Shame

Why is it that the person who has been attacked feels shame? The person who was abused by a parent wasn’t the person to blame. The person who was raped was the recipient, not the aggressor. The person who is the recipient of violence is most often female, but is sometimes male. Abuse isn’t exclusive. And the abuser or rapist isn’t always male. Physically, emotionally, sexually, abuse is abuse.

For the sake of simplicity I will say “she” for the person who is abused or raped and “he” for the abuser or rapist. I’m concerned I’m perpetuating a stereotype, so I want to be sure that it is understood that anybody can be attacked, and anybody can be the attacker. But our language has no appropriate third person singular, and saying “his or her” all the time is tedious, so I’m doing it this way.

I’m also making a point of not using the term “victim”. That is part of this. I believe that if she identifies herself as “victim” then she is perpetuating the violence that was done against her. More often though, the person who was attacked feels shame. They act as if they did something to deserve this. They feel shame so they don’t go to the police. They feel shame so they don’t go to the hospital or to a counselor.

Shame is another word for guilt. When a person feels shame, she feels as if she caused the problem. She feels that she brought it on herself. She feels responsible.

This is so totally backwards. The abuser, the rapist is the guilty party. The one he attacked is passive.

You do not cause someone to attack you. It has nothing to do with what you wear or what you said. Now, yes, I’ve recently written a post saying that women should dress modestly to protect themselves. I also think it is a good idea to get a handgun carry permit and take self-defense classes. Prevention, you know. But sometimes you can’t get out of the way of a problem, and there are a lot of damaged people out there who are ready to cause a problem with you.

One thing to notice is that the attacker is giving control of his emotions and actions to everyone else. The attacker blames other people for his losing control.

When Dad gets home from one of his many business trips, he has no right to beat his child for breaking something. His child is a child, and it was an accident. He has no right to yell at his child. His short temper is his fault, his failing.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

The same is true of anger.

But how is it that the person who is attacked feels shame, feels guilt? Do we teach that in our society? Is that normal? Is it something that is part of being attacked?

It certainly isn’t helpful. It renders the person who was attacked open to more attacks. It opens her up to abuse from not just the original abuser, but new ones. Bullies can spot weakness.

Again – that is not the fault of the person who is bullied. The bullies need to be responsible for their actions. It is not the “weak” kid’s fault that she gets her lunch money stolen from her – that is the fault of the bully. It is important to remember where the blame goes.

The odd part is that bullies themselves were often abused. Instead of feeling shame however, the bully learns that abusing others is normal. The bully patterns his actions on this warped lesson. The way to feel bigger is go make another feel smaller.

Stop bullying. Easy to say. Tell us how to do it.

Stop feeling shame for being abused. Stop thinking you are a victim. Again, easy to say. Hard to do.

I think there is something to teaching everyone that it is important to say no, to establish boundaries. That this is what you are willing to take, and this isn’t. Perhaps there is something to learning how to dialogue, versus debate. It helps if people can express their opinions without having to be “right” or “wrong” – but just be different.

I used to feel guilty for saying no, for telling someone that I wasn’t OK with what I was being asked to do. I’ve spent too much of my life feeling resentful that my life wasn’t my own. Even reading books about how to find my own voice, how to establish boundaries, I felt awkward. How dare I stand up for myself.

It was painful to read those books. It was like having to re-break a badly-healed leg. Emotionally, it was as if my family had broken my legs and because I’d not been allowed to get treatment, they’d healed badly. I was walking with an emotional limp. I just got used to it. It became my “normal”. Reading those books made me have to look at that wound again, and realize how it was affecting my life, and every relationship I had. I had to re-break those bones and let them heal again.

Emotional wounds hurt just as much as physical ones. And they are harder to spot. A broken leg – that sticks out. A broken spirit? That is much harder to spot. The damage runs deep there, and affects every part of your life.

But somewhere in the middle of reading those books, I was standing up for myself, and realizing that I wasn’t a victim, and I wasn’t to blame. By reading those books I was taking control of what had happened.

There is no shame in being abused. There is shame in being an abuser. You aren’t to blame for what happened to you. You are, however, responsible for what you do afterwards. You are responsible for your own actions, not the actions of others.