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  • Writer's pictureKatie Ray


“Trauma is not what happens to you. Trauma is what happens inside you, as a result of what happened to you.” -Gabor Mate

Shame is a normal, and sometimes helpful, human emotion.  Healthy shame alerts us that we may have crossed our own, or our culture’s, values and beliefs.  Shame creates a strong sense of regret, dishonor, or disgrace.   The function of feeling shame is to encourage us to act because our relationships may be in jeopardy and we need to do what it takes to repair them and maintain our place in the group.

Trauma survivors often experience a particular type of shame and it is important to know how this kind of shame is developed, internalized, and different from healthy shame.

Abuse occurs when there is a power differential.  

In an ideal world, it is the responsibility of the person with the power to keep the person without the power safe.  However, we live in a less than ideal world, and unfortunately many people in positions of power abuse that responsibility and hurt the ones in their care. 

  • People in positions of power can include clergy/spiritual leaders, parents, teachers, coaches, community leaders, neighbors, older children, relatives, etc.   

  •   Survivors are the people in this dynamic without power.  This can include children, students, athletes, parishioners, etc.

Trauma driven shame occurs when those in power do not take responsibility for the harm they have caused.  

The laws of physics apply here, too: according to the law of conservation of energy, we know that energy cannot be created nor destroyed.  When an abuser does not accept or acknowledge responsibility for the harm they have caused, that shame “energy” has to go somewhere, and it almost always flows downhill and is absorbed by the person without the power.

If you have experienced any of the following chronically, you might be noticing that your system has absorbed trauma driven shame:

  • Self hatred

  • Sense of worthlessness

  • Feeling flawed

  • Believing you are unworthy of anything good

  • Feelings of exposure and extreme embarrassment

  • Feeling like a bad person who will always do or cause bad things because he/she/they have a bad, flawed or destructive nature

  • A sense that even though people in your life now have wonderful things to say about you, you believe that they must not know “the real you” and that once they do, they will see something bad and unworthy and not want anything to do with you.

  • Feeling that you are responsible for other people’s happiness.

  • Not feeling deserving of living.

  • Feeling like there is something inherently wrong with you and that you don’t deserve anything good.

  • Feeling like feeling bad is “right” and feeling good is “wrong.”

  • Believing you are a terrible person.

  • Believing that your trauma is your fault.

It makes sense to feel these things because the person who has done the harm has not accepted that responsibility and it has been transformed from “I did something very bad” to “I am something very bad.”

Identifying that this has happened is an important first step and can help your system unload this energy of responsibility.  It was never yours in the first place! 


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