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Guilt and Shame

Although what happened to them was not their fault, many survivors experience both guilt and shame after being sexually assaulted. Here is a place to explore the cause of these emotions and hopefully find our way past them.

Let's start with the basics and define both guilt and shame (Webster's College Dictionary):

Guilt: n. 1. the fact or state of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, esp. against moral or penal law.
2. a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.

Shame: n. 1. the painful feeling of having done or experienced something dishonorable, improper, foolish, etc.

Many people think of guilt and shame as the same thing (and the dictionary defines them this way). They are, however, extremely different. Survivors feel guilty, for the most part, because they feel they did something wrong which caused them to be sexually assaulted ("if I wasn't wearing that dress...if only I hadn't drank so much...I shouldn't have been alone with him," etc). They feel guilty because it seems like their actions caused the assault.

Shame is what prevents many survivors from speaking about what happened to them. Shame is an attack on the survivor as a person ("I am a bad person because this happened to me..."). It is the feeling you get when you are sure that someone will think poorly of you because you were assaulted. Shame is longer lasting, and ultimately more dangerous than guilt.

Nancy Venable Raine, in her book After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back discusses the difference between guilt and shame:

Shame is often confused with guilt, but Lewis notes that whereas shame is "the complete closure of the self-object circle...in guilt, although the self its the subject, the object is external." Guilt is produced when you evaluate your behavior as failure, but the focus is on what you could have done differently-and what you can do to repair the damage. Guilt is less intense than shame and less negative because the focus is an "action of the self rather than the totality of the self." When corrective action is impossible, guilt is converted to shame. Rape, by definition, is a situation where corrective action is impossible.

The feeling of shame is so intense for rape victims that many never tell anyone what happened to them. Even in psychotherapeutic settings, victims of rape often avoid talking about what happened to them. Despite more than two decades of change in social attitudes about rape, I still found it difficult not to feel ashamed when others reacted to me with embarrassment or discomfort. And this feeling of shame silenced me. Lewis notes that an intense feeling of shame can actually cause loss of memory. Shame silences because it encloses the entire self.

Rape shame is hard to escape...Attempts to dissipate the same by giving words to the unspeakable seem only to increase it. The shame is mirrored by the listener, sometimes quite obviously by a blush, an averting of the eyes, or a hunching of the shoulders, sometimes by silence. The telling then feels like a confession, an admission of wrongdoing, and the sense of is deepened. Shame is what the rapist, not the victim, should feel. Yet his shame is transferred to the victim, and her shame renders her mute. And her muteness seems to confirm the moral rightness of this transfer. The feeling of shame seems to make being the victim of rape an act of wrongdoing...

Survivors Speak Out about Guilt and Shame...

I was raped or not raped by my boyfriend (now an ex-boyfriend). I'm not sure to call it a rape or not because I'm not sure if he thought it was a rape or note. It kind of was a game that got out of hand. We were fighting, you know, as a joke, but then he became harsh. He ripped of my clothes and tied me naked in my bed and then left me there for a half an hour or so to cool me down. When he came back my hands were blue because he had tied me so fast. And then he fucked me. I kept struggeling, but then he he asked if I'd like to be tied up again (as a threat) and I said no and just lay there. It got on his nerves to see me not moving with him and enjoying it, so he asked if I didn't like it, and I said I did, 'cause I was afraid if he'd hurt me again. Now I feel guilty, because I keep thinking he might have stopped if I had told the truth and said "no". And I feel dirty, like a whore, cheep. People tell me I shouldn't feel like that, it wasn't my fault, but still I feel like it WAS. Perhaps I should just have faught harder and not be afraid. Perhaps I shouldn't have let him do this to me. I don't know, but even thinking of this seems silly.

-Divaa


I still don't know whether to call what happened to me rape or my stupidity. My now 'ex' boyfriend took my virginity, something I never planned on losing until I was married. He knew that. Anyway one night we were messing around and he pulled down my pants. i looked at him with a questioning look. He told me not to worry, he knew (meaning that I didn't want to have sex). Not long after he got on top of me. he kept moving 'it' closer and closer. I put my hand down there to protect it from getting too close. I don't remember how the rest happened but somehow he got really close and started to push. I tried to push him up and away as he pushed in. He kept pushing against me, trying to push it in more. I was so oblivious to what was happening, and now I had realized it. I didn't say anything, I was afraid it would only create an ackwardness. I kept pushing then finally broe down crying. He got off. He asked me what was wrong. I figured he didn't really mean for t! hat to happen, and it must've been my fault because I didn't do enough to make it clear I didn't want to. A week later I willingly had sex with him so I wouldn't remember my first time being like that. With in a few months things got a lot worse. One night he wanted to and started to try and I said 'no we can't do this', over and over. Everytime I'd say that he'd wine and continue. I just laid there. I didn't know what to do. After he turned on the light and I told him to turn it off. He told me 'shut up faggot' and then I covered myself with a blanket. He told me 'not to get that s* on the bed, I'll seriously kick your a*' He yelled some more than slammed the door and shut off the light and went into another room. I still feel like I was responsible for it. I feel like I should be to blame and that I should've done something more. But then I have to think whether doing anything would've helped? Would he have listened anyway?

-Karen


i was raped when i was 14 by a 27 year old man who i knew, i though i trusted him, i fell in love with him i am ashamed and feel guilty how could i have fancied such a pervert. he told me he loved me and wanted to marry me i fell for his charms, i snogged him and i walked up those stairs with him. then there was the bed and we got naked and i was abit drunk and then he started doing stuff to me and i froze in shock in fear and it was too late and i was helpless and he violated me, and i lay there helpless not even able to scream. how could i walk up those stairs, how could i have kissed him, i led him on. i feel so guilty so ashamed. but i know he was the man full grown adult i was a child, he took big big time advantage. he stole me from me and thats not fair.

-T


I lay there at night wanting to wish it all away,feeling disgusted and dirty with myself.I am ashamed of what happened,ashamed of me being Raped,how could I let this happen to me, to myself,why was'nt I strong enough, brave enough even?

Guilt is what I feel when I look at myself in the mirror,I feel guilty for letting this happen to my body, wishing I was strong enough to fight the pain,fight the "DARKENED SHADOW" away.Thats what I call him,because I cant put a put a picture to his face,he just reminds me of a shadow against the wall in a darkened place.

I do not know my attacker,I may never know him but I do know that he will ALWAYS be beneath my skin and know matter the showers,the baths,the nail digging scratches,he will ALWAYS be apart of me,Apart of my Guilt and Shame.

-Byneta Robinson


My memories are stored in my body. I have flashbacks without a face. I am triggered into panic and depression---patterns that cannot be denied. I am uneasy with my father alone and when I ask God for visual memories, I quickly get a flash of my father's face in the early 70's. The parade of therapists I have seen for almost 20 years have agreed with me. Something sexually traumatic has happened to me--within my family. My brother started retrieving similar memories last year when he got sober. I feel guilty because I don't know exactly what happened, what my reponse to it was, and even how old I was. I do know that I PARTICIPATED more than once and that my body even ENJOYED some sensations. I cannot accept this even though I logically understand. I cannot let myself off the hook because I don't know exactly what happened.

-Julie


Shame is when you admit what happened, and that maybe it just wasnt your fault, but yet you still feel ugly on the inside, like it is your fault after all, and youre emabarassed that this would happen to you. Guilt is reporting what happened to the police, then not knowing what is going to happen next. If he goes to jail, its your fault, if he doesnt, youre still horrible because you would "make up" lies like that to ruin his reputation, since he's a nice guy. Guilt and shame should be what the criminal feels, not the victim/survivor. Guilt and shame make life unbearable. Guilt and shame are what others dump on your shoulders, because surely you did something to make him do what he did. Perhaps you dressed too suggestively, or you were making out, and then you went too far, and you felt guilty, so you called it rape. Then comes the shame because you lied. But really, it wasnt like that at all. It wasnt your fault. So why, as survivors, are we slapped with all! the guilt and shame when nothing we could have said or done could have made the perpetrator stop? Maybe someday I will get rid of all this guilt and shame, and just be me again.

-Name Withheld


Everyone told me he was bad news. but i thought he was sweet. he was my first boyfriend. we hadnt had sex before. this one time, we started, it was consentual. then it hurt. it ripped me apart, i was bleeding, screeming, begging him to stop. he didnt. 'that was the most violent orgasm ive ever had' he said. i wonder why. he denied it was rape. he told me to shut up, i wanted it too. i stayed with him for 18 months. guilty. he raped me more. abused me in fromt of people, i public. ripped my clothes off me in front of his friends, took photos of me when i was in the shower. guilty. i am a womens counsellor and feminist. i dedicate my life to survivors of sexual assault, but i still feel guilty, ashamed. i still question myself. i created another reality. one where i was always in control. but who is? who is?

-Ada


I really wouldn't know what shame or guilt is about.I feel guilty sometimes,only because I want a reason I want to say it didnt happen, that it wasnt me ,I want to be so strong and yet no matter what I do I feel so helpless no matter where you turn its there on tv, on the radio, in movies and sometimes actually most of the time for no reason ,it leaves you with the feeling of no escape and with the thought of feeling, or more like questioning does this person feel shame or guilt or anything or is it me who is left to feel that.In my head my thoughts of myself are not the same I dont ever think they will be a part of me will always be missing and to tell you the truth between the guilt or the shame I really dont know where that fits?

-Joy


Guilt is when you blame yourself. Thoughts run through your head like: "I could have did something differently." You think you lead him on and you just keep beating yourself up about it.

Shame is when you dont want to talk about cause what people might think. You hide it because you are afraid that you'll be blamed for what happened.

-Thitha


Guilt and shame. After I was raped I felt both of these. The guilt that I had done something to make him do what he did. Shame that I hadn't done anything to stop it from happening. Shame that I hadn't screamed, hadn't fought back. It happened right in my house, my mom and sister were right in the other roo. But most of all I feel guilt. Guilt that I hadn't said anything, guilt that because I hadn't said anything, he may do it again. Its been almost 4 years now, and I've blocked a lot of the physical memories and flashbacks from my memory. And the worst part of it is, the guilt, for me, will never go away. I'll always feel guilty about not saying anything, and wonder if I had caused the rape of another girl because I was being a coward. But I can't think about that a lot, so I put it from my mind. Now I try to help people any way I can. I make myself available to friends to listen. Unfortunatly, I know another girl who was in a similar situation. We've exchan! ged stories and that's helped us deal with it. But we both have felt guilt. I'm gonna refer her to this site. Its helped a lot.

-Meg


I first discovered Lis on Montel Williams on Thursday, 1-17, and memorized the website and read some of the experiences. I was raped by my father when I was three years old and he has denied me ever since. I don't remember, like Julie, but my body knows. I've been to a number of therapists but improved only superficially. I am doing well on the outside but still feel sore inside, and so vulnerable. I still feel damaged and angry with God for allowing it to happen yet demanding that I honor my father, hypocrite that he is. I am successfully married but sex simply doesn't interest me. My feeling of shame is interfering with my writing, I can't seem to write what I enjoy because my stories come from that location in my spirit that still hurts. I think the name of the website is so relevant, that this is what all of us are trying to do.

-Jamie Rowena


I feel guilty about what happened to me because I am guilty. I'm guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, of letting the wrong guy get close to me, of not speaking up after it happened. Other people got hurt too because I didn't speak up, but I was 15 and scared to death that everyone would find out. I think that is the worst part for me, knowing that other girls got hurt because I didn't have the courage to speak up. That haunts me every day of my life. I know it doesn't sound rational, even to me, but its the way I feel every time I think about him or about what happened. Guilt is not something that is easy to get away from no matter how hard you try to rationalize it away, it always comes back.

-Maggie


Shame shame shame
Fills my soul
I thought it connected to my body
But thatís just part of the whole

Itís recorded in my head
That Iím not worth shit
Making me want to be dead
Thrown in a pit

I hear it over and over
Again and again
The little voice
Never shuts up

How do I get out?
How do I make it stop?
How do I change the message?
How do I feel clean?

-Name Withheld


I feel guilty because I let it happen to me twice and I can't get passed it after five years. I have two beautiful children and I have a good relationship with their father. He wants me to get over it, but I can't I think it is because before I saw this site I had never talked about it much, only to him

I am ashamed because I feel dirty and stupid, I feel like I deserved it otherwise why would two guys rape me on seperate occations and I could stop them from doing it too me. I didnt scream or fight hard enough and once he got inside me I stopped fighting the first time.

The second time I let him in and I trusted he wouldnt do that to me how could I have been so stupid. That is what I feel.

-Name Withheld


I feel guilty when I am having a flashback. All of the old feelings suddenly emerge and I am sitting there feeling aroused and terror stricken! It seems so very inapropriate. I don't know if "they" have any feelings at all! I am feeling guilt when they should be guilt stricken! They make the world a dark place.

-Jen


I am a shamed of my body because it sometimes enjoed the stimulation

I feel guilty because I let the abuse go on for so long.

I am ashamed of myself for wanting some of the abuse because of the way it made me feel.

I am also very ashamed of what I tried to do when I was 10. I wanted to feel what my cousins made me feel when they raped me and I tried to do it to my cousin who was either 1 or 2 at the time. My aunt interrupted and since I felt like I became a monster and did not even bother to fight any of the abuse after that. I figured I was such an evil person that I deserved it all.

I live with that self hatred today

-Name Withheld


Sometimes it seems like I just can`t stop talking about it. I`m almost compelled to casually mention it to people I meet - and know kind of well, but not that well. Usually people I would want to get to know better. But of course, the fact that I tell certainly doesn`t help with forming good long-term relationships. Who would look forward to spending time with somebody who within two or three times of meeting you, tells you about the skeletons in her closet? Then, of course, afterwards, I wonder why I lost control. I wonder what people think about me. What they imagine happened to me, why things happened, what they must think of me now. Of course, to a certain degree I know that it shouldn`t matter. But really, to me, it does. I don`t really know what to think.

-Name Withheld


I was warned not to speak out when I was 8 yrs old when I was raped by my youngest cousin.....My oldest cousin came to visit in March...I was raped again. My family is rich and very church going and would make too much trouble if I spoke out. As always I remain a victim and lost in this dirty, worthless feeling. Pray for me.

-Liz


Who's Guilt - Getting angry with my husband, going in a club alone for the first time, ever, dancing with a guy, kissing that guy, letting that guy walk me to my car, I should not have passes out, I should not have taken a drink from a stranger, being drugged by that guy, being too stupid... being too stupid...being too stupid... to stop what happened to me. Being afraid to go to the police, not reporting the two men who raped me, letting them win,

Shame - Everyone knows, everyone is looking at me, everyone knows what happened to me, everyone is talking behind my back about it, everyone thinks it's my fault...even me,

-S. Blair


I never told anyone that shame has a face. When I was raped, I was stripped of my soul and my dignity. Ultimately, I was robbed of my humanness. I constantly live in fear, subconsciously hoping someone will protect the vulnerable person inside. I am broken within. The eyes of shame have permeated within my entire being. I am unable to expose my broken tears. I feel as though I exist within my defective body. My rapist experienced none of this. He expressed no remorse, only to later laugh in my face. The entire time he was raping me he said he wouldn't hurt me. But of course, he did. Rarely does a day go by that I don't blame myself in some form. The ugliness I feel carries with me at all times, even if it is hidden beneath. The shame I feel is indescribale in words. I suffered greatly as a result. I suffered from depression, panic disorder and PTSD. These were only some aspects of my emotional aftermath. What I do know, is that although I may feel tainted inside, I will survive becaus! e I do know that part of me is worthy and strong and I know somewhere, deep down I will endure.

-Chrissy Laker


i wish i was molested by a guy. but no. i was molested instead by an impossible abuser. i hate her. i wish it was painful. i wish it was the worst painful experience in the world. but no, again. it felt good. i can't really think of it cause it makes me want to puke out my guts, literally. thinking about it makes me want to reach for the nearest pointy object and stick it threw my heart. i've read the courage to heal and a buch of other 'survior' stuff. my therapist, she tells me it's not my fault. but i have yet to find another girl who was molested by a chick and liked it. why couldn't it have been painful? it's not fair

-Name Withheld


Have been a victem all might life. I feel guily for staying with my ex for almost a year while he coerced me into having sex with him. He would literally ware me down until I gave in. If I didn't he would wait until I fell asleep. When i finally broke up with him, that is when he raped me. I am very ashamed for not seeing the signs... not seeing how he used to do anything he could to prove how he was always in control when it came to sex. If I paid attention to what kind of guy he truly was, then I wouldn't have been raped and I wouldn't have to blame myself soooo much. I feel guilty for not have ended it sooner.

-BA



Guilt and shame are difficult to escape, and as Nancy Venable Raine notes, you can tell yourself that what happened wasn't your fault, but sometimes it is really hard to believe it. Here are some suggestions for combating guilt and shame:

When you are feeling guilty about being sexually assaulted, take a minute to look up the definition in the dictionary. It sounds silly, but sometimes it is all it takes to help you remember that you are not the one who committed the crime. It is the person who assaulted you who should feel guilty about their actions.

Keep a journal. When you are feeling ashamed or guilty, write down your feelings. Then, write a paragraph about why you are feeling that way ("I feel ashamed because I told my friend what happened to me today, and she seemed embarrassed...), then write a paragraph evaluating the situation ("I should not feel ashamed because I was assaulted and if my friend has a problem with me telling her, it's a problem with her and not with me...").

Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. Sometimes it helps to have another person tell you that what happened was not your fault. Talking about your feelings can help you make sense of them.

Buy The Courage to Heal Workbook and do the exercises. Many of them will help relieve your feelings of guilt and shame.

Email me and talk to me about how you're feeling, or make suggestions for other ways to escape guilt and shame.



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