How do you heal the shame from abuse?


What is abuse? How do you heal the shame from abuse? Emotional, sexual, physical and spiritual abuse – an article on what is abuse and how to be healed from the shame from abuse.

Shame is described in the book ‘Healing the Shame that Binds You’ as a healthy human emotion that can be transformed into shame as a state of being.  As a state of being, shame takes over one’s whole identity.  To have shame as an identity is to believe that one’s being is flawed, and that one is defective as a human being (Bradshaw: 1988:7).

Inner shame says, “I’m flawed – I’m no good.” “I’m not good enough to be …” 

“I’m not as good as _________ .”

 “No one would really love me if they really knew me.” 

“I will feel better about myself if I could only get it right.” 

“I hate it when I make mistakes; it makes me feel I’m no good.”

 “I find it hard to forgive myself.”

Can you relate to this self-talk?

Inner shame is a painful feeling about one’s self, as a person.

In this articles we’ll look at what is abuse and how abuse creates shameful feelings.

It has been well said, “It’s not what we think we are, but what we think they think we are.”

Until recently, most counsellors had overlooked the need to deal with shame.  Now we understand that you can not only feel shame as a result of public disgrace, but there is a more subtle shaming which creates a sense of low self-worth.

We are going to look at four aspects of shame:

  • What is the root cause of shame?
  • What ignites shame?
  • What fuels shame?
  • What quenches shame?

Firstly, let’s look at the root cause of shame.

The Bible tells us in Genesis 2:25 that before Adam and Eve sinned they felt good about themselves and “were not ashamed.”  Then in Genesis 3:8-11 we discover that having sinned, Adam experienced guilt. Considering his person now flawed, he endeavoured to cover his shame.  Previously, Adam and Eve were accustomed to being in God’s presence. They were covered with God’s glory. After they sinned, the glory covering was lost and the relationship between God and Adam and Eve was broken.  As a result of Adam’s sin we inherited a sinful nature.  We inherited shame!  Down through the ages we have sought to cover our shame so that people would not see how flawed we are. Inner shame is a generational problem!

When Jesus died on the cross he not only delivered us from sin but to free us from the power that sin has over us; from the power that keeps you and me hooked into addictive coping mechanisms, destructive patterns and generational weaknesses – like shame!

When Jesus died, how He took upon himself our inherent weaknesses – my shame and your shame!

Secondly, what ignites shame?

Inadequate nurturing as a result of emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual abuse, ignites shame. Let’s answer the question: What is abuse?

1.    Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can occur when a parent is an ‘adult child’, searching for someone to nurture them.  Their own child senses this need, and subconsciously seeks to fulfil that need by ‘being there’ for the parent – as opposed to the adult ‘being there’ for the child.  This gives a false sense of security for the child, who feels needed, but lacks someone to care for his/her own needs and hence is left feeling abandoned when not being affirmed.

As a result of the child not having his/her own emotional needs met, the child is left with shameful feelings, exhibited in low self-worth, emptiness, loneliness or depression.  Unfortunately, these children are usually admired for their achievement and grow up putting more emphasis on `doing’ than ‘being’.

2.  Physical abuse

As the child fails to meet the unmet needs of the parent, this may be interpreted as rejection, so the parent expresses anger and frustration through physical abuse.  The child then feels abandoned, as no one is there for his/her emotional needs.

Children then become bonded to parents out of shame and terror; as abuse continues, lack of self-worth and self-hate take over.  Shame-bound emotions result also when witnessing physical abuse between parents, when the child feels he/she is to blame.

3.  Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse in any form is the most shaming of all.  Sexual abuse or child molestation is when an adult or older adolescent uses his/her power or position and authority to force another to perform in order to meet his/her needs.

Sexual abuse fragments the soul, leaving the abused person emotionally traumatized with feelings of false guilt, low self-esteem, self-hate and a sense of unworthiness.

4.  Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse has been well defined: Spiritual abuse occurs when someone uses their power within a framework of spiritual belief or practice to satisfy their own needs at the expense of others.

A person with unmet needs in a position of spiritual authority controls others for fear of exposing how flawed or defective he/she really is.

The follower with unmet needs and who is crying on the inside may, in order to feel accepted, cover up and seek to `measure up’ and act the role that a `good’ person or Christian ‘should’ play.

Spiritual abuse is formed when followers seek to meet the inner needs of the person in spiritual authority; rather than the person in spiritual authority caring for and meeting the inner needs of followers. This produces feelings in followers of inadequacy, self-hate, self-doubt and false guilt.

Now that we have answered the question, ‘What is abuse?’  and the effects of abuse let’s move on to…

Thirdly, what fuels shameful feelings?

Shame is fuelled by not releasing and forgiving:

  1. God for allowing the abuse to happen;
  2. Forgiving yourself of guilt;
  3. Forgiving the person or persons who have abused you – emotionally, physically, sexually and spiritually.

Unforgiveness leads to resentment, and resentment leads to anger.

Anger will either go internally, displayed through feelings of rejection, and/or externally, displayed through rebellion.

A person who suffers from abuse looks for something to cover up their pain and shame. Hence addictions are born!

It doesn’t have to be hard-core addictions; it can be any form of covering up an identity or hiding behind something so that people do not see how flawed one is.

These can include such things as being self–righteousness, secular work, seeking titles, professions, church work, dress, possessions or talents.

Related link:  ( third video on How to be free from inner shame)

Anxious and worried about your future – watch this video.