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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.