The Effects of Shame

If you were a victim of childhood abuse or neglect shame can affect literally every aspect of your life: your self-confidence and self-esteem; your body image; your ability to relate to others; your intimate relationships; your ability to be a good parent; your work performance and your ability to be successful. Shame is responsible for a myriad of problems, including but not limited to:

  • Self-criticism and self-blame;
  • Self-neglect;
  • Self-destructive behaviors (abusing your body with food, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, self-mutilation, being accident-prone);
  • Self-sabotaging behavior (starting fights with loved ones, sabotaging jobs);
  • Perfectionism;
  • The belief that you do not deserve good things;
  • “People-pleasing” behaviors;
  • Intense rage (frequent physical fights, road rage);
  • Acting out against society (breaking the rules, breaking the law);
  • And most important, continuing to repeat the cycle of abuse through either victim behavior or abusive behavior.

Typically, victims of child abuse are changed by the experience, not only because they were traumatized, but because of the loss of innocence they feel and the amount of shame they carry from that day forward. Emotional, physical and sexual child abuse can cause a victim to become so overwhelmed with shame that it can actually come to define the person and prevent her from reaching her full potential. It can cause someone to remain fixated at the age she was at the time of the victimization and it can motivate a person to repeat the abuse over and over in her lifetime.

How Shame Contributes to the Cycle of Abuse

Shame is at the core of every form of abuse and is a key factor in the behavior of both abusers and victims. Shame plays a significant role in the cycle of abuse in the following ways:

  • It is often shame that prevents victims from believing they deserve to be treated with love, kindness and respect and thus they tend to stay in abusive relationships far too long.
  • It is shame that causes an adult to believe he or she deserves to be treated with disrespect and disdain.
  • It is shame that causes a person to humiliate and degrade his or her partner or children.
  • Those who abuse others are often trying to rid themselves of their own shame.
  • Shame can cause emotional outbursts. It is often shame that triggers the kinds of rage that can cause abusiveness.

Sadly, shame from childhood abuse almost always manifests itself in one of three major ways:

  • It causes the person to abuse themselves in various ways such as: critical self-talk, alcohol or drug abuse, destructive eating patterns, and self-harm (Two-thirds of the people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children).
  • It causes the person to develop “victim-like” behavior and put up with unacceptable behavior from others (As many as 90% of women in battered women’s shelters report having been abused or neglected as children).
  • It causes the person to become abusive (About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children).