How Some People Use Shame to Get Their Needs Met

Someone tried to shame me today. The circumstances don’t matter.

It is my reaction that matters. And truth be told, I’m struggling. Because shaming is an effective tool that when dispatched with cunning and the intent to wound can be absolutely devastating.

We see this playing out on a very public matter with the tactics used to silence Christine Blasey Ford, the brave woman who is alleging that SCOTUS nominee Brent Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. Those who want to silence her – or any survivor really – go for the jugular to back them off. Those who will see Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court no matter the price have zero qualms about doing anything they can to silence survivors who stand in their way.

It is not uncommon for survivors of sexual violence to turn our sense of shame into guilt, often as a way to regain a sense of control after our lives have been turned upside down. This comic over at Upworthy does a solid job of explaining how that manifests itself.

It is also important to remember that often the abuser is someone we trusted – a family member, a neighbor, teacher or priest, for example. And sometimes it is a friend or intimate partner.

Sometimes, as with my situation, we have to take extreme steps to distance ourselves from people who were both abusive and/or complicit in the abuse. When you factor in the realities that abuse patterns often echo through generations, as within the #GrandJuryReport, it creates quite a tangled web. I know that I personally struggle to free myself from all of that, a process that will probably be ongoing for the rest of my life. And one that I’ll never fully be able to explain on this blog or perhaps not even in real life.

In my experience, predators recognize these weak spots in other people and use them. And sometimes they simply sense those weaknesses without really knowing the details. That’s an aspect of rape culture that we don’t discuss often enough.  That pattern of being targeted by other predatory men who sense vulnerability is vicious. Each time it happens or is attempted, the shame/guilt feelings are right there as if they’ve never been addressed.

The guilt/shame cycle can be isolating. We hide our trauma, we hide our symptoms. We deny ourselves tools we need to heal and recover. We hide ourselves inside those feelings and lose how many chances for meaningful, honest engagement with other people, many of whom are also probably hiding.

And the power of the abuser and their enablers continues to keep a tight hold on us unless we can take the power back by naming our experience in a world that desperately wants to keep us silent.

Christine Blasey Ford is a hero, but so are all of you who live through the fear, isolation, guilt, and shame, and keep moving forward. So are all of us who endure unwarranted attempts to knock us down from people who have partial pictures and half of the story and very little interest in getting to the truth, more so in getting their own needs met.

When someone tries to shame me, successful or not, I do three things – I tell Ledcat, I tell my therapist, and I try to acknowledge it in some visible way. That doesn’t mean I don’t cry, feel like shit, or beat myself up, again. While I don’t always find the right words, I have learned that finding the right people who believe I deserve better is what matters, especially when I don’t believe that about myself. And that requires me being willing and able to communicate about my experiences and feelings.

I hope that if you are feeling ashamed or guilty, you will reach out to someone. And if you are triggered, you will keep reaching out. You deserve a world where Christine Blasey Ford is the hero for all that she accomplished, not because she survived. But her survival is a testament to us getting to that world.

Here’s a tip: when someone uses shaming tactics, don’t participate.

You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.


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