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The Power of Shame: A Silencing Force



In the intricate tapestry of human emotions, shame emerges as a formidable and silencing force, weaving its way into the deepest corners of our being. All survivors of abuse carry shame, however today I wanted to focus on how sexual abuse in particular generates a heightened sense of shame. Sexual abuse inflicts deep emotional, psychological, and physical wounds on its victims and is a profound violation of a person's physical, sexual, emotional and psychological boundaries. It is particularly devastating because it violates their rights, undermines their autonomy, shatters their innocence and is a deep violation of trust and their security. The intimate nature of sexual abuse can cause survivors to feel deeply violated, powerless, and vulnerable. The intrusion into one's intimate and private space can create a deep sense of shame and humiliation, as the survivor's autonomy and control over their body have been forcibly taken away. Sexual abuse targets one of the most personal and private aspects of a person's life- their sexuality; exploiting vulnerablity and involving acts that are typically kept private and for consenting adults. The intrusive and demeaning nature of abuse can evoke a profound sense of humiliation.

Children that are sexually abused are in a critical phase of cognitive and emotional development, forming their understanding of self, relationships, and the world around them. Sexual abuse disrupts this process, distorting their perceptions of themselves, teaching them to have no boundaries and causes fear of closeness and intimacy. It can impair their ability to be able to form healthy relationships and contribute to long-term emotional and psychological challenges. Shame continues to distort their perceptions long after the abuse is over with an eroded self-esteem, negative self-image viewing themselves as damaged, dirty, or unworthy.

Survivors may experience conflicting emotions, such as fear, guilt, anger, and confusion. Due to the normal physiological response of our bodies to sexual stimulation, it is not uncommon for survivors of sexual abuse to experience pleasure alongside the abusive acts. This complex emotional response can contribute to an internal conflict within the survivor's mind, potentially intensifying feelings of shame. As a result, survivors may erroneously perceive their pleasurable sensations as an indication of their desire or consent for the abuse, leading to self-blame and a distorted belief that they must have wanted or enjoyed the abusive experiences.

Shame has the power to silence victims, perpetuate cycles of abuse, and hinders the healing process and is a potent and destructive factor that often prevents survivors from coming forward and seeking help. As a survivor of sexual abuse, the weight of deep and crippling shame burdened me for the majority of my life; its insidious presence intertwined with every fiber of my being. Throughout my journey of recovery, I unearthed the layers of shame that parts of me carried, intertwined with the memories of trauma, until I could connect with the past abuse and my emotions. Shame permeated my entire existence, acting as a potent force that kept me hidden in silence, reinforcing the intricate web of sophisticated programming from ritual abuse and mind control that held me captive for far too many years. Sexual abuse is such a devastating violation of a person's body, mind and soul and has a profound direct influence on the lack of power a survivor feels.

The Nature of Shame:

Shame is an intensely powerful, personal, and painful emotion that arises from the belief that one is fundamentally flawed, unworthy, or deserving of punishment. Shame is often accompanied by self-consciousness influencing how they perceive themselves and their place in the world with a heightened awareness of one's perceived flaws in the presence of others. This tends to drive individuals to isolate or withdraw, wanting to hide themselves from others. They feel unworthy of connection and fear judgment and rejection.

Shame and guilt are intertwined emotions, yet they have distinct characteristics and effects. While guilt typically serves as a moral compass, guiding us to acknowledge wrongdoing and make amends, shame takes on a more profound and insidious form. It transforms the narrative from "I've done something wrong" to "I am inherently flawed or that I am bad." Unlike guilt, which focuses on behavior and encourages restitution, shame cuts to the core of one's identity. It infiltrates the survivor's psyche, imprinting the false belief that their very essence is tainted.

In the context of sexual abuse, internalized shame and false guilt arise as a direct consequence even though they are innocent. Survivors bear the weight of the abuser's actions, falsely believing that they are to blame and are at fault for the abuse inflicted upon them.

This distortion of self-perception perpetuates a deep-seated sense of shame, corroding their self-worth and well-being. The shame born from sexual abuse imprisons survivors in a web of self-condemnation, undermining their ability to recognize their inherent worth and goodness.

Addressing and unraveling this profound sense of shame requires a compassionate and comprehensive approach. Survivors must be supported in untangling the web of false guilt and shame, challenging the distorted narrative that blames them for the actions of their abusers.

Shame acts as a corrosive force, eroding self-esteem, self-worth, and the ability to trust oneself and others. In the context of sexual abuse, shame can take on various forms:

  1. Victim-Blaming: Society often blames victims for the abuse they endured, questioning their clothing choices, behaviors, or even suggesting that they provoked the abuse. This victim-blaming mentality cultivates shame within survivors, leading them to internalize false guilt and self-blame. Frequently the one being abused is blamed by the perpetrator. In a society that doesn't want to look at the truth of the evil that is perpetrated in this world, survivors have been asked, "Why didn't you put a stop to the abuse?" or "Why didn't you tell someone?" all of which heaps on more shame. Sexual abuse is a crime and the only one to blame is the person who is perpetrating the abuse.

  2. Stigma: Due to societal attitudes and misconceptions, victims of sexual abuse may experience stigma, judgment, and ostracization. The fear of being labeled, misunderstood, or isolated deepens the sense of shame and discourages disclosure.

  3. Cultural and Religious Factors: Cultural and religious norms can contribute to the shame associated with sexual abuse. Some societies perceive sexual abuse as a taboo subject or consider it a stain on the victim's honor or reputation, further intensifying the shame experienced by survivors.

The Silencing Power of Shame:

Shame exerts significant control over survivors of sexual abuse, leading to silence and a reluctance to seek help. Here are some reasons why shame becomes such a powerful silencer:

  1. Fear of Rejection and Judgement: Survivors often fear being judged, condemned, disbelieved, or rejected if they disclose their experiences. The shame they carry makes them question their own credibility, leading to a belief that they will not be taken seriously or that their stories will be dismissed.

  2. Internalized Guilt and Self-Blame: Shame creates an environment where survivors blame themselves for the abuse they endured. This internalized guilt reinforces the idea that they somehow deserved or invited the abuse, making them hesitant to share their experiences for fear of being held accountable.

  3. Power and Control Dynamics: Sexual abuse is often characterized by a significant power imbalance, with the abuser exerting control over the victim. Shame reinforces this power dynamic, keeping survivors silent and compliant, and perpetuating the cycle of abuse.

Breaking the Cycle: Empowering Survivors:

Addressing shame is crucial to supporting survivors and breaking the cycle of silence surrounding sexual abuse. Here are some important steps towards dismantling shame and it's silencing force to empower survivors:

  1. Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about the prevalence and impact of sexual abuse is essential. By challenging societal misconceptions and victim-blaming attitudes, we can reduce the shame associated with abuse and encourage empathy and support for survivors.

  2. Creating Safe Spaces: Establishing safe spaces where survivors can share their experiences without judgment or stigma is vital. This can be achieved through support groups, therapy, helplines, and online communities that provide a supportive environment for survivors to find solace and healing.

  3. Encouraging Disclosure and Support: Encouraging survivors to come forward and providing them with access to support services is crucial. This includes ensuring that legal systems are sensitive and responsive to survivors' needs and that healthcare professionals receive appropriate training to support survivors effectively.

  4. Challenging Victim-Blaming Narratives: Advocacy efforts should focus on challenging victim-blaming narratives and promoting a culture of accountability for perpetrators. Shifting the blame from victims to perpetrators can help survivors shed the burden of shame and take steps towards healing.


In my personal journey as a survivor, I discovered the transformative power of therapeutic interventions, validation, and redefining my self-perception. Gradually, I reclaimed my autonomy, reconstructed a positive self-image, and embarked on a path towards healing and self-acceptance. The first crucial step was acknowledging and recognizing that what I experienced was sexual abuse, understanding that the blame was not mine to bear and that I deserved support and healing.

Working with several trained professionals over the years, I developed coping strategies, identified shame as an emotion; not an identity, developed positive coping strategies, and challenged the self-blame and self-hatred that had haunted me for far too long. Connecting with supportive individuals (my husband and support groups) provided a safe space where I could share my experiences and receive validation. This sense of connection combated the isolation and secrecy I felt, gradually reducing the overwhelming burden of shame.

Gaining knowledge about sexual abuse, its effects, and finding that I wasn't alone empowered me. Learning that others had triumphed over similar challenges instilled hope and served as inspiration. Engaging in self-care practices became crucial in nurturing my physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Through self-compassion, I confronted and challenged the negative self-talk that had plagued my thoughts, gradually building a more positive self-image.

Setting and enforcing personal boundaries became an essential aspect of reclaiming my power and self-worth. Recognizing my own needs, values, and limits, I learned to assert them assertively, protecting myself from situations that triggered shame or reinforced negative beliefs. Celebrating personal achievements and milestones, no matter how small, became a way to honor my strength and progress.

Some survivors, including myself, find empowerment through advocacy work and participating in movements dedicated to raising awareness about sexual abuse and supporting fellow survivors. Reclaiming my voice, promoting change, and finding purpose became sources of strength and empowerment.

In my journey, I learned to identify negative thoughts and self-talk patterns, consciously challenging them. I sought evidence that contradicted those harmful beliefs, replacing them with positive and affirming statements. This process, though challenging, gradually shifted my perspective and allowed me to rewrite my own narrative, free from the suffocating grip of shame.

In conclusion, shame is a powerful silencing force that prevents many survivors from speaking out about sexual abuse. By understanding the nature and impact of shame, we can actively work towards creating a society that supports and empowers survivors. Combating shame requires challenging societal norms, providing safe spaces, and advocating for a culture of empathy, understanding, and justice. By breaking the silence surrounding sexual abuse and supporting survivors, we can contribute to the healing process and work towards a future free from the stifling power of shame.

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Guest
Jul 17, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you, Sharri for your bravery in addressing these topics that affect so many, and yet so many feel powerless to speak about. Thank you for being a brave voice advocating for those who are hurting. ❤️

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Sharri Burggraaf
Sharri Burggraaf
Sep 14, 2023
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Thanks for your comment on addressing the topic of shame and for my being a brave voice to advocate for those who are hurting. Shame is such a powerful emotion. So powerful in fact that those who perpetrate abuse pass it on to the person they victimize. It doesn't belong to the child, teen or adult who is abused but it feels all encompassing and flaws and distorts our sense of identity as if that is who we are, Thanks for saying I'm brave. I had a woman tell me that early on and I thought she was just using nice words and couldn't internalize it as truth. I know now that it was because of shame. I hope that…

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