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Trauma Survivors Aren’t Disgusting

Something I hear all too often from other abuse survivors is that they feel disgusting. Having been sexually abused makes us feel repulsive. People of all ages from every stage of healing have encountered this feeling at some point, and it may very well come up again and again.

My disgust kept me from uttering the truth for most of my life. I couldn’t accept the fact that I was abused. It seemed like if I told the truth the people around me would cease to love me. They would think I was contaminated with something dark and corrupt. It would spread to their families and love ones, and then they’d also have no hope for a normal, healthy life. I wondered, “Who would want to know someone with such a disgusting secret?”

The prospect of joining a group for trauma therapy filled me with fear. I thought they’d all know I was repulsive, although I didn’t feel that way about them. I even had a friend who was abused when she was a child. It never made me judge her. In fact, I thought she was incredibly strong. But somehow that didn’t apply to me.

I carried the guilt, shame, and disgust that seemed appropriate for the level of monstrosity of the crimes perpetrated against me as a child. But I wasn’t the perpetrator. Perhaps that’s the thing so many survivors are failing to see.

Survivors have told me they feel that they “deceived” friends or loved ones by not telling them their abuse history. Much like a person failing to disclose their HIV status to sexual partners, it’s as if they feel like they will infect others with their trauma.

There is nothing inside trauma survivors that is poisonous, perverse, or inherently flawed. We’re not damaged goods. Showing someone your trauma isn’t the same thing as taking off a mask to reveal a monster. You’re not the monster. You’re not the criminal. You don’t have to carry the shame that belongs to your abuser.

If it’s permission you want, I give it to you. You have permission not to feel disgusting. You are not tarnished by events that happened when you were an innocent child. You deserved better. You deserved a clean slate just like everyone else starting out in life.

Abuse is never the victim’s fault. I know this and say it repeatedly, but if I truly embraced that fact I would never feel disgusted again. Sometimes it’s so obvious that I didn’t grow up like other kids, and I begin to feel defective and infectious again. The following is an excerpt from the poem by Mary Oliver entitled “Wild Geese” that always gives me comfort:

“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

Once you stop judging yourself for what happened to you, you can continue on the path to healing. Right now, the child inside needs a safe, supportive place. It deserves acceptance, not judgment. Be gentle with yourself.

Abuse victim photo available from Shutterstock

Trauma Survivors Aren’t Disgusting

Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review.

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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). Trauma Survivors Aren’t Disgusting. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 24 Nov 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.