Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Shame

Published:Tuesday | January 24, 2017 | 1:09 AM

There's no shame in having been abused.

There, I said it.

There's a sleeping monster in our society. Too few women talk about it and too few girls know the dangers lurking around the corner. Our society keeps it secret and our mothers hold deep shame around it.

For years, I've struggled with understanding the need for secrecy even as I have told pieces and parts of my own story. But what I've found to be true, 20 years ago and today, is that sexual abuse (and all types of abuse that gets into the psyche and changes you at your core) is thought of as a deeply shameful thing, held tightly to the survivor's chest or buried in the recesses of the mind.

What's funny is that nobody hides the fact that they've been robbed. No one is ashamed of having been emotionally hurt by someone else. Instead, these things are openly shared as an injustice, deserving of punishment. Yet, the personal violation of another being's most intimate space is hushed and ushered away, girded with shame. The survivor is whispered about. Righteous indignation, absent.

Fact: At least one in every four women have been sexually abused and will be across their lifespan. That means one out of every four women you meet have been or will be intimately violated by someone else. The truth is, some of us have been so lost in our experiences that we believe our mere existence is shameful. We never discuss our pain, and as a result, we carry around with us a feeling of unworthiness, shame and sometimes irrepressible guilt that mars our identity; keeps us feeling like less than everyone else, and believing that we can never truly have the life we want.

In my own life, and in my work with sexually abused women and children, the biggest struggle every survivor faces is answering the question, 'why didn't you tell?" I've racked my brain for years about this and even today, I'm still not sure. I've come up with countless answers, but none of them really fit. I think it was because I didn't know what to say, or to whom, and then after the first time, I felt like my chance to tell had already passed. I'm still not sure.

Nevertheless, that feeling of guilt at not disclosing is insidious. It eats away at your sense of wholeness and deserving your whole life. And so, I want to share a message with women and children who have this experience (and the men and fathers and brothers who love them) - there is no shame in being a survivor of abuse.

You are no less a person because this is in your life story. You are worthy of everything that anyone else is. It doesn't make you dirty. It doesn't make you loose. It happened. It must be healed, and it can be healed. Most important, it must be talked about. Too many of us have deep pain stuffed down inside of us, to our own detriment. And it's time to let it out, in a healthy way that serves you.

- Dr Susaye Rattigan is a clinical psychologist and life and business coach. She is currently practising at Health + Wellness, Sagicor Montego Bay Shopping Centre in St James. She specialises in women's health issues and empowerment, with a focus on success and empowerment strategies. She can be reached at coachsusaye@gmail.com.