Guilt is a nearly universal imprint left behind by trauma

If you talk to an adult who has had a traumatic childhood, you will find a common theme running through their experience. That of guilt, or more accurately, shame. For the adult who emotionally, physically or sexually abuses a child, the blame for their bad behaviour is assigned to the child. “I wouldn’t hit you if you weren’t doing ….”, “I wouldn’t scream at you if you were good …”. And so on. Even when the child is not told they are to blame, it is normal for that child to accept blame. When a child feels to blame then they feel shame. Blame is about “you did something wrong”. Shame is about “I am a bad person”.
For a child, developing through the stages of dependence on their caregiver/s and feeling as one with that person, to understanding they are a separate person and discovering independence, the world does not operate the way we as adults see it operating. A young child will see the parents it depends on as being right. When the child is physically, emotionally or sexually abused they believe they must be the one who is wrong. I remember as a 5 or 6 year old, trying to be good because it was wrong to be bad. My measure of being good was whether my father would yell at me or hit me, or my mother would tell me how useless I was. This was evidence that I was bad. I never managed to get through a day without evidence that I was bad. I would be so disappointed that I couldn’t be better, and I would desperately try to work out what I had done wrong. This is a common experience for abused children. Whatever the abuse, the child believes and may also be told, it is their fault.
For a long time as an adult I was too ashamed to tell others what had happened to me as a child. This was because I believed people would look at me as being a bad person and I was ashamed of the evidence of me being bad. The first counsellor I summoned to courage to tell about some of my abuse told me I had a faulty personality. She was very new, inexperienced, and had no understanding of trauma. The next time I summoned the courage to talk to someone it was a psychologist who jumped in when I had spoken a few sentences and told me the problem was that my mother had post natal depression. She didn’t and that didn’t explain why my father was the way he was. I never went back to that woman. Then I discovered a counsellor who understood trauma. In fact she had experienced it. I tentatively told her about my experiences and instead of condemning me she made the comment that there was nowhere safe for me as a child. That was amazing. Her compassion and acknowledgement of something I had not realised was a great relief. Since then I have found other trauma understanding counsellors and have myself become trauma trained.
I understand that many adults still carry great guilt at the trauma they were exposed to as children. I will tell you the blame lies with the adults who failed to be adults and instead abused their power over you. I will listen as you tell me what you want to tell me. I will believe you. I will not tell you your personality is defective. I will not jump in and interpret your parent’s behaviour. I will listen. I will ensure you are safe in sessions, which may mean I ask you to stop telling me about your trauma for a little while because I can see it is triggering you and pushing you into a terrifying place. I will teach you how to find a safe place when those trauma memories come calling. I will teach you why you get triggered. I will tell you how amazing you are to have survived. I will help you to see the behaviours you learned as a child that allowed you to survive and help you to change the ones that no longer help you.
I will use a number of different methods to help you talk about the trauma you wish to talk about, to heal the memories and to learn new ways of being. That may involve sand play, art work, writing, journaling, story telling, symbols, movement, somatic work, even talking.
Never forget, the guilt of your childhood trauma does not belong with you. It belongs with those who traumatised you.

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