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If you were a victim of childhood abuse or neglect you know about shame. You have likely been plagued by it all your life. You may feel shame because you blame yourself for the abuse itself (“My father wouldn’t have hit me if I would have minded him”), or because you felt such humiliation at having been abused (“I feel like such a wimp for not defending myself”). While those who were sexually abused tend to suffer from the most shame, those who suffered from physical, verbal or emotional abuse blame themselves as well. In the case of child sexual abuse, no matter how many times you have heard these words, “It’s not your fault,” the chances are high that you still blame yourself for the abuse in some way. You may blame yourself for being submissive, for not telling someone and having the abuse continue, you may blame yourself for “enticing” the abuser with your behavior or your dress, or you may blame yourself because you felt some physical pleasure.

In the case of physical, verbal and emotional abuse, you may blame yourself for “not listening” and thus making your parent or other caretaker so angry that he or she yelled at you or hit you. Children tend to blame the neglect and abuse they experience on themselves, in essence saying to themselves, “My mother is treating me like this because I’ve been bad” or “I am being neglected because I am unlovable.” As an adult you may have continued this kind of rationalization, putting up with poor treatment from friends, relatives and romantic partners because you believe you brought the mistreatment on yourself. Conversely, when good things happen to you you may actually become uncomfortable. You feel so unworthy that you cannot take the good in.

In addition to blaming yourself for the abuse itself, you may have a great deal of shame due to the exposure of the abuse. If you reported the abuse to someone, you may blame yourself for the consequences of your outcry—your parents divorcing, your molester going to jail, the humiliation of your family going to court.

And then there is the shame you may feel about your behavior as a consequence of the abuse. Victims of childhood abuse tend to feel a great deal of shame for things they did as a child as a result of the abuse. For example, unable to express your anger at your abuser, you may have taken your hurt and anger out on those who were smaller or weaker than you, such as younger siblings. You may have become a bully at school, you may have become angry and belligerent toward authority figures, or you may have started stealing, taking drugs, or otherwise acting out against society. In the case of sexual abuse, you may have continued the cycle of abuse by introducing younger children to sex.

You may especially feel shame because of things you have done as an adult to hurt yourself and others, such as abusing alcohol or drugs, becoming sexually promiscuous, or breaking the law. You may have pushed those away who tried to be good to you, become emotionally or physically abusive to your partners, or continued a pattern of being abused and thus subjecting your own children to witnessing abuse, or worst yet, being abused themselves. You may have repeated the cycle of abuse by emotionally, physically, or sexually abusing your own children or you may have abandoned your children because you couldn’t take care of them.

It’s Not Your Fault will address all these types of shame and will help you to understand yourself and your behavior better so that you can forgive yourself and rid yourself of the shame that has no doubt crippled you in many ways. The truth is, the shame you experienced is likely one of, if not the worst effects of the abuse or neglect you suffered as a child. Unless you heal this debilitating shame you will likely continue to suffer from a multitude of problems in your life.

Praise for Raising Myself

With uncommon clarity and kindness, the author speaks directly to the invisible heart of childhood abuse—shame. Readers will recognize the authentic voice of a former victim as she gently guides them on the healing path to self-compassion. It is an artful distillation of self-compassion theory, research, and practice for those who have suffered long enough. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Christopher Germer, PhD, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion

What a wonderful book! Beverly Engel has a deep understanding of how abuse and neglect affect children. Once again, she has written a much-needed, breakthrough book for those recovering from abuse. This time, she presents a profoundly powerful program to help survivors overcome one of the most devastating effects of abuse—debilitating shame. In it she teaches survivors how to practice self-compassion—an amazing healing tool. I highly recommend this book to anyone who was abused or neglected in childhood or adulthood.

Susan Forward, Ph.D., author of Mothers Who Can’t Love and Toxic Parents

This book provides an in-depth understanding of the many ways shame sustains the harm of past abuse, and outlines a powerful program using self-compassion to free yourself from these bonds. Read it and heal.

Kristin Neff, PhD, author of Self-Compassion

In this beautifully written book, Beverly Engel offers us a scholarly, yet easily-accessible understanding of the nature of shame and the harm that it does us. She also articulates very clearly how compassion is one of the most important antidotes for shame. After all, it’s easy to be compassionate toward people we like—but real compassion is for when things get tough. No one can read this book without coming away with considerable insights into the problematic ways we often treat ourselves and the value of developing compassion—not just as an easy option, but as a courageous way to deal with our inner struggles. I can’t recommend this book highly enough; it is well-researched, highly informative, and helpful. A real gift to those struggling with the inner conflicts of self-doubt and criticism.

Paul Gilbert, PhD, author of The Compassionate Mind