We have intense emotions stemming from horrific experiences. Shame, guilt, loss, betrayal, fear and confusion just to name a few. One of my skills in overcoming incest has been to learn how to identify what I feel, change how I feel and manage most of my intense feelings.
My sense of shame was unrelenting. The shame I felt was just like being dirty. I felt dirty a lot. Even though I didn’t know it was the shame talking. Trying to free myself of the feeling ended up as taking baths. A lot of baths. Trying to keep everything I wore or came into contact with scrupulously clean. Now is different for me. Sorta.
To a lesser degree it still permeates my thoughts about myself and others. Now I see it less as being dirty, but broader as seeing myself as flawed, damaged beyond repair and being a failure who is unable to succeed. Not deserving of the space I take up, my only real worth is being in what I can do for others, making sure I am being superficial and never rocking the emotional boats of other people.
Guilt is as a general feeling of remorse from wrongdoing or actions taken. So, when I steal something, I should feel guilty. But I didn’t experience guilt this way, I felt guilty that my Mom became pregnant and my biological Dad didn’t want us. I felt guilty that Mom (according to my step father) wouldn’t have sex with him, so I had to do it instead. I felt guilty that I didn’t want my stepfather to hurt my step- siblings, but did let him hurt me instead. Often times I wished he would die. Then felt guilty when I went to church and they said to love and honor my parents. I would have to ignore what he did so I could survive. God would have to be addressed later.
Now when I do something I consider wrong and hurt someone, I can admit it. Make amends for it if possible. I don’t have to sacrifice myself to resolve the issue. There is relief in knowing it can be done and over with. It’s like actions and behaviors I do are defining my guilt.
Because of misunderstanding these differences between shame and guilt. I equated the wrong done to me ( the sexual abuse I experienced in my home), as being on the same level as any mistake or wrong action I would make. It would take me forever to recognize or admit I had done something wrong or made a mistake. Inadvertently hurting someone’s feelings was horrible to me, because I was blind to the differences. Now, I realize they can be different in my world and I can identify the differences.
I have been able to identify how many different ways shame has impacted my life. I have repeatedly prevented any forward movement in my career because of this unrecognized shame. I don’t counsel because I don’t want to tell people I had been incested, but I wanted to work within this area to help others who are struggling with the same issues. Some I have been able to overcome. Others not.
It’s always one small step forward at a time to make overcoming my history an integrated part of becoming an emotionally mature person.