In my forties, I was a part of a support group for survivors of abuse. Most of the women who attended were dealing with abusive partners. I was the only one sharing about childhood abuse, though I am sure nearly everyone there was a survivor of childhood trauma. We started each session with a “check-in time.” Each person could share whatever was on their mind.

The young woman sitting to my right began to cry. “I have worked so hard to make a home. I hold down a job, I do all the housework, and I try to be pleasant, but no matter what I do, my husband stays mad. He comes home mad. He leaves mad. He slaps me. He insults me. I’ve tried everything I know, and nothing has worked. What is wrong with me? Maybe if I made more money. Maybe if I just tried a little harder. I wonder every single day what I am doing wrong. We argue and fight, and I talk and talk and talk. Still, I just can’t figure it out. What is it? What am I doing wrong?”

Unable to keep my mouth shut, I piped up. “I can answer that.”

That’s how abusers work. They make you think their behavior is your fault.

Dead silence fell over the room. The young woman’s eyes grew wide as she stared my way. Gaining the full attention of the room, I shared my insight. “Nothing,” I said. “The answer is…nothing. There is nothing you did to cause it, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. That’s how abusers work. They make you think their behavior is your fault.”

After watching the wheels turn in her head for five seconds, she spoke. “I cook, I clean, I work so hard. I just can’t figure it out. I know I’m not perfect, but I just can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong. Maybe if I…” and on and on, she went as if I had not said a single word. She was convinced she was causing the abuse and, therefore, had the power to stop it.

How could she possibly not see the self-blame? And why could I see it so easily in her and not myself?

I was a bad child. A very bad child. I talked too much. My fun-loving nature was obnoxious. Nobody wanted to be around me. I caused trouble everywhere I went. In addition, I was cataclysmically stupid. Why did my parents have to have a child like me? Doomed to failure, I was inherently bad. I was the reason my parents were so unhappy. I was the reason our family was so troubled. I tried everything. Nothing worked. So I decided to try and disappear. Even being quiet made no difference. I could never disappear enough for the abuse to stop. As an adult, according to my parents, I was a stupid idiot. Too dumb to make a decision, too unsuccessful to be loved, I lived under my parents’ condemnation for decades, believing in the depths of my soul every bit of blame they sent my way. Their abuse continued as long as I remained in contact. I was over fifty years old before I finally said NO MORE.

Why would anyone stay in an abusive relationship for so long?

But more to the point…Why do victims of abuse blame themselves instead of believing the truth?

Like my friend from the support group, I went round and round in my head, trying to discover the reason I had always been such a problem. I discovered that blame and, more importantly, self-blame follow a pattern.

Why self-blame cements itself in childhood trauma:

People are more likely to blame themselves when abuse occurs within interpersonal, close relationships, such as with a parent or spouse. Vulnerability and dependence are both hallmarks of these close relationships, giving the abuser a wider as well as deeper swath of access.

The following are some of the reasons self-blame cements itself in the heart of a child.

1. Children believe their abuser
2. The abuser is seen as “normal” or a pillar of the community by others
3. When children try to tell, the abuse is either downplayed or not believed at all. Sometimes there is no one children can tell.
4. Abuse is all the child knows.
5. When a child tries to stand up for themselves, the abuser uses it as justification for more abuse
6. Self-blame is often the only way a child can control an unbearable and uncontrollable situation.
7. Self-blame is a survival technique
8. The loss of the relationship is so threatening blaming yourself feels safer than admitting the truth
9. The abuser has trained you (brainwashed you) to blame yourself
10. Chronic feelings of guilt, anxiety, and shame are temporarily relieved by blaming yourself.

Signs you are blaming yourself

-people pleasing
-feelings of self-hatred
-compliments make you uncomfortable
-conflict avoidance
-difficulty with trust
-attributing success to luck
-sensitive to rejection
-struggle with boundaries
-seeing yourself as responsible for everything that goes wrong

The Thought Process Behind Self-Blame

I should have known better
I should have said no
I should have stood up for myself
I should have used my voice
If I had been a good child, I would not have been abused
If I could figure out how to please my parents, the abuse will stop
If I can be successful, I will finally be loved

How to Stop Blaming Yourself

I don’t want to stop at the causes and symptoms of self-blame. The word paradigm means a standard, perspective, or set of ideas. To stop self-blame, there must be a paradigm shift at the deepest level of who you are. Join me in part II of this blog series on creating a paradigm shift and stopping self-blame in its tracks forever! Defy trauma, embrace joy.


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