit on the toilet like everyone else.  If that were my kid I’d rub her nose in it.

My arm pulled HARD.  We walked FAST to the bathroom.  The door slammed SHUT.  Her face was RED.  Her voice was LOUD.  Her hands were SHAKY.  Her words came FAST.  My pants came off rough.  Her hands held me down.  Bad smell.  Warm smelly poop on my nose, my cheeks, my forehead.  Final raging words:  “IF YOU ACT LIKE A DOG I’M GONNA TREAT YOU LIKE A DOG!”

At that moment a new sensation burned in my heart that I had never felt before.  It started as a spark, then grew to a small flame, and finally became a raging wildfire.  Before I knew it the forest of joy, love, and optimism that grew there became an empty, smoking landscape.  The hungry fire consumed every inch.  Although good feelings would take root and sprout again, they were mere shoots, not the tall glorious trees that once grew.  And the fire’s name was Shame.