Topics: Guilt

Blaming Ourselves
"It was my fault.  I wanted it."   Our abusers are especially good at making us believe it was "our fault."

The blaming may or may not be subtle and laced with threats and bribes. Chances are, it will cement their carefully engineered isolation of us from all other support systems or use a sense of isolation we may already have felt.  Whatever way it comes about, being sexually and emotionally abused is the result of coercion, manipulation, or other actions by the abuser and not the legitimate outcome of our needs and desires. We are the objects, not the subjects, of that abuse.
When confronted with their behavior, our abusers most often claim that we were seductive, acting out, needy, and that we lured and manipulated them. Those who, in the face of overwhelming evidence cannot deny what took place might say that they finally gave in to our needs or our demands.  They were our hapless victims.  They only wanted to help. They gave in only to save us from ourselves or from the cruel world.
In his classic book, Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov's Humbert threatens the young Lolita, whose mother has recently died, and blames her for his exploitation of her. Says Humbert, "...let us see what happens if you, a minor, accused of having impaired the morals of an adult....what happens if you complain to the police of my having kidnapped and raped you? Let us suppose they believe you. A minor female, who allows a person over twenty-one to know her carnally, involves her victim into statutory rape, or second degree sodomy,....So I go to jail. Okay, I go to jail. But what happens to you my orphan?" (p. 159) Humbert unequivocally places blame on the very vulnerable person he is charged to protect and warns her of the dire consequences she will suffer from the isolation he has imposed upon her.
In "Reading Lolita in Tehran," author Azar Nafisi observes "Like the best defense attorneys, who dazzle with their rhetoric and appeal to our highest sense of morality, Humbert exonerates himself by implicating his victim....'I am going to tell you something very strange: it was she who seduced me....Not a trace of modesty...did I perceive in this beautiful badly formed young girl whom modern education...had utterly and hopelessly depraved.'" (p. 42)
Despite Humbert's attempts to place the blame on the innocent, it is clearly he who had the power and responsibility to keep Lolita safe. The same is true of abuse by professionals. Boston attorney Linda Jorgenson and I offer slightly different scenarios to describe where responsibility lies in abusive relationships such as that of Humbert and Lolita or that of therapist and patient or that of counselor and counselee or that of clergy and parishioner, no matter what we perceive to be our desires. I suggest "You could be a masochist begging to be beaten, but it would always be unacceptable for the person in authority to beat you."  Says Linda, "You could be a prostitute naked and begging for it, but it is always the responsibility of the professional (or adult or person with authority) to set and maintain safe boundaries."
Whatever the scenario, the responsibility to set and maintain safe boundaries in a therapeutic or power imbalanced setting was not, is not, and never will be yours.

Jan Wohlberg

Shame: A Conspiracy of Silence

Many assume that shame is equivalent to guilt. But there are crucial differences. Guilt is the feeling of having done something wrong, of having transgressed against society’s or one’s own moral values. Because it involves doing something, it can be redeemed through acts of reparation and atonement. 

Shame, on the other hand, is the experience of being bad, wrong or disgusting. It is a painful emotion arising from one’s consciousness of something dishonouring, ridiculous and indecorous in one’s conduct or circumstances, or of being in a situation that offends one’s sense of modesty or decency. It is accompanied by a conviction of one’s inadequacy, incompetence, helplessness, loss of self-control and self-esteem.  

Shame prevents child sexual abuse victims from disclosing. It keeps battered women in abusive relationships. It traps victims of abusive therapists and prevents us from realizing that we have been betrayed, duped, and exploited. 

Shame plays a powerful role in maintaining silence, blocking emotions, preventing or slowing the process of healing, and protecting the abusive therapist. Shame makes a victim want to hide and try to prevent further exposure of inadequacy. 

Shame causes us to feel responsible for our abuse. As a childhood victim of sexual abuse by my godfather, and later pawing and feeling up by various male adults, I felt there was something wrong with me. I felt bad and dirty. I told no one. 

In the years following my sexual abuse by my psychiatrist Dr A, I felt extremely embarrassed by the sexual ‘relationship’ with him. I castigated myself for being so stupid, for betraying my husband, and for harming my children. I could not recognize his abuse of me, and I papered it over by telling myself that “most of the therapy was really positive,” or “he acted out my transference,” or “it was all my fault for being seductive.”

Eventually I saw a second therapist who specialized in women’s victimization and who was understanding and empathic. Gradually I began to realize that I was a victim, that Dr A had abandoned his fiduciary duty to work in my best interests, and that he had used me to meet his own needs. 

Very gradually, I began to have compassion for myself, feel righteous anger, realize that Dr A was 100% responsible, and I put the blame where it belonged.

Sue Penfold

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