Book Review: It Wasn’t Your Fault

It Wasn’t Your Fault: Freeing Yourself from the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion, by Beverly Engel

It would be a lot easier to wholeheartedly recommend this book if the author had not felt it necessary to connect self-compassion with a focus on promoting aspects of Buddhism [1]. The Golden Rule tells us to love others as we love ourselves, not because we think others are exactly like us, but because we believe that as their own people they deserve to be respected as the same sort of beings we are. Yet survivors of abuse (this book, quite intentionally, speaks of victims, as a way of divorcing people from the responsibility of the abuse they suffered) often lack precisely the proper understanding of the love and respect and honor that belongs to all people by birthright, simply by being a child of God, largely because of the misfortune of being born into a dysfunctional family. And because the most obvious course for such brokenness to take is for broken people to further break others in some fashion, it is lamentably easy for generational cycles or patterns of abuse to continue on, something the author discusses in deeply unpleasant and even graphic ways [2]. This is not the sort of book one reads for enjoyment; it is rather the sort of book one reads either because one wishes to provide compassionate care to others or because one wishes to be more compassionate to oneself for what was clearly not one’s own fault, even if dealing with the aftermath is one’s unwanted responsibility.

In a little over 250 pages, this book has eleven chapters (and a very short conclusion) divided into three parts. The first part looks at the antithetical relationship between shame and compassion, examining how and why child abuse creates shame, why shame is so debilitating, and how compassion can heal the shame of child abuse. The author is careful to point out that guilt comes from something that we have done, from having behaved immorally or unjustly, but that shame comes from what we are, and is correspondingly more difficult to handle effectively because it strikes at our identity, even if it comes from the conduct of others. The second part of the book provides a discussion of the compassion cure program, giving the obstacles to self-compassion, the importance of receiving compassion from others, and allowing yourself to feel your pain and to acknowledge its existence. The third part of the book looks at the practice of the five aspects of self-compassion: self-understanding, self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, self-kindness, and self-encouragement. Aside from its personal comments, from the author’s own experience with child abuse and being raped and abused, the author also speaks as a practicing psychologist who speaks of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in the language of self-compassion.

There are both positive and negative aspects to this book. A far more beneficial approach would have been to address the reality of our status as sinful and fallen beings and the fact that we cannot achieve salvation on our own efforts. That said, we have a loving heavenly Father who wishes to honor us, as that brings reflected glory to Him, and who wishes for us to grow up to be like him in love and mercy and understanding. We also have an Elder Brother, our Savior Jesus Christ, who experienced human brokenness and opened the way for us to be restored, for the slate to be wiped clean, for us to live and walk in His righteousness. A book like this is useful insofar as the reader is led to show mercy and compassion to those who wronged us, to apologize to those whom we have wronged, even unintentionally, and to reflect on the mercy that God has given us by allowing us the chance to escape from the miserable default fate of those who suffer abuse only to destroy ourselves through sins and addictions, and to spread the cycle of abuse to others. For those who are seeking to become less intensely self-critical, and more loving and compassionate to themselves and others, and whose background includes a large amount of abuse, it is worthwhile to take the effort to draw encouragement and insight from a book like this, flawed though it is. The author is lamentably all too right that our own culture prizes tends to blame and shame those who suffer abuse, both because it shows weakness that many are unwilling to admit, and also because the existence of wrongs would tend to delegitimize those who enjoy present power and privilege in our present evil world. Thankfully, we will all stand before a judge who is both just and merciful, even if we struggle with being compassionate to our own human frailties and weaknesses in light of the harsh and unforgiving world in which we live.

[1] This is a common problem in self-help books. See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/08/04/book-review-feelings-buried-alive-never-die/

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/between-how-it-is-and-how-it-should-be/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/book-review-jesus-my-father-the-cia-and-me-a-memoir-of-sorts/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/07/29/i-am-not-a-human-being/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/now-your-mess-is-mine/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/on-the-bi-directional-feedback-of-culture-and-membership-in-the-20th-and-21st-century-experience-of-the-church-of-god/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/book-review-another-chance/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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18 Responses to Book Review: It Wasn’t Your Fault

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  17. ericdgreene says:

    There are aspects of Buddhism that should be promoted. It isn’t a shortcoming of the book at all.

    • Ah contraire, when authors try to promote dubious religious worldviews in a biased fashion under the guise of mental health, that’s a big problem. Had they talked about Christian meditation as well it would have been less troublesome.

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