Dealing with Shame After Abuse

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Dealing with Shame After Abuse

By Anitra, loveisrespect youth organizer

You probably heard the recent news about actor Johnny Depp allegedly abusing his wife Amber Heard. Although Heard’s case against Depp was strong enough for her to secure a restraining order, people still came to his rescue and accused her of making false allegations.

It wasn’t surprising to see the usual pattern of victim blaming and shaming that usually occurs with domestic violence. People expressed disbelief and came to Depp’s defense to say, “I don’t believe he is capable of doing something like that.” There was shock: “He’s just not that type of person.” And people shamed Heard by calling her names, trying to discredit her and asking, “Why didn’t she come forward sooner?”

That last question is pretty commonly asked of domestic violence survivors: “Why didn’t they speak up sooner?”, “Why didn’t they just leave?”, “Why didn’t they tell anyone?” After being a peer advocate for loveisrespect, speaking with dating abuse survivors and experiencing abuse myself, I can provide an answer to those questions: shame. Shame (among other factors) often makes victims feel like they are trapped, like they are silenced, like there is no way out. Shame is what keeps many victims from coming forward.

I blogged about my experiences with abuse here. I remember it being one of the toughest things I ever had to deal with. It wasn’t just the abusive relationship that was hard, but the shame and embarrassment that I felt afterward. I felt like I had done something wrong, and since I didn’t recognize the signs, it was my fault and I deserved it. I didn’t want anyone to know about my experience, and the shame alone almost led me back to my abusive partner. For many people, it does.

Due to the culture of victim blaming that surrounds domestic and dating abuse, shame is very common for survivors. For those who have experienced abuse, it’s important to know that what you are feeling is common. If you are dealing with shame, here are some things to remember:

It was NOT your fault. Abusive partners (and sometimes family, friends and society) can convince their partners that the abuse is their fault, or they are the reason the partner is abusive. This is not true at all. Each partner has control over their actions. One partner choosing to be abusive is never the victim’s fault.

You did NOT deserve it. There is nothing anyone could ever do to deserve to be abused. Both partners deserve respect at all times. You don’t deserve to be put down or called names, told who you can or can’t be friends with, or to be controlled or hurt. In a healthy relationship, each partner should be able to communicate their feelings without resorting to violence or abuse.

There is help available. Building a support system after experiencing dating abuse is important. Dealing with a traumatic experience can be overwhelming, and having someone to talk to about it could be helpful. However, if you don’t feel comfortable talking to friends or family about what you experienced, loveisrespect is here 24/7. You deserve to be heard, and your feelings matter. But it’s important to remember that you have the right to choose how you want to handle your experience.

Self care is important. After experiencing something traumatic, such as dating abuse, self-care can be a big part of healing. That can look different for everyone, but some people choose journaling, yoga, reading or just sleeping. The important thing is to relieve stress and take care of yourself physically and mentally.

Not too long ago, I did an interview about my experience with dating abuse, and the issue of shame came up as it normally does. The journalist asked me a question that no one ever had asked before: what would you have wanted someone to tell you when you felt that way?  I had to think really hard about it because a lot of things came to mind. For sure, I wish I had heard some of the statements above, but my response was, “You did your best.” At a time when I was questioning myself and wondering how this happened to me, what I really wish someone had told me was that I did my best.

There is no correct way to handle abuse. No blueprint. No how-to book. Each experience is unique, but one common feeling is shame. Part of that shame for me was rooted in the fact that I did not know how to process what I experienced or how to move forward. If you’ve experienced dating abuse – something that no one should have to deal with – just remember: you did your best, and you do not deserve to feel ashamed.

Are you dealing with feelings of shame because of an abusive relationship? We’re here for you. Call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on the website or text loveis to 22522. 

Comment section

13 replies
  1. [Admin note: this comment has been edited for safety per our community guidelines]

    If I had to put a name on a feeling
    The word “Shame ” justifies the anger I feel when think about the rediculouse amount of time I spent trying to figure someone else out. I’m ashamed I wasn’t stronger” as if my strength could change or fix someone or something!
    I signed my final divorse paper today.
    It’s so weird how we don’t even talk.
    I think I’d like us to be able to be friends.

    1. [Admin note: this comment has been edited for safety per our community guidelines]

      I’m doing the right thing for myself.
      My wishful thinking ” wants everything to be ok!

      1. Hi Juila,

        Thanks for your comments. If you’d like to talk through your situation, please know we’re here for you. Call, chat or text with us any time!

  2. After getting out of one messed up Marriage of Twenty years my ex said he would kill me if I ever left it was bad.
    I started dating a guy from High School we reconnected at a High school get together our friends push us together.
    Sweet guy, I married him it will be five years in next year. Well that sweet loving husband turns into a mean bitching about the same thing over and over. Just because I moved a piece of paper off the counter he blow up. Than rants and races.
    You do not do this or that. Oh your horrible at keeping house clean not true#
    My friends wife is a better cook than you.
    I can not cry it gets worse if I do. I have tracked the days he goes through this ever other month. But this month is the worst five days this month.
    We have a two homes. I just stay up here for the past week, and doing it this week as well. I need space to think.
    I am not sure what to do he was like that with his ex wife also.

    1. Hi Debbie,

      This sounds like such a difficult situation to be in, and you do not deserve to be treated this way by your partner. We’d like to help. If you feel safe doing so, please give us a call at 1-866-331-9474, chat here on the website or text loveis to 22522 any time.

    2. I know your post was from months ago, and you may never see this, but it could be helpful to someone else. I decided to post, because I can relate to your story. First of all, have you mentioned going to counseling together? He may blow up and ask why, but you could say that your marriage means so much to you, that you are concerned about how much you both argue. If he is willing, then you can make an appointment with the counselor before hand, and tell her/him your concerns and fears. That way, you can get the support you need. If counseling is not advisable for you to bring up, as only you know your marriage, then I urge you to seek counseling for yourself. You need to know you are not alone, and talk to a professional to discuss what is healthiest for you to do. Please understand that you can not fix or change him. That was a lie I believed for years. I just didn’t understand why he would not change, and I was the one who kept trying to change my behavior to suit him. I even had a well meaning guy friend from church tell me that I needed to make sure I wasn’t “baiting him.” That was my friend’s father I looked up to. That is a good example of someone who even cares about you, blaming you for what is happening. You do not have to live like this, as you are worth so much more. Also, be careful of people telling you that you deserve a man to treat you better. Although, it is correct that you do deserve to be treated better, it is NOT about finding another man to love and respect you. This is about you taking care of you and learning how to love and respect yourself, and not looking to be rescued by someone else. All too often, we abused women look for another man to take care of us, instead of reaching out to people without an interest in romantic involvement for help and support. I hope that I didn’t say anything that has offended you, as I am only trying to help by speaking from my own experience.

      1. Hi Cami,

        Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and words of encouragement! You’re absolutely right when you say, “You cannot fix or change him.” The only person who can choose to stop the abuse is the person who is being abusive. We do have one concern, and that is the suggestion of going to counseling together. We do not recommend that couples seek counseling together if the relationship is abusive – this post over at the National Domestic Violence Hotline explains further. However, seeking counseling and support for yourself is a great option. Thanks again for sharing!

  3. Definitely dealing with shame. But, I’ve realized the shame didn’t originate with my ex’s abuse. But thats what brought me to him in the first place. It was familiar for me. My dad was the first one to originate the shame in my life at a young age. And I’ve always felt ashamed. And finally admitting it has been very healing alone, but still not yet there.

    1. Hi Cindyl,

      Thanks so much for reading and for your comment. We’re so sorry to hear about your experiences with your ex and your father. It can be so hard to deal with the pain and shame that others have caused, especially when these feelings are with us from childhood. You did not deserve to be treated badly, not by your partner and not by your father – not by anyone. We are glad to hear that you have started a journey of healing. If you ever need support, resources, or just someone to talk with during this process, please reach out to us!

  4. After a whole week of listening him tell me how he has no other friends, how if I left him even though hes moved on. How he is in love with another woman that but I am still hot. How he would have no other friends if it wasnt for me being so good and standing ny him. I felt like second choice, left overs, consolation prize. I felt like if I left him he would have no one. I can now tell he was manipulating me into “being there for him” even though he wasnt reciprocating. I can now see he was keeping me around to fortify his self esteem and feed his self worth. I can now see that so much I gave to him, I didnt give myself. I appreciate being able to talk it out so I can see it through to the healthy side of life. The healthy side of love. Self love and care. Thank you for being there for me tonight. I felt like I should know better although I did know better. I know now I can do better because I deserve better. Thank you.

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      Thank you so much for sharing this! We’re very glad you reached out to us. This insight into your relationship is so moving, and we wish you the very best as you move forward in healing and love. Remember, we’re here anytime you need us!

  5. Shame. Intense shame. He beat me into submission shortly after we were married. 20 years later and I am talking about it for the first time. But the shame is intense. I don’t want anyone to know how worthless I am. I don’t want them to know that not even my husband loves me. Through beating me he has shown that I am not worth love or respect from him, and so I certainly can’t expect it from anyone else. Shame. Some of our friends now know, the pastor at our church now knows, and the shame has only intensified. It makes me want to run away and hide from all of them.

    1. Hi Christine,

      Thank you for your comment. It is heartbreaking to hear about the abuse you have experienced. We want you to know that you are NOT worthless. You are worthy of love, kindness and respect, regardless of how your husband has chosen to act. The abuse is not your fault, and you never deserved it. We are here for you, 24/7, if you feel ready to speak confidentially about your situation. No judgment, just support. Just call 1-866-331-9474, chat here on our website or text loveis to 22522.

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