Survivors of sexual trauma tend to take on many levels of shame , believing they are what was done to them. Sexual abuse and trauma is something that happened to you, it’s not who you are.
There are many aspects of shame that can develop for a survivor of sexual trauma. A common false belief for survivors of sexual trauma is: “I am disgusting because what happened to me is disgusting.” Individuals who survive such a horrific violation can begin to take on and internalize what happened to them in a negative way. It is common for survivors of sexual trauma to confuse what was done to them with who they are as a person, and who they are sexually. Not only is this type of thinking false, but it’s also extremely emotionally and sexually damaging. Holding on to this belief even in the slightest would perpetuate a negative sexual self. Carrying such thinking would understandably negatively impact one’s comfort and interest in sex.
The abuse and the trauma is not you. It is not who you are at your core. It is something that happened to you. What happened to you, what someone else did is completely separate from your core self. Meaning, your thoughts, feelings, your love for those around you, your compassion for others is entirely separate. If you were bad because something bad was done to you, then every time something disgusting, bad, or upsetting that happened to you, your core would be defined and impacted by all of those moments, big and small. For example, have you ever found yourself soaking wet from dirty rain water because a car driving by went right through a huge puddle? Have you ever gotten dirty and hands filled with car grease from fixing a flat tire? Or for anyone who has cared for/raised children before, being peed or pooped on is inevitable. Do any of these situations make you who you are? Just like sexual abuse, these are all situations that happened to you. You did not ask for this. Take some time and process this information, and when you’re ready come back to this tip and try this exercise.
Go to the bank, or to your wallet, and take out a twenty dollar bill. Try your best to find a flat, crisp, and clean bill. Take this bill and do your worst physical damage to it. Crinkle it up into a ball, write on it, pour coffee on it, etc. Do your best and most creative damage to this twenty dollar bill without completely shredding it. Even tear it a little, or stomp on it with the dirtiest pair of your shoes. Once you’ve done everything you can think of while keeping the bill in tact, take the bill and unfold it/flatten in and set it down or hold it out in front of you, and answer yes or no to this one question: After all of that abuse to the twenty dollar bill, how much is it now worth? Does it still hold of it’s worth? It’s still worth twenty dollars, even after all of the grit, grime, misuse of the bill, it is still intact and worth just as much as it always has been.
Only you can determine your worth, and it’s up to you to maintain your worth, regardless of what happens to you. If you are questioning your value and worth right now, wondering if you are damaged and disgusting, this is just your mind responding to the abuse you survived and trying to go through the process of working through the trauma. It’s up to you to remind yourself and your brain that any devaluing thoughts you may be having right now are all false beliefs in response to your trauma. These thoughts are not true, they are not reality. Some people have bruises or broken limbs after an accident. Consider this faulty thinking your “broken limb.” This is a side effect of the trauma you survived. If you continue to remind yourself of that, and continue to separate you from what happened to you, you will be on a better road toward emotional healing and recovery. Carry that beat up, dirty $20 bill around with you for a week, and take it out daily as a reminder. It helps to talk to someone who can help you organize and sort through some of these thoughts and emotions.