by Christina Enevoldsen
When I was seven, I started classes in preparation for my First Communion. In the Catholic church, Communion is an expression of unity with Christ. Girls dress up like brides in white dresses and veils, symbolizing their purity.
While planning for the day, I insisted to my mother that I couldn’t wear white. Normally, compliant and well-behaved, I absolutely refused.
Reluctantly, my mother took me to Sears and we found a beautiful powder blue dress. I didn’t look like the rest of the girls, but at least I wasn’t lying to God by presenting myself as pure and holy. God knew what I was; there was no hiding it from him.
My strong will exasperated and disgusted my mom. Several years ago, when I confronted her about lying to me as a kid, she blamed me with, “Well, I didn’t really have a choice. It was the only way to control you since you were so strong-willed.”
And my First Communion dress was proof that she was right about me. I was selfish and obstinate and should be ashamed.
I carried that shame for most of my life. I bore the shame of my father’s sexual violation and then the shame of my mother’s disgust. I absorbed the badness of the abuse into my being. I thought the badness was me.
The shame expressed itself in self-punishing habits like denying myself life’s necessities and staying in abusive relationships. It dictated what I did and didn’t deserve. I deserved punishment; I didn’t deserve honor. I deserved criticism; I didn’t deserve respect. I deserved abandonment and rejection; I didn’t deserve attention or love.
I saw myself for so long the way they saw me, the way it was convenient for them to view me. I was bad so the way they treated me was justified.
It breaks my heart to know now what that little girl, my inner child, went through all alone. The heaviness of the false accusations, carrying my parent’s sins as though they were her own.
I want to say to my inner child:
I see you. You are worth seeing and knowing. I know you believe there is something flawed about you. I know you think all those things happened to you because you deserved it. But you never deserved it. Those things were unjust. You were innocent. And they were wrong about you.
I’m so sorry for how the shame isolated you. You hid yourself. You were afraid of being discovered as dirty and disgusting. I’m sorry for how you feared abandonment everyday, believing that you deserved to be alone. I’m sorry for how you believed you had to settle for being hurt and controlled in all your relationships because you thought that’s all “someone like you” could expect.
You were wrong about yourself. But you have nothing to be ashamed about for being wrong. You had to agree with them to survive. You didn’t have a choice. You got yourself through until you were safe enough to see the truth. And you see the truth now.
The shame was something you thought everyone could see, though you prayed everyday to be spared exposure. Now it’s different. You are sure of who you really are and it doesn’t matter if anyone else sees the truth. You don’t have anything to prove to anyone. You and I know the truth and that’s enough.
The truth is that there was nothing about me that deserves abuse. The shame was a manipulation to keep me compliant and controlled. It my abusers’ way of coping with their actions and relieving themselves from shame’s burden.
But it was never mine to carry. I didn’t have control of what others did to me. Those abuses were their actions, not mine. I have nothing to be ashamed of and I AM deserving.
Have you taken on shame from your abuse? How has it impacted you? Do you see the wonderful truth about yourself yet? Please comment below and contribute to the conversation. Remember to subscribe to the comments so you don’t miss any of the discussion. You can post anonymously and email addresses are kept private.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.