It’s A Shame About Shame.

Shame has a crushing feel to it. It’s suddenly having a spot light aimed on you. It’s the turning of your stomach, like a cement truck, endlessly twisting what’s inside. Shame is that instant jerk of my head, so as not to force another person to have to look at me in the eyes. It’s the belief that I am damaged goods, and everyone knows it.

Shame is a burden I have carried most of my life. It seems to come with the territory of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It wasn’t something I identified as a consequence of the abuse. In other words, growing up, I didn’t know life without it. I felt like I walked around with a neon, flashing light on my forehead that said, “Don’t look, I’m gross.”

Shame is still present in my life. It doesn’t consume me but becomes an occasional, reckoning force. Nothing turns that spotlight on as brightly as talking about being a mother suffering with depression and suicidal ideations.

When people talk about suicide, it often lacks an empathetic tone. I don’t fault people for this. It is not my wish that anyone should feel a pit so deep in their soul that they crave to feel nothing at all instead.

I’ve been in many, many conversations where the word “selfish” has been used to describe someone’s decision to attempt and/or succeed at suicide. People say things like, “He has a good life – why can’t he just see that?” Believe me, he can. That’s what makes the coat of shame so thick. It’s because in spite of everything he may have – family, money, love – his brain will win every time.

I used to immediately slouch my shoulders and look at the ground, or away from others, when I heard people say things like that. It’s not that I couldn’t look others in the eyes, it’s that in public situations where the topic of mental illness or sexual abuse would come up, I would feel as if I was burdening others to know they were talking about me. The secret that I am that tainted person, may upset them, so best to just sink in to the pavement.

Shame makes you feel like it is not your choice whether or not you can openly talk about what was done to you or what was etched in to your DNA. I never felt like I was allowed to let anyone know that I genuinely have felt like suicide was an option. I didn’t know how to not put someone else’s comfort level above my own.

I’ve learned though, that drawing attention to the fact that I can empathetically talk about the subject of depression and abuse, actually heals me and others. Drawing attention to it, has become one of the most effective tools I own. I can help control the conversation when I use the unfortunate knowledge I have. It changes the dynamic.

It doesn’t come without a strong pull on my chin to look at the ground when I actually do join a conversation. I try my best to fight it, though. Ridding myself of shame has been like strengthening a muscle inside me. Every time I refuse to look at the ground–instead keeping eye contact as I confidently discuss a first hand knowledge of something our society sees as taboo–that muscle strengthens.

People talk about fighting stigma but go about combatting it in a processed, packaged way. The stigma exists because of the shame. Let’s start accepting that to be worried or embarrassed over what you can control is to be ashamed. Feeling shamed is what happens when something is done to you. One is always without choice. Understanding the difference is critical, and can in fact, save lives.

How has shame affected you? Have you been ashamed? Have you been shamed? Let us know. 


22 responses to “It’s A Shame About Shame.

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  2. I love that your muscle is getting stronger everyday! I love that you can differentiate between being ashamed and being shamed! I love that you have grown in to the beautiful, intelligent woman that you are! Proud does not even begin to describe what I feel for you…


  3. Your words betray your fearlessness about it all. The fact that you are up and kicking each day, despite the occassional setbacks is praise worthy. God Bless you Dawn:)


  4. I was abused as a child and I attempted suicide when I was 13. I’ve also been deeply affected by the suicides and attempted suicides of others. I admit that I get uncomfortable when people talk about suicide as an option because there’s not one person I love that I’d rather see dead than suffer. I’m also the only person I know who doesn’t want to be unplugged from life support. But being able to talk about it openly without fear of judgment is so important to the healing process. You make such a good point about the true nature of shame, about it resulting from something done to us. The only way for us to heal from shame is to not have to keep secrets anymore. They lose their power when spoken. Great post and such an important discussion. Peace to you!


    • Thank you Karen. I couldn’t agree with you more about keeping the secret to yourself. Secrets that hurt you are not suppose to be kept. And owning that shame and pain is too much for any one person, I believe. No one should have to feel damaged because of what happened to them…something out of their control. But until talking about this epidemic more openly, I’m afraid that will remain the case. Thanks for reading and sorry to hear you are a 1 in 3. ~Dawn


  5. You know, that became the main reason I used to blog. My blog was the only place that I could talk about my past and be my whole self, without feeling shamed. It’s still the case, I guess. What you wrote about stigma was spot on.


    • I didn’t start this blog with that intention in mind but it has become a place where, as you said, I can be my while self. I could never talk about these issues in public before I started blogging. Thanks for reading.


  6. P.S. We named our son after a loved one who committed suicide. There were people in our lives who weren’t too happy about that. Not our problem. Thanks for writing this. It’s very important. ❤


  7. I don’t want to get into it. But I really know where you are coming from. Thank you for sharing. Talking about those things and not being shunned can be such a relief. I hope talking about it has helped you.


    • I would have to say writing about it has helped me. I’m still working on talking about it. But there has definitely been a shift, for sure.


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  9. Pingback: It’s A Shame About Shame. | W.T.F.·

  10. Shame is such an important subject to address in the recovery process, Thank you! I carried shame for a very long time. I’ve made meme’s about it and written about it in my blog. Each time I talk about it, a little more shame gets released. I now know that it is not mine to carry. I give it back to the abusers, it is their shame to carry.


  11. Pingback: It’s a Shame About Shame – Trigger Points Anthology·

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