Why Shame Is A Toxic Barrier To Your Healing After Being Sexually Assaulted

You deserve freedom from the stuckness of shame

A woman stands staring at the camera and holding a sign that reads: "This is not my secret *It's Yours

“Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough.” - Brené Brown

Experiencing sexual assault is one of the most traumatic experiences possible. No matter the age, gender, religious or political beliefs of the victim. This is because being sexually assaulted is a direct violation of who we are - it is the most physically intimate violation we survive. It can leave victims feeling helpless, hopeless, powerless, and, worst of all, full of shame.

I was raped in September of 2013.

For the first few months, I was in deep unconscious denial about what had happened, telling myself things like, “it wasn’t violent enough to count as rape”, “I went on that trip with him willingly”, and “i didn’t fight hard enough/at all” (for years I forgot how I’d begged him to stop, my brain trying to protect me from my trauma)...

The irony of those first few months of conscious denial is that I was writing poetry about sexual assault and self-harming in the aftermath. When I came across and read those poems again a couple of years ago I was truly shocked - I don’t remember writing any of them yet they clearly spell out what I had experienced. I shared some of them with my therapist and we have talked a lot about the power of the brain to block trauma in an effort to help us survive the pain and fear.

Once I consciously acknowledged what had happened to me I spent literally years buried in shame. It was truly awful. It nearly killed me.

Thankfully, in the summer of 2018, I had a complete breakdown, becoming suicidal as that pain and others came charging up into my awareness - my psyche no longer being able or willing to allow me to hide in fear, my pain was killing me and if I didn’t do the healing work required I wasn’t going to survive.

That was the most terrifying year of my life. The day after the 5th anniversary of that trauma I found myself in a doctor’s exam room saying, “I’m not safe from myself. I’m afraid. I need help.”

It was the beginning of my return to life.

Healing the shame has been the single most important aspect of this work to date.

What that man did to me, what he took, what he broke, none of that was my doing or fault.

Even if I hadn’t said anything.

Even if I did willingly go on that weekend trip with him.

Even if I still loved my ex-boyfriend and was dating as a distraction and attempt to ‘get over’ someone I loved dearly.

None of it was my fault.

All of it is his fault, his shame to carry beyond the grave.

I never said ‘ok’ or ‘yes’ to anything that night. I actually now know I said the opposite. I did not give even a luke-warm form of consent.

Here’s a video explaining consent:

When our consent is not material to a sexual act, that sexual act becomes assault. Period.

The shame part comes in when we keep what happens to us as victims a secret - from ourselves most especially. Shame comes from believing the lie that we are to blame for what was done to us and that we are now, somehow, less lovable, trustable, worthy.

Shame is a liar.

Shame is defined as: “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another” (1 - https://www.dictionary.com/browse/shame?s=t) and “a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute” (2 - https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shame)

The problem arises when we, as victims, take on the responsibility for our assault. That is when we take shame off the shoulders of those who should be wearing it and place that toxic cloak over our own bodies.

This is the lie that shame tells us - that it is our fault.

This is the lie that destroys us.

The lie that keeps us a victim, when what we really need is to heal enough to become a survivor.

You are NOT at fault for the harm done to you.

There is absolutely nothing you did that makes you responsible for the violation of your body, mind, and soul.


As I began to finally & fully tell my story - to myself, my therapist, my husband, and, eventually, the police*, I began to heal my shame and reclaim my agency. I admit to still carrying pockets of shame over this assault. I may never fully release them all, but I am committed to continuing my healing work and offering myself my unconditional compassion. But, even if I die with some of this shame still lingering, it will never change the Truth that the shame is not mine to carry - it is his and his alone. He had no right. He had not right.

The shame over your assault lies solely at the feet of those who perpetrated those acts. Let those monsters pick it up and place it across their shoulders. Let the weight burden them and them alone.

Do what you can to learn about shame and sexual assault so that you can do the work of healing from it.

And, yes, it's totally unfair that you have to do this work. It is totally unfair that our culture creates so many covert and overt victim-blaming myths that we, the harmed, must bear this weight and you are allowed and encouraged to rage against this as fully and loudly as you need to... and then you must get back to the work of healing from this shame.

And releasing it is the only way to heal from it.

You deserve to release your shame and move from victim to survivor.

You deserve freedom from this shame.

You deserve release.

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