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In conversation with my friend Beth, I mentioned that even though I knew the molestation in childhood wasn't my fault, I still felt shame and guilt over my abuse as if I had failed in some way. "I keep thinking that only if I—"
"You shouldn't feel that way," Beth said.
Before I could respond, she listed my achievements (as if I didn't know them) and told me how much she admired me for the way I had dealt with my painful childhood.
"You don't deserve to feel that way."
Beth was trying to encourage me and I appreciated her concern; however, nothing she said was helpful. She tried to persuade me with logic and tell me how unreasonable it was to feel as I did.
I knew that it was unreasonable, but I also knew that emotions don't listen to logic. Beth could have told me a thousand times not to feel as I did because of what someone did to me. I would have agreed, but nothing would have changed. What I also hear from well-meaning friends when I speak of my painful feelings is, "Just get over it!" Easy words, but meaningless and powerless. Do they think I want to hold on to my painful emotions? Do they believe I want to wallow in self-judgment?
One time when I spoke about the lingering feelings of shame, my late friend, Steve Grubman-Black, also a survivor of sexual abuse, said, "Be kind to yourself. Accept those feelings because they're real. When you're able to feel compassion for that innocent child you were, those negative feelings will begin to dissipate."
Steve was right, even though it took at least three more years for me to become aware of the change.
These days whenever I feel a negative or condemning emotion, I remind myself that I can't argue myself out of feeling as I do, but here's something I do tell myself: "I accept myself the way I am."
I also remind myself: Emotions don't listen to logic.
Cecil Murphey is the author or co-author of more than 100 books including 90 Minutes in Heaven, which was on The New York Times best-seller list for five years. He is also the author of When a Man You Love Was Abused.
The mission of 1in6 is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives.
1in6's mission also includes serving family members, friends, and partners by providing information and support resources on the web and in the community.
The views expressed above are not necessarily those of the Joyful Heart Foundation or 1in6.