Throughout my work as an advocate for abuse survivors, I have seen a considerable amount of victim shaming, victim blaming and shame shifting. And I see the bigger picture of how much harm this causes.
Many abuse survivors are not ‘stronger’ after the abuse they have suffered. And for those who claim they are – that’s great, but it is very narcissistic to then look down on those who are struggling and mock, belittle and/or shame those who are deemed to not be ‘as strong’.
Many abuse survivors already feel considerable shame, due to the abuse they have suffered and when they are treated in this victim shaming way, that shame increases, and often leads to increased mental health issues, and can lead to suicide. When shamed for not being ‘strong enough’ – survivors can feel a burden, useless and weak. For those who have spiralled down to suicidal thoughts – this added shame can push them over the edge.
If you think about it – it doesn’t even make sense that every survivor of heinous, severe abuse – would be stronger as a result. Would anyone expect a person who has severe life impacting physical health issues, to be stronger? Of course not. Many abuse survivors have debilitating mental health issues, and many also endure physical health issues, which are life impacting and very difficult to manage. And that is not through any fault of the survivor, it is entirely the responsibility of the perpetrator(s) of the abuse.
It truly is a lack of empathy to insinuate any abuse survivor is ‘acting like a victim’ or ‘choosing to dwell in victimhood’ – when the fact is – no-one else knows the extent to which the abuse has affected the survivor. There are many factors that are beyond the survivors control, that affect coping and healing. And true empathy knows that.
Yet, I see these shaming terms perpetuated around social media and the internet. Far too many mental health professionals also choose to victim shame, and each one of those is blocked by me, as I will not tolerate it, condone it, or enable it.
As a highly insightful abuse survivor and therapist Pete Walker stated about complex trauma survivors….
For many such clients, we are their first legitimate shot at a safe and nurturing relationship. If we are not skilled enough to create the degree of safety they need to begin the long journey towards developing good enough trust, we may be their last.
Empathy is vital for severe abuse survivors, and shaming complex trauma survivors – creates considerable fear and a huge lack of safety. This causing the survivor to withdraw and possibly never reach out again for help. And the therapy offered, will require considerable effort to develop and maintain the degree of trust required for any therapeutic benefit. Shame should have no place in a complex trauma survivor’s therapy relationship.
See here for more info for therapists treating complex trauma.
I know the impact of the re-traumatising abuse caused by victim blaming, victim shaming and shame shifting. I’ve been dealing with it all my life. And I have the empathy required to not do this to any other survivors.
Victim shaming is further emotional/psychological abuse/trauma, even if not intentionally motivated. And that needs to be understood, acknowledged and a whole different way of thinking, is required.
Complex trauma survivors only begin to heal when they feel safe and understood and they are shown compassion. And when they are fully accepted with compassion, no matter whether they are coping well, or not. No matter whether they are thriving, or not.
Society, mental health professionals and survivors, need to stop victim shaming and instead develop empathy to understand, severe abuse does not always lead to the survivor being ‘stronger’.
And that is absolutely okay.
~ Lilly Hope Lucario
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