The powerlessness of grooming

by | 21 February 2019 | 11 comments

‘It’s just a terrible sense of guilt,’ I explain, ‘but I don’t even know where it comes from. I just know that it was my fault. That it was always my fault. So how can I sit here in therapy and complain that I was abused if I caused it?’

The therapist looks steadily at me like she’s trying to balance a spoon on the end of her nose, and if she twitches a single muscle in expressing a response, it will fall off. I feel slightly disturbed that she is so still. Either she’s going to throw me out – because she’s realised how wrong it is for me to be here – or she’s going to demolish my belief in a single retort. But I don’t yet know which.

She doesn’t speak. She just keeps looking at me. It goes on for about three hours. Or maybe three seconds – I’m not sure. Time has gone scrunchy.

Eventually she takes a deep breath and shifts in her seat, moving slightly closer. Here it comes.

‘Would you say to your foster children that it’s their fault that they were abused?’


Find the complete article in Carolyn's new book, 'Unshame: healing trauma-based shame through psychotherapy', available now!

A word of explanation

I had therapy mainly between 2006 and 2015. These blog posts are not verbatim accounts of sessions, but rather the client equivalent of ‘case studies’ - amalgamations of various sessions, ‘narratively true’ rather than ‘historically true’. Although often written for stylistic purposes in the present tense, they are very much from a past period of my life. Ideally they should be read within the wider context of other blog posts, articles and my book, to give a more integrated and rounded sense of where I was at, where I’m at now, and the process that took place between those two points. I have been on a journey of recovery, and the difference in me from when I was in therapy (especially at the beginning) to now is testament to the brain’s ability to recover from even the most appalling suffering.

My primary work now is writing, followed closely by training therapists, counsellors and other professionals to support survivors of trauma. Regrettably I cannot provide one-to-one support but our charity framework PODS (Positive Outcomes for Dissociative Survivors) provides a helpline and a range of other services: please go to for more information, and if you are looking for support.

For training, please see our range of live courses at, and our online courses at We also publish a range of resources to support recovery from trauma, which you can see at My first book, Recovery is my best revenge, is available to buy at




  1. Reversing the grooming process is a very gradual thing, as you describe, and the first step of it is learning that we CAN reverse the damage done by grooming. As a default we will feel powerless to reverse the grooming, mimicking the powerlessness we felt then, but blogs like this help me realise that the way I was groomed was not specific to me; and that so many children sadly grow up absorbing these life limiting messages from people incapable of parenting us in safe healthy ways, and that we don’t always have to live in the shadow of our past. Your proactive attitude to recovery is really inspiring Carolyn. Thank you!

  2. All I can manage to say right now after just reading C’s blog and all the comments is that my current, intermittent, re-experiencing of powerlessness has me frozen, immobilised and completely dissociated.
    C’s explanation of just what grooming actually is… other than just being manipulative / devious… reveals what utterly cowardly, self serving apologies for human beings our abusers were.
    Holding hands with all who read this x

  3. It took me ages to read this and digest it. It makes perfect sense, but I’m just not ready to let it “fit” me yet. It was and it wasn’t, I’m still playing out my own blame game.
    Here is a question, If this situation has happened on many times, at every age you can remember, could it be that I was always “trained” and somehow questionable men pick up the traits I present to make me an easier target?
    I have always maintained that I have never been raped, because if it is going to happen anyway, if I say yes, then I am consenting and not a victim and that is an easier thing to “remember to forget”. Example, “I’ve been a slut AGAIN. Ugh!” is better than “That man had sex with me and I didn’t want that to happen.” Faulty thinking or possible logic?

    • I was not ready to let being groomed ‘fit’ my situation either. It took 45 years to finally meet a therapist who fully recognised the grooming and we worked together for an acceptance of that fact: I was groomed and raped. “But he was my friend, we were exploring things together, he was showing me real sex” was my clause. I hope that you reach that conclusion too, it may take time and time is what we all have. x Stay strong.

  4. That session happened only 6 months ago, Carolyn? I’m amazed by you. I attended one of your training sessions in London recently and you spoke so surely, so eloquently, so powerfully that I’m amazed you felt the way you describe above only 6 months ago! The woman I listened to avidly for a day, scribbling notes in my pad and feeling inspired by can never have been ‘ridiculously stupid’. You have stepped in your power in an inspiring way.

    • I’m afraid I’m not that impressive! I don’t know where the six month suggestion came from, but this was a number of years ago … I finished therapy in 2015, so all my blog posts are historical and from various stages of the therapeutic process. Sorry to disappoint! 😉

  5. There you go again……….identifying one of my ‘things that are really weird about me’ beliefs and validating them as normal trauma/abuse response!
    How stupid, ridiculously stupid, I felt telling the therapist ‘ I wasnt a child’ ….even as I said it I knew how it sounded…but I truly utterly believed it…never questioned it…until about 6 months ago. And I still like to hide it from myself it seems…..reading it here felt like a shock…It feels like a double- edged sword, this validation thing…relief and reminder at the same time….horrible horrible powerlessness

  6. Hey, David.
    I hear you and think you are an incredible human being. Speaking out helps others to do the same. x

    • That is a very moving endorsement to come from a stranger. We are partners in survival though. x

  7. 40 years after being groomed by a teacher I have finally accepted that was what he did to me: he groomed me. He wasn’t my friend, though he claimed to be. He wasn’t my protector, though he claimed to be. I was average at woodwork he made me out to be master carpenter. He left me with the belief that because I told him about the abuse I had from within my close family that he was going to stop that and protect me. He didn’t. He groomed and abused me. Thank you Carolyn for helping me not feel alone, that this act was sexual abuse and grooming; not the act of a friend, protector and confidante. I am 63 years old and in regular counselling. That is his lasting legacy.

  8. I am so grateful to have found you.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More from Carolyn…

Learning Mindfulness

‘Have you tried mindfulness meditation?’

The therapist is asking the question without humour or irony and yet I laugh explosively in response. I imagine a cross-legged hippy and am only vaguely aware of my stereotyping. I really do think that is what she means.

‘Not my kind of thing,’ I say curtly, suddenly realising that she is being serious.

Imagining a future after trauma

Being traumatised is a tough gig. Maybe one of the hardest. It’s exhausting, it’s debilitating, it affects every area of your life and it can feel insurmountable.

So it’s difficult to think that recovery is possible, even a little bit of recovery. Maybe it feels impossible to think in terms of significant recovery. And harder still to think in grand, magnificent, skyscaper-type ways about recovery.

Five ways our thoughts hijack us … and how to say hello

When bad things happen, what do our thoughts do? Self-blame, paranoia, overwhelm, meaning-making, catastrophising? These thought patterns were my loyal companions until well into my thirties.

Enjoying Carolyn's writing?

Why not order her new book, 'Unshame'?

Available now!

You have Successfully Subscribed!