Traumatic Guilt: A Paradoxical Phenomenon

There is in each of us a child who, in the face of extremely painful situations, feels that he has done something wrong and has been punished for it. This is how traumatic guilt works: you end up taking responsibility for the abuse of others.
Traumatic guilt: a paradoxical phenomenon

Traumatic guilt is a type of remorse that arises after being the victim of abuse or a violent or extremely dangerous act. It is also very common for it to appear after having experienced very painful events, such as the death of a loved one or a divorce.

The paradox of traumatic guilt lies in the fact that the person who has suffered damage feels responsible for it. But why would a victim feel guilty? Isn’t it the aggressor who should regret his actions?

It often happens that abusers do not feel the slightest guilt, at least consciously. They justify their actions with phrases like “he / she deserved it” and the like. The victim, on the other hand, feels traumatic guilt and this can even determine a good part of his life.

Woman who feels guilty.

Trauma, a complex phenomenon

Trauma arises as a result of an experience that threatens the physical or psychological integrity of a person. It therefore includes a real danger and a situation in which the victim is in a state of invulnerability. This happens, for example, during an armed robbery, physical assault or accident.

Faced with such a situation, the person experiences confusion as well as a feeling of chaos and horror. She also feels that everything is absurd and is deeply confused. Usually, a traumatic situation generates fragmented memories.

The victim feels that it is impossible to recount what happened in a way that captures the horror she felt. At the same time, she feels that her story is simply incomprehensible to others.

No one can successfully capture the magnitude of how they felt and felt about it. Therefore, she feels separated from the rest of the world.

Trauma breaks our trust in others and our trust in ourselves. The traumatic fact breaks a logic that we thought was solid and consistent. We human beings tend to believe that we have control over reality and trauma causes that belief to disappear. Therefore, the Self ends up broken.

Traumatic guilt

All trauma leaves an indelible mark, both on a conscious and unconscious level. After this experience, people tend to withdraw emotionally and emotionally. They “hide” inside themselves, so to speak. This leads to more or less isolation.

We also see the need to mentally recreate what happened, trying to find meaning in it. Within the framework of this rumination, two very strong feelings take shape: one is shame and the other, traumatic guilt.

Usually, this traumatic guilt takes the form of thoughts and conjectures associated with misconceptions about what one might or might not have done to avoid or limit the damage one has suffered. Almost without realizing it, the affected person begins to harbor reflections such as “I should have defended myself better” .

One of the most problematic aspects is that the person begins to perceive the world in a threatening way. She doesn’t know what to expect from reality.

In addition, she feels vulnerable, as she has gone through something where her ability to control has found itself seriously impaired or canceled. The person can therefore become completely inhibited or reckless.

Woman suffering from emotional addiction.

The paths of traumatic guilt

Much of all of these processes associated with traumatic guilt take place unconsciously. Often times, fragmented memories of what happened fuel the idea of ​​imaginary responsibilities:  “I should have foreseen what was going to happen to me.” 

Without noticing it, people want to find a reason for this totally irrational and reprehensible situation of violence or abuse. They also want to regain their ability to control the world. Blaming yourself is a (wrong) way of visualizing yourself again as subjects and not as objects of others or of the world.

Untreated trauma can have lifelong effects. These can manifest in the form of anxiety, withdrawal and objectification of the self. The person ends up feeling that he must “let himself be carried away” or by fear of the actions which suppose to take control over his destiny.

Trauma and traumatic guilt must be addressed in psychotherapy. It is fundamental to overcome the silence, to reinterpret what has taken place with a more realistic and flexible criterion and to give meaning to the suffering.

It is also, of course, necessary to move forward on the path of reconciliation with oneself. In the face of atrocities, we can be proud of ourselves if we somehow survive.

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