Shame is one of the most damaging aftereffects of childhood sexual abuse. Even though we may have been told by our abuser that what they were doing was good or a way for them to show us their love, we eventually get old enough to understand that what happened was so very wrong. Sometimes our abuser blames us, or our family does, or the abuser’s family and friends do. And in some situations the legal system blames us when we try to report our abuse.
The end result of all of these things is a heavy burden of shame that we have to haul everywhere we go. It changes how we see ourselves and it colors the way we view the world. The longer we carry this burden of shame, the more damage it does.
Shame isolates us. It keeps us separate from others, both because we don’t want anyone else to see our shame and because we think no one will ever understand our burden. So we travel on the periphery of life. Once and awhile we might try to belong, but it never seems to work in our favor. Over time, shame drives us deeper into ourselves. Alone. Disconnected. Damage accrues like an ugly, permanent debt.
When author Rachel Thompson and I started a Twitter chat for childhood sexual abuse survivors in January of 2014, our greatest hope was to help survivors know that they were not alone. It did that, in a powerful way. But it did something even more incredible: it reduced the shame the chat participants carried. They saw that others felt the way they did. Others suffered the mental illnesses that they did. When someone talked about how they coped with abuse nightmares by leaving their television on all night many other survivors cried out a surprised “Me, too!”
Week after week we saw survivors shed their shame as they found community amongst others who had endured childhood sexual abuse. We created multiple Facebook support groups for survivors to access support 24/7. Athena Moberg, another Trauma Recovery Coach, and I started a second Twitter chat to accommodate our growing international audience in Europe. We began a weekly Google Hangout to interact with even more survivors.
Through all of these endeavors, our universal experience has been that involvement in a safe, supportive community dramatically reduces the shame a survivor of childhood abuse feels. With less shame the isolation and low self-image caused by it is markedly lessoned. Now they can find a place of belonging in the world and see that they have value and worth. Both of those things are essential for a survivor’s recovery from their childhood abuse. When shame is reduced survivors can work through their recovery with greater ease and speed.
Although we did not go into building online communities for survivors of childhood sexual abuse knowing that they would reduce their shame, that is the powerful result that we stumbled upon. Now we use the hashtag #nomoreshame in our meetings and chats. We recognize that where a safe and supportive community exists shame cannot flourish. They are, for all intents and purposes, mutually exclusive. Community is, indeed, shame’s Kryptonite.
If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and would like to take part in one of our Twitter Chats, Google Hangouts or Facebook support groups please see their schedule on my website BobbiParish.com. We would love for you to bring some Kryptonite into your life!