How to Overcome Shame if You're a Child Abuse Survivor

Do you ever have feelings of emptiness? Do you come from a troubled family? You're suffering from what psychologists refer to as "shame." Shame is a feeling that one isn't good enough as a person and can undermine your happiness in life. But you can overcome shame with the steps below.


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    Find a good therapist. A good therapist will support you emotionally by listening to your concerns, and validating your feelings. He or she will also teach you new coping strategies for changing your life for the better. A bad therapist is worse than no therapist though, so in the first few sessions judge how you feel after a session and whether your new therapist is supportive or leaves you feeling even more vulnerable and shamed.
    • One way to seek a good compatible therapist is to screen the new therapist over the phone before making your first appointment. Find out if he or she shares your basic values in life - your religion, more or less general direction of your politics, whether your therapist is open-minded enough to respect the best in you, the best of your views. It's no shame to run into a therapist who's not compatible - just keep looking till you find one that's good for you. The incompatible one might be just the right therapist for someone who's different.
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    Seek a support group of others who share the same trauma. Support groups can be as important and perhaps even more important than a therapist. Others who have shared your trauma and recovered from it have a lot of useful tips on overcoming the inner shame that got pounded into you. Having a whole group of people tell you that there's nothing wrong with you, you were a good kid and didn't deserve to be treated like that is a strong dose of health.
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    Buy a notebook or blank book, or make a special personal file on your computer to create a personal journal. In it, tell the story of everything that happened - you don't need to show it to anyone. Just do one thing to the story - give the characters in the story different names. Then tell it exactly the way it happened. Reread what you've written. Ask yourself what you would say to that person, the grownup who used to be that kid, if she or he was your friend and asking you for help. Then remind yourself that it's your story - if you would be that kind, supportive and empathic with someone else in the same situation, you deserve the same measure of respect.
    • Another good journal exercise is to make a list of all the things you like about yourself. They can be major like graduating college or speaking another language, or as minor as your hair or your smile or your taste in reading or movies. Once you get started, it's a much longer list than you think it is.
    • Read about the stages of grief and let yourself feel your feelings, all of them. It's okay in your journal to think your own thoughts and feel your own feelings, tell about all of it. It's okay to share those things in a support group too when you're ready to.
    • On a separate sheet, write an angry letter to your abuser. Share your rage and don't hold anything back. Let it all out, no matter how long the letter gets. Then go outside and use a barbecue grill or hibachi to burn that letter, letting go of your anger and fear. Don't actually send it to your abuser, that will most likely renew the cycle of abuse.
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    Make your healing a priority. As you take time for yourself and use the strategies suggested by your therapist, gradually, your life will improve. But make sure you take the time to apply the strategies and heal. Even if you're afraid to be alone, surround yourself with everything you find comforting and supportive. Learn to enjoy solitude and self-reflection, indulging in anything good that got compromised by the abuser or forbidden by the abuser. Listening to your music, petting an animal, wearing your favorite clothes, dancing, writing poetry, drawing, doing anything that's healthy and harmless can do a lot to help you heal. Many times abusers forbid casual pleasures most people take for granted and any activity that might empower their abused children to take pride in themselves.
    • Display symbols and trophies of your successes in life in your room. If you won contests, bowling events, anything that you do well and enjoy doing, find some way to share that on the walls of your room.
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    Read self-help books. It may sound hokey, but a lot of self help books can keep you motivated and keep your thoughts flowing in a positive direction. Some good ones include "Think & Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill and "Your Erroneous Zones" by Wayne Dyer.
    • Especially look for self help books on co-dependence, abuse and the abuse cycle like "The Dance of Anger."
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    Let go of the toxic people in your life. You may find that you have to say good-bye to some of the people who are making you feel bad about yourself. They may even be family members. A part of overcoming shame is learning to stand up for yourself and saying goodbye to the people who aren't there for you.
    • Welcome new friends and more supportive people into your life by showing your appreciation of their support and positivity. They may be family members you had less contact with because the abuser sabotaged those contacts or told stories about them to scare you off. At least check out any family members your abuser tried to prevent you from having anything to do with and judge them for yourself. If the stories are true, drop them. If the stories are flat lies, you may discover relatives who love you just the way you are and are glad you're back in their lives.
    • Build a healthy social life with good supportive people in all your social zones. The inmost is the Self, take care of yourself and care about yourself. The next is the Intimate Zone, close family members, lifelong friends, partner or spouse (unless they are abusive). The next is Friends, people you've known well enough and long enough to trust them. The outer zones are Acquaintances and Coworkers, outside that is Strangers and People You Just Met. If you surround yourself with pleasant, positive, healthy people in all those zones you will find the shame eroding and you'll feel less lonely and needy.
    • They do really like you. Accept compliments and positive statements from positive people. Don't deny compliments at all, they are true in the eyes of the person who said them. Take any personal criticism with a grain of salt or a whole heaping tablespoon if that person is an abuser. When the people who love you and the people who hate you agree on something about you, it's probably true - but they still may not have the whole story. Getting accurate feedback is important and the same trait may be lovable to a good friend and be or seem vile to an abuser. A trait like "independence" is a major threat to a controlling abuser - it means you may have the nerve to walk away. That's a good thing to cultivate in yourself.


  • Set clear and healthy boundaries with the people in your life.
  • Stay connected or make new friends with people that pull you up. Let go of the ones that drag you down.
  • Stay motivated and positive. Use self-help material as needed.
  • Keep going to therapy regularly, especially if you're in the early stages of healing from child abuse. It's important to get support.


  • Immediately seek help if you are threatened with violence or death. Don't take those threats lightly from an abuser. Disengage and seek help from the authorities.
  • IF you're stalked, take reasonable precautions and get a restraining order so you can have the abuser charged if they break it. That can work sometimes - it gives a way you can have them arrested for harassing you.

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Categories: Childhood Fears and Phobias | Child Abuse