Shame and Humiliation in Childhood Abuse

October 19th, 2018

Recently when I was doing some continuing ed, I was reading an article on Shame and Humiliation in relationship to childhood abuse. (If you want to know: It was published in the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation by the ISSTD and written by Martin Dorahy in 2017.)

It was quite a fascinating read, I must say! It showed clearly the difference between experiencing shame and humiliation especially in relation to abuse. And it was quite eye-opening the difference.

Dorahy makes the difference this way: 
"In shame, the self is the failure and others may reject or be critical of this exposed, flawed self. In humiliation, others callously expose and reject the flawed self" (p. 385).

So Shame is about something that we did and humiliation is about something others did to us.

In other words: "With shame, the person comes to believe they deserved it, with humiliation they do not believe it was deserved" (Klein, 1991, as cited in Dorahy, 2017)

Now, in case of abuse, a child's brain will rather experience shame than humiliation in order to protect those who abused them. This is particularly the case when the abuse happened by a caregiver or another family member. In order to stay safe, the child will rather blame themselves for what happened than seeing it as what it was: a humiliation.

Kind of unfair. Kids (and adults) experiencing shame through abuse, rather than humiliation, putting the blame on themselves rather than the perpetrator. 
The focus shifts from blaming somebody else for what they've done to us, to blaming ourselves.

One of the many problems with shame is that it "cuts a person off from others, creating a crippling sense of seclusion" (p. 385)

So what can we do about it? 
Well, I think most importantly we need to become aware and need to come to a place where we can re-label situations from our past that were humiliating rather than shaming.

Of course, this is easier said than done. We need lots of insight, self-awareness, and a support network that can help us through it. Moving from feelings of shame to feelings of humiliation can bring freedom: "With shame, the person comes to believe they deserved it, with humiliation they do not believe it was deserved" (p. 386).

Doesn't that sound nice; realizing that you didn't deserve what was happening to you? Reframing shame to humiliation can help you understand that you did nothing to deserve what happened to you!

If you find yourself struggling with shame or humiliation in your life, feel free to give me a call or talk to someone you trust to start the process of healing and getting unstuck!

Chris Rensch
M.A., RCC
Chris Rensch Child and Trauma Therapy
#101 23160 96th Ave, Fort Langley, V1M 2S1

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