It is widespread for survivors of psychological abuse to blame themselves. The abuser blamed all the relationship issues on the survivor, and it is very easy to come into agreement with a false narrative about ourselves. When someone berates us by highlighting our character defects, and we know we are a flawed human being, it is easy to slowly begin taking the blame and letting the abuser entirely off the hook for their toxic behaviors.
What does it look like when a survivor of abuse blames themselves? They say things like, “I did make mistakes in the relationship” or “I know I am not easy to get along with.” These statements might be accurate, but we have to look at the context and environment of the relationship.
Abusers push their targets to behave in ways that are abnormal to the target’s personality.
In the case of childhood abuse, toxic parents push children and teens to an emotional and physical breaking point. As adults, the same goes for toxic partners, family members, co-workers, and religious leaders.
Each abuser revels in their ability to get the target to fall apart or lash out.
When a survivor has either of these emotional responses and everything in between, the abuser feels validated in their complaints against the victim. The spotlight of responsibility has shifted, and it lands squarely on the survivor.
Blaming ourselves is a normal stage that I believe all survivors must address at some point in their recovery. Telling ourselves how stupid we were for falling for a toxic person doesn’t help our healing. Words are powerful, and our inner dialogue will either help or hinder our recovery progress.
As tempting as it is to want to focus on what you did wrong in the relationship, I am going to ask that we hold off on that discussion until you’ve reached Stage Five: Restoration in my book Healing from Hidden Abuse.
Looking at your part too early in the recovery journey is harmful to your healing. That may seem counterintuitive, but trust me when I say that early in the process, any self-reflection is going to be tainted by the abuser’s voice, words, judgments of you, and their lies about your value. In my counseling practice as a trauma therapist, I have seen this play out time and time again. My clients know that I push this particular self-reflection conversation away from our early work and leave it for later in the healing process. I do this so any false guilt and shame from the abuser have already been adequately addressed and deprogrammed.
To recap, victims of psychological abuse blame themselves because the abuser pushed all responsibility onto the victim, and it’s easy to take on lies about ourselves when it’s directed at us by someone we once trusted.
Keep Dreaming Big!