Healing Shame Associated with Trauma and PTSD
We all need to heal the shame associated with trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder. Trauma survivors and those of us with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often have a heavy feeling of shame attached to our trauma. Shame related to trauma is especially common in survivors of domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, and rape. I have experienced shame related to the trauma that led to my PTSD, and it has been difficult to make sense of. It is something that I continue to work on in my PTSD recovery even now. Fortunately, there are some effective ways to deal with the shame that accompanies trauma and PTSD.
What Is Shame?
Shame is a powerful emotion in which a person feels like they are worthless, defective, or damaged beyond repair. Shame and guilt are often used interchangeably, but they are two very different emotions. Guilt says, "I've done something bad." Shame says, "I am something bad."
Because of that distinction, you can see that guilt -- warranted guilt, that is -- can be useful. It can cause you to want to right a wrong, make amends, or change a
behavior. Shame, on the other hand, isn't a useful emotion. It causes feelings of self-loathing and hopelessness. It lowers self-esteem and self-worth, and it can lead to anxiety and depression.
How Does Shame Relate to Trauma and PTSD?
When someone goes through some type of trauma, especially when it is ongoing, they sometimes come to the conclusion that it happened because they somehow deserved it. That is where trauma and shame is born. In my experience, the rape that I suffered as a teenager, and the ongoing physical and emotional abuse I later went through, made me feel like I was somehow bad and that I was getting what I deserved, that I had "asked for it" by being inherently worthless and awful.
Shame became a part of my personality. It took on a life of its own. I blamed myself for things that were not at all my doing, and let those who were to blame off the hook. This isn't unusual for those of us who have experienced trauma and developed PTSD, the self-blame and feeling of worthlessness. However, I learned that the success of my PTSD recovery depends on my healing the shame associated with trauma and PTSD.
Dealing with Shame in PTSD Recovery
So, how do you get rid of the shame that results from trauma? Well, like recovery of any type, different methods work for different people. What has worked for me are the following:
- Working with a therapist about childhood issues -- much of my shame originated when I was a child, even before traumatic events occurred in my life. So it was important for me to address the feelings of shame with a therapist. It helped me to see that the thoughts and feelings that I had about myself were not always rooted in reality. They were things that I had been "taught" about myself, and I had to learn to tell myself the truth and adjust my way of thinking. Childhood work is hard, and it was a slow process for me to be able to see and feel things differently, but it was worth the emotional expense to be able to see myself more positively.
- Having self-compassion -- one of the things that shame does to us is break down any feelings of compassion toward ourselves. It caused me to set standards for myself that I could never live up to, thus perpetuating shameful feelings. When I extend the same compassion that I would to others in the same situation to myself, I am healing my feelings of shame.
- Talking about it -- when feelings of shame come up, and they still do, if I talk about it with my husband or trusted friend, they are able to tell me the truth. Sometimes hearing the truth from someone else benefits me more than saying it to myself.
Recovery from shame associated with trauma and PTSD is ongoing for me; I have to remind myself to be kind to me. Healing and recovery from shame can happen, though, just as it can for PTSD.
How have you been able to overcome shame? Your stories are helpful to me and to others, please share in the comments section.
DeLoe, J. (2016, April 21). Healing Shame Associated with Trauma and PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, September 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2016/04/healing-shame-associated-with-trauma-and-ptsd