Going through a traumatic experience is something you can carry with you for years. Many people understand some of the common symptoms of conditions like PTSD, including flashbacks and nightmares.

However, there are additional lingering issues that can affect you years later, no matter the type of trauma you went through. It’s not uncommon for trauma survivors to struggle with guilt and shame.

But, why would someone who has experienced something so damaging feel ashamed? After all, you didn’t have control of your trauma, it’s something that happened to you. Still, shame can play a major role in how you see yourself. It can also prevent you from getting the help you need and deserve.

Let’s take a closer look at shame’s role in the aftermath of trauma, and how you can overcome it.

Why Does Trauma Create Shame?

Not every traumatic experience triggers shame in a person. But, things like sexual violence, child abuse or neglect, or domestic violence with an intimate partner are all examples of situations that can create shame and guilt. These are all situations in which you’re likely to feel helpless and powerless. Afterward, you might end up questioning your self-worth.

Trauma can easily lead to anxiety. Anxious thoughts might make you wonder if you could have done something differently to avoid the situation. While those negative thoughts are the enemy, they make it easy to start feeling ashamed or guilty.

Common Coping Mechanisms

It’s not uncommon for people who struggle with shame due to trauma to react or “cope” in different ways. One of the most likely is withdrawal. When you don’t view yourself as worthy of love or even happiness, you might try to stay away from people in your life — even those who care about you. You might also withdraw from your hobbies and interests as a way to punish yourself.

photo of a man sitting on a couch in a therapy officePeople who struggle with shame are also often angry. If you tend to have angry outbursts frequently, it could be a way to try to mask the pain you’re feeling beneath the surface. Self-harm is also fairly common for people struggling with shame. Things like misusing substances or physically hurting yourself can mask the pain for a while, but it’s a dangerous way to cope, and a slippery slope to go down.

Shame can lead to a variety of other mental health conditions. When you feel like your life isn’t worth anything, you’re more likely to experience extreme sadness, hopelessness, and depression. You’ll struggle with low self-esteem, and might have social anxiety because you worry about what other people might think of you.

What Can You Do?

The types of trauma that can cause shame are especially damaging. They tend to hold on, and it’s hard to let them go because they have such a deep impact on the way you see yourself.

But, you can reduce shame in your life and stop letting your traumatic experience define you and your future. Try to reframe your negative thoughts. Instead of letting negative self-talk creep in, remind yourself of all of the positive things you did today. Start each day with positive affirmations about yourself. Show yourself kindness and compassion the same way you would with a friend who was struggling.

Most importantly, don’t feel like you have to go through this alone. Consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help. Therapy is a wonderful way to better understand the root of your trauma, and why it might be causing so much shame. A therapist can also help you find healthy, effective ways to cope. Eventually, you can find freedom from your traumatic past, and recognize your worth.

Reach out to learn more about trauma therapy and how it can help you move forward.