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Self Forgiveness and PTSD: Healing Shame

A common feeling you may feel after experiencing something traumatic is a shame. This can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and isolation. If you feel shame after experiencing something traumatic, there are ways to heal and forgive yourself.

Shame After Experiencing Trauma

If you experience a traumatic event, you might find yourself regretting your actions while in that moment. You might have wished you responded differently, or you might blame yourself for the events that transpired.

Perhaps you find yourself looking back at the event, going over every detail, and focusing on what you could have done. This can be common if you have experienced the trauma yourself or even if you had a loved one who experienced the trauma.

Shifting the Blame Onto Yourself

A common symptom you may experience is distorting the reality of the events to shift the blame onto yourself. This is not deliberate, but rather something that comes from being unable to process the event that happened. PTSD is common if you were not able to seek support from the event or were unable to process the feelings you had at the time. Even if you were not there, but knew someone affected, you might blame yourself for not being there to stop it.

Maybe you might feel that you should have reacted differently. This could be an internalized thought or something based upon what someone said to you during that moment. Often, victims of trauma are blamed for their own inaction during an extremely distressful experience. Despite the fact you might have reacted instinctually through the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response, there is still guilt associated with what you could have done but did not.

Understanding That You Are Human

Unfortunately, you do not have superhuman abilities to respond perfectly in the face of a dangerous situation. You might often put a lot of pressure on yourself to excel above and beyond in stressful situations. It is okay to make mistakes and to fail. This is a part of being human.

Even if your job is saving lives, there are going to be times when you will not be able to save everyone. That can be scary, but it is a hard part of the job. You have done your best and it is important to keep in mind that you have done nothing wrong.

Accepting What You Can’t Control

The truth is that you cannot change the past, and you are limited in what you can control for the future. If you feel ashamed about the events of past trauma, it is important to accept the things you cannot control right now. You cannot change what happened to you.

Yet, you can control how you deal with it in the present. Once you are able to master that understanding, you can learn to accept the things that happened and move on from them.

Seek Support From Loved Ones

It might be hard to admit to a loved one that you feel ashamed of your role in a traumatic experience. People want to be their best for the loved ones in their lives, and admitting something they are ashamed of can be scary. You might be afraid their perception of you might change.

Although, being vulnerable with your loved ones and sharing your feelings of shame can help you feel less alone. Shame can often cause emotional isolation, which in turn can lead to disorders such as substance use disorder or depression. Being honest about your shame and the actions of your past can grow and strengthen your connection.

Talk With a Support Group or Therapist

Sharing with a support group about uncomfortable feelings like shame can help you bring these feelings out in the open. A support group can bring comfort by relating to or understanding your experience, making you feel less alone. A therapist can listen to your feelings and offer you an alternative viewpoint outside of your own perspective.

Often, feelings can become distorted over time, and talking about the events as they occurred might shine a light on the possibility that your role was not as bad, or that you could afford to give yourself more grace.

Allow Yourself Space and Time to Heal

Shame is a difficult emotion to process. It takes time to learn to forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself for your role in your traumatic experience is not something that happens overnight. It might be frustrating that some of these feelings of shame are left over when you are actively working on it, but over time you should be able to fully forgive yourself and move on from the experience.

Shame commonly results from experiencing a traumatic event, especially if you were unable to seek the support you needed at the time. Blame felt as a result of a traumatic experience can increase the risk of developing PTSD.

The shame felt from a traumatic experience can limit a person's ability to process and heal from trauma. Additionally, a person who feels ashamed about their role in the traumatic event might isolate socially and emotionally, as well as have feelings of depression. If you are holding onto shame, it is important to learn how you can forgive yourself.

Talking to loved ones, or a support group about your experiences can help contextualize your feelings and allow you to process and move on. At Chateau, we work with many first responders who are exposed to trauma every single day on the job. Recognizing this shame and forgiving yourself is important for your career. To learn more, call (435) 222-5225 today.

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