CPTSD; guilt and shame

Hi everyone,

I spoke to a person about guilt and she was really struggling with it due to some childhood trauma. I have a map from therapy and they discuss all sorts of topics that relate to complex trauma.
I have therapy at a specialized centre of complex trauma and in a group with people who have childhood trauma. I do think they know what they’re talking about.

I wanted to share the topic ‘Guilt and shame’ with you guys, because I think it’s very valuable.

It does test my translation skills, so lets hope I can make it work 😛 !

Lets go 😉 !

Guilt and shame are two  “feelings” of which people who have experienced trauma suffer from. Guilt and shame can have a lot of influence on the contact with other people. That’s why its important to learn to manage these ‘feelings’ so that they wont hinder you in your daily activities. Guilt and shame are actually not feelings but thoughts of yourself, thoughts over what the other (might) think of you or thoughts about what you (yourself) did or did not do. These thoughts are no emotions but they do evoke feelings and emotions. Guilt and shame are hard to separate from eachtother. Below they will be described separately.

Guilt is a normal human response. We can distinguish them between real and unreal feelings of guilt.
When you talk about real feelings of guilt, (real is not a nice word… hmm you might think of factual instead! However I do continue to write real) you might say consciousness of guilt; you know you did something, which society, the law, or your own consciousness, thinks is wrong. And you take responsibility for it. Feelings of guilt is an important signal of your conscience.
With unreal (again, not a nice word, may think of it as unrealistic. However I will continue to use the word unreal) feelings of guilt, its about a gnawing thought of something you did or did not to in relation to others. Most of the time it involves a not clear defined behaviour, something you have to guess to.

Guilt and trauma
Traumatic experiences often lead to feelings of guilt. This is due to the unequal power ratio during the (sexual) abuse. Feelings of guilt can occur in many different ways:
– People talked it into you: “Its your own fault” and you still think like that (automatically)
– something happened to you which is a taboo, (for instance because of religion) so you are bad and guilty
– You could have learned that what you want does not matter. Thats why you’ll feel guilty when you want something

Guilt as a survival strategy
Feelings of guilt have an important function: feeling of guilt gives hope. Feelings of guilt occur when people are made powerless. In a powerless position people often look for control, grip on the event. Feelings of guilt then arise as a survival strategy.
Everything is better than to realize that the people who are responsible of you, the people you rely on, are bad for you, or unable to protect you enough. Then there’s no hope. So placing the blame on yourself ( I am bad) gives an explanation for the behaviour of others (it’s logical for them to act like that, they can’t help it). The other person remains ‘good’.
Besides, guilt gives perspective; to do your best to be a good child or woman, wherefore the bad experiences will stop. The feelings of guilt also make sure you don’t have to feel angry or sad. You avoid experiencing these emotions like that.

Guilt, self-image and interaction with others
Like all survival strategy’s, later in life they lose their (positive) purpose. Where feelings of guilt first gave you hope and a grip on the event, now they may lead you to problems with regard to yourself, your self-image and the interaction with others. It disrupts the self-image of yourself and the image of others.
Feelings of guilt navigate your behaviour, from fear of thinking of yourself as bad or selfish.This can lead to constantly pleasing others and losing your own needs, wishes and desire’s. Another result can be that because of these feelings of anxiety, you’ll feel unreal or unfair in your contact with others > which could lead to more feelings of guilt.
If the feelings of guilt become stronger, it can lead to depression, self-hatred, self-humiliation and self-destructive behaviour.

Shame is, just as guilt, a normal human response. It can be seen as a response to a social ‘trespass’. For instance when you’re waiting in line and you jump the queue, and someone see’s it, it could lead to ‘normal’ feelings of shame. Normal feelings of shame make sure you’ll obey the ‘social’ rules in the presence of others. It has a social function.
Shame navigates your behaviour out of fear for others or yourself (through the eyes of others) might be thinking you’re weird, inappropriate or aberrant in your behaviour, that is something you want to prevent. Because feelings of shame are very painful, something you’d rather evade.
By feelings of shame there are tons of physical reactions; your blood vessels dilate, for instance in your face (blushing), your knees might feel weak, you can get the tendency to hide.

Shame and self-image
Shame comes forth from the relationship we have with ourselves. everyone has a certain idea, certain standard about how you should be. This cooperates to the feeling of self-respect, your feeling of self-esteem. Shame protects our intimacy, it keeps us within human boundaries, by telling us we are making mistakes and that we need help.
Healthy shame is the foundation of modesty. Feelings of shame have an important function: shame protects your self-image. It is a signal that tells you there is a difference between who you are (your actual self) and who you want to be (your ideal self), in relation to (important) others.

Shame and trauma
Shame is an unpleasant feeling that include you as a person, your right to exist. When you’ve been chronically traumatized at a young age, feelings of shame can degenerate into a state where you’re constantly in (it takes over your identity). Youre right in the middle of it, as it were, you are the shame. You think you’re no one, you’re not upright, not honorable, improperly, ridiculous or stupid. It is a powerful emotion where a feeling of confusion, self-punishment and a feeling being surrendered to your bad self/other, is very common. It’s as if you are overwhelmed by a perception of not allowed to be here or no right to exist as who you are. Or by being something which you should have not been (or the other way round). By being stuck in the middle of this, what you’re feeling feels like the truth. These feelings of shame are very destructive.

Reaction to shame-problems
Shame is a feeling that overtakes you. It’s a normal human reaction, but still very hard to endure. So it’s really normal when you look for ways of making the feelings of shame a little bit more bearable. There are 4 directions you can take, this is also called ‘the compass of shame’:
(Lucky me! I found it in English again, just by translation it literally xD! )
compass of shame
Feelings of shame can lead to wanting to retreat or avoid the situation. But it can also lead to attacking the other person or attacking yourself. It often involves feelings of guilt. anger and hopelessness. There is an opposite side as well; impudence. Impudence can be seen as a way to roar down the feelings of shame. It is a survival strategy which can give you a feeling of control over the situation. It’s important to become aware of your behaviour, and realise you do have a choice about how to deal with the emotions. By realising your behaviour towards feelings of shame, you can explore other ways to deal with it.
(By the way, when we discussed this in my group. Others did recognize the directions, but also recognizing having more than one. For instance I, Brianna, attack myself very much, but I also avoid it, while attacking myself)

(Last but not least!)

How to deal with feelings of guilt and shame?
1. Feeling anger and experiencing it.
Feelings of shame and guilt often function to cover up other emotions like, anger. Feeling of shame and/or guilt has an advantage of not opening up your eyes to see how bad others have been to you. When you are able to see the responsiblity of the other person in the situation (yes, the other one IS responsible. NOT you!), you’ll see that the feelings of shame gradually reduce. Sadness and anger can replace that.
It’s important to realise that you are mad at SOMEONE ELSE. You don’t deserve the feelings of guilt and self-abuse which cover up the anger and sadness.

2. Register your feelings and thoughts
People are often taught to look and listen to the feelings of others before they look at themself. This was necessary to survive, to be safe. Thats why its important to register what you are feeling in situations. Feelings don’t appear out of nowhere – investigate what situation, what thoughts and what behaviour had influence on your feelings. It’s mostly false believes and crooked thoughts that you take as the truth. If you (with someone else) investigate them, you could see if the thoughts are actually  ‘true’, rational and handy.

3. Concentrate on the consequences of feelings of guilt and shame
Try to investigate  what the consequences are of your feelings of guilt and shame. You could use the Compass of Shame. Do you retreat from social contact or avoid it all together? Do you attack others or attack yourself? Do you tend to say sorry for things that aren’t that bad, or for things you have nothing to do with? How does this effect how you feel about yourself?

4. Try to correct your thoughts about feelings of guilt and shame
If your feelings of guilt and shame have a lot of consequences on your self-esteem and the way you want to live your life, take a look if you can challenge and correct the thoughts of guilt and shame. Ask yourself; is this true? Is it right? Do I help myself by thinking like that? When you have new, alternative, thoughts about yourself and you repeat them endlessly (practice makes perfect) your feelings of guilt and shame might reduce.

5. Make yourself powerful and strong
Physically you can practice to make yourself feel strong again. A way of feeling different about your body is sports. (Uhm.. now they refer to previous chapters in the handout we got.. uhhhh… what do I do now? Chips.. ) You can use the skills you have learned in the past to see if they affect your feelings of guilt and shame. For instance; contrive encouraging statements against feelings of shame and guilt. or when you are feeling very tense because of feelings of guilt; try to relax with some relaxation exercises.
You can learn to say ‘no’, to speak up for yourself, requesting something without making yourself dependent on others, give criticism. Practice to become more socially proficient in contact with other.

MAN OH MAN. I’ll think twice before typing (and translating) something like this again!!!! But I’m glad i did (and that its done now 😛 ) . I hope it will help someone at some level.

Take care!


ps. Gotta do the spellcheck now. There goes another 15 minutes xD
LOL I just DONT have energy left, to read the whole thing and correct the grammar mistakes I made. I’m sorry for the crappy English sometimes. I hope its understandable like this.

18 thoughts on “CPTSD; guilt and shame

  1. As J truly stated: I’m struggling with guilt and shame a lot. This is my main issue now. Thanks so much for sharing! I recognized a lot of it in what J. tries to teach me, but the compass of shame and the possible directions are new to me. Thanks again sweety! This is really helpful!

    Loaaads of hugs nd sweet dreams <3!

  2. Pingback: Student Success Statement | Jocyy

  3. I was wondering if you’ve ever heard of Theophostic Prayer Ministry. Here a link to my other blog about being a child abuse survivor. I have a ton of c-ptsd from it. I don’t know if I sent you this link before because I’ve been reaching out to many other survivors.
    here’s a link to another post that links to Theophostic Prayer Ministries.

    ps- I’m just interested in it. I am not in anyway ‘selling’ it.

  4. Pingback: Struggling with going “No Contact” | My journey of healing from psychological abuse

  5. Great resource and information. May I add, a sufferer at one time of serious C-PTSD which led eventually to agoraphobia at my bottom.

    Speaking of trauma guilt, self image, self worth guilt from abuse etc. Guilt in my mind is judgment about past events, things already lived, celebrated, endured or traumatized to. For me mindfully letting go, that is focusing on the breath, letting these emotionally charged guilt feelings alone, clears the mind, empties it of thought and exposes the transparency of thought or emotion.

    Once I let thoughts about guilt alone they faded like the air they were made up of. Thoughts are air without action. In a sixty second period my mind can bring numerous outrageous guilt feeling to my consciousness. Am I these thoughts of guilt, no where close.

    Nothing anyone says especially me about me can touch my true self, being.

    guilt disappeared for me after a childhood of complete criticism and violence, I felt perfect! whole! not lacking anything.

    Nothing had changed but where I placed my attention and understanding the perspective that the ego, thoughts and emotions are tiny, impermanent and constantly changing.

    Try to be cheerful all day today.

    Well my two cents

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