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Why Survivors of Repeated Traumas Carry So Much Shame & Secretly Blame Themselves

By Marie McCarthy

There are many parallels amongst trauma survivors.  Whether the trauma is sexual assault or domestic violence, which often includes sexual assault, certain aspects, such as, shame and self-hatred permeate the survivor’s experience.

I’m a survivor of multiple violent sexual assaults from the ages of 4 to 13. My perpetrators were strangers and a gang of teens.  I’m 54 years old now and I’m thriving as a healthy adult, an author and a psychotherapist who specializes in trauma recovery.  My memories were repressed until my early forties when they surfaced as drop-to-the-floor, fight-for-my-life, flashbacks!

During my healing from trauma journey, I became aware of hidden shame that caused a devastating self-hatred because my child-self blamed herself for being repeatedly raped.

Little Marie, my child-self, believed if I keep getting hurt by someone, it must have something to do with me.  I must be defective.  I must be causing this or bad things wouldn’t keep happening to me.  Can you relate to this flow of self-destructive thinking?  Can you see how this thinking exacts a sentence of pain and a self-imposed prison that a victim of interpersonal trauma does not deserve?

Did you know shame is the belief that something is wrong with you or that you’re defective in some way?  If I’m defective then it must have been my fault and if it was my fault, then I hate me!  That self-hatred festered and spread like a cancer within me for 40 some years.

I had to get to my self-hatred with the help of therapy and other healing modalities in order to know it was there, and once I looked at it, I realized that I wasn’t to blame.  The men who chose  to commit a crime  and rape me were to blame!  No behavior on my part made my child-self deserve to be raped.  They saw vulnerability and they chose to take advantage of my vulnerability and act out their own deep wounds.  SUCH COWARDS!! 

Perpetrators like domestic abusers and rapists look for someone they know they can overpower and hurt.  It’s not what you were wearing or a word you uttered or the way you set down your plate on the counter.  It’s about how the abuser was feeling inside themselves from their own deep wounds, along with your vulnerability in their presence at that moment.  It wasn’t your fault and it wasn’t mine.  It wasn’t that we were defective or deserved it.  However, what we did choose was to survive by whatever means we needed in order to get through those horrific moments and LIVE.

I say “thank you” for doing what you needed to do in order to survive.  I forgive us for mistakenly believing we were at fault, for hating ourselves, and for living in shame.  May you and your strength to live be blessed with healing peace.


Abuse Will Not Define Me

I was born in Melrose Park, Illinois on a cold day in November 1978 to a young woman not willing or ready to have a child.  I would be told later in life that I was supposed to be an abortion, but the hospital called my grandma instead of my mother to give her news of the pregnancy; thus my mother was “forced” to have me.  Looking back now, I think I spent my childhood paying the price for a hospital nurse dialing the wrong number.


Excerpt from Why Me? by Sarah Burleton, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012


My name is Sarah Burleton and I am the New York Times Bestselling author of my child abuse memoir, Why Me, and the spokesperson for Prevent Child Abuse Illinois. Looking at me now, one would never guess that I endured such a horrific childhood; a childhood full of extreme physical beatings and mental abuse at the hands of my own mother. One would never guess that my own mother pushed me into an electric fence and watched me writhe on the ground in agony. One would never guess that my beloved animals were murdered cruelly at the hands of my mother for her own sick enjoyment. And one would never guess that not once in my life did I hear my mother say the words “I Love You” or feel her arms wrapped around me in a loving, warm, motherly embrace.

One would never guess this about me and my life because I made the conscious choice at a very young age to not let my child abuse define me. I refused to walk around like a victim and wear my child abuse as a badge for the world to see and pity me for. As many of you can relate, the last thing a child abuse victim wants is pity from people who have no idea what we have had to endure.  We don’t want anyone to know what we have been through because there is a shame attached to child abuse, a sense of self-blame as if we deserved to be beaten or called names. Personally, I would bottle my emotions up inside and put on a tough façade to everyone around me, masking my true feelings of pain with sarcasm and aloofness.

When it became too much for me to bottle up my emotions any more I opened my laptop and poured out my life story into a Word document, self-published it and fell over the day I found out my little book had made the NY Times. Being on the list was great; however the most rewarding part of my job has been traveling and speaking to adult survivors, CPS workers and foster children. I realize that there are many of “us” out there, thousands of us who have been hurt by people who were supposed to love and protect us the most. But I’m here to tell you that we are not victims; we are survivors. We are here today because of our will to survive and our determination to overcome the demons from our childhood. Each of us has the power to use our horrible pasts as stepping stones to our bright, positive futures and as examples of how not to act. Every story matters and every voice should be heard. I love you all.

Edit: October 12, 2016

Please note that this article was first published here on isurvive and later on