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The Emotions of Abuse: Part 1: SHAME

shame photoAre your emotions running your life?

If you’ve ever experienced abuse, life may feel like an emotional roller coaster. It is common to make what we feel the reality of who we are.

There are a whole host of emotions that accompany abuse. I’m not just referring to the act of abuse itself, but also the emotions that get left in its wake. These include shame, guilt, sadness, anger, rage and fear. Often we find ourselves fluctuating between all these states, or a combination of them.

After the abuse has taken place, feeling these emotions becomes normalized to us. We get used to feeling this way, and we assume that it is our predominant state. Either we don’t know that we can move beyond these emotions, or we don’t know how to. This whirlwind of emotions can keep us trapped in the invisible cage of abuse and serve as further ‘evidence’ that life is out to get us or life is against us.

In this article series we are going to take a closer look at the familiar emotions of abuse. You may recognize yourself in some or all of them. Up until now, you may not have articulated what they are. They are part of the shadow that lingers in the background, often unnamed or unvoiced. Once we name them they begin to lose their power. They no longer have the same hold over us. Becoming more emotionally aware is part of the process of Kicking Abuse in the Caboose*. Once you begin to articulate and identify the emotions you have been experiencing, you start to move beyond them and stop feeling controlled by them.

(The Emotions of Abuse articles are excerpts from Dr. Lisa’s soon-to-be-released book, “Kick Abuse In The Caboose.”)


Shame is the most insidious emotion of abuse. It is generated from the secrets you were coerced to keep about the abuse and forced to move on with life as if nothing occurred. You may have been told to hide the abuse from others and threatened with some kind of consequence if you told the truth. The abuse might have even been carried out without talking about it and it became normalized. You never knew how to express what happened so you internalized the bad feelings and it turned into a sense of wrongness about you rather than being able to separate yourself from the wrongness of the act and the abuser.

Or you may have dared to speak up about what happened and were met with judgments or allegations that you were lying. You may have also been vilified because nobody wants to hear about abuse. Situations where abuse was expressed and dealt with compassionately are less common, because abuse is more often denied, disconnected, dissociated and defended against.

In many family situations, if abuse is admitted and acknowledged then something has to change. Marriages break up. Loved ones go to court. It seems ‘easier’ for people to deny the abuse than it is to face the reality that abuse did in fact occur. And yet, it’s actually the more challenging route to not face the truth. That’s what perpetuates abuse and creates disease, dis-harmony and disempowerment.

Recognizing Shame

Shame feels like an anchor that pulls you down and inside yourself. It’s a heavy, dense energy. There is no getting away from it, or so it seems. You might walk around with your eyes on the ground. You don’t want to be seen. You don’t want to be looked at. You slouch over, shoulders hunched, trying to hide yourself.

Shame also twists you up inside. You feel like you are defective, damaged goods. You feel worthless, like you don’t deserve anything. With every interaction, you know you’re not being your authentic self, which in turn, creates more shame and causes you to hide even more. The cycle continues, all the while cementing the cage of abuse closer in around you.

The cruel joke about shame is that you spend your entire life keeping it trapped in your body, opening yourself up to all types of dis-ease (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) just to hide it so that nobody knows you had this experience. But the majority of people on this planet are also trying to hide their sense of defectiveness. This is what blocks us from experiencing true intimacy. We think we are the only ones hiding our wrongness but everyone is doing this: trying to hide our wrongness from ourselves and each other.

Letting Go Of Shame

So how do you weaken the grip of shame?

Shame thrives in secrecy and silence. But when you engage in real conversations about abuse, when you share your story with a trusted friend or practitioner, you begin to move out of the secrecy, out of the silence, and ultimately, out of the shame.

Sometimes when I facilitate people I have to step back a little bit and walk them through what happened, in order to move them beyond the abuse. I help them acknowledge what their story meant to them and about them, and how they are still living that today. I also guide them to see how this limits their future when they could be actualizing joy, happiness and freedom instead. Pretty much every time I walk someone through the attachment to their story, the glue that is holding the whole thing together is shame, and their identification with it, which they in turn believe is who they truly are. Just to clarify: you are not your shame. It is just familiar.

The question to ask yourself is, “What does my story mean to me and about me?” For many of my clients, being abused, sexually, physically or emotionally brings up the feeling of being damaged goods. The truth is you are not damaged goods. Having experienced abuse does not make you bad or wrong. This belief about yourself is familiar but it’s not true.

As long as you keep your story hidden, you keep abuse in your body. When you identify with shame you lock it in your body. And when you do this, you leave yourself open to disease and a life of limited possibilities.

But you don’t need to live with the shame: you can transform it. As you articulate your story and identify the shame that’s been keeping that in place as a wrongness of you, you discover that the shame is not in control of you: you have control over it. As you claim your power over the shame, you begin to dissolve the bars of the invisible cage of abuse.

See Part 2 in the series here.


Be You. Beyond Anything. Create Magic.

You can find more information from Dr. Lisa Cooney on her site or find her on Facebook or on Twitter @DrLisaCooney!

The Emotions of Abuse: Part 1: SHAME

Dr. Lisa Cooney

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APA Reference
Cooney, D. (2016). The Emotions of Abuse: Part 1: SHAME. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 May 2016
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