Blame has a bad reputation. People say it’s useless and unproductive. It’s been accused of preventing people from moving forward. It’s been blamed for keeping people in victim mentality. I was one of those people who blamed blame. I spread rumors about blame, believing them to be true.
I quoted things like:
“When you blame others, you give up your power to change.” Douglas Adams
On my healing journey from childhood sexual abuse—and all the other abuses that accompanied it—I’ve discovered many of the so-called keys to healing or moving forward actually prevented me from any progress.
My childhood was already so filled with lies that I was desperate for the truth. Though the truth is very often painful, it’s also been the only thing that has healed me. Lies kept me imprisoned to the effects of abuse, but the truth sets me free.
I’ve learned to question everything, especially the “truths” that “everyone” knows and distributes so freely. I started to wonder, if they are so true and so many people know about them, then why is the world so messed up? So my truth test is to look at the fruit of those truths. What actions do those beliefs produce? Do they end in freedom or bondage? What do those “truths” really mean?
One of the “truths” about blame that I questioned was, “If I don’t accept the blame, I can’t change anything.” Does that mean that if I didn’t break something, I can’t fix it? If I didn’t make the mess, I can’t clean it up? (Any mother knows that’s certainly not true!)
But I tried for years to apply that to my abuse. I accepted the blame under the false belief that I had to accept “my part” in it so I could move forward.
The truth is that I can place the blame on whoever perpetrated my abuse while still taking responsibility for picking up the pieces of my life. I can know it was my abusers’ fault and still have power to improve my condition. I don’t have to blame myself or take ownership of a problem to fix the problem. I wasn’t the problem, but I am the solution.
My tendency to accept the blame instead of placing it on my abusers started in my childhood. I couldn’t believe that my parents were the problem. If I thought that, my world would have collapsed. If they were the problem, then they would never love me.
On the other hand, if there was something wrong with me then I could work to fix it. There was hope that they would love me if I could be good enough. Until then, I didn’t deserve their love anyway.
I struggled to be perfect, but I failed. I didn’t see that my parents didn’t fail me; I believed I failed them. I was to blame for how they treated me.
Blaming myself gave me a sense of control I needed—that I was desperate for. I hadn’t figured out the key to be treated better, but I would figure it out. I just had to try harder.
My own coping method of taking the blame was reinforced by my parent’s attitude toward me. After my dad abused me, he treated me as though I disgusted him and he was quick to escape my presence.
My mom gave me the same message. When she acknowledged my presence at all, it was as though I was an inconvenience to her. I felt unworthy of attention and protection. I was inferior and I was the problem.
To accept that I was helpless, powerless, and that there was nothing I could have done would have felt like death. It was a matter of survival not to acknowledge that my parents were faulty and that they would never love me. I needed to accept the blame for their cruel treatment.
Since I believed I was inferior, I found many other abusers who confirmed my belief. I married an abuser and had abusive relationships with bosses, pastors and friends.
Many people who saw my cycle of abusive relationships judged me for being a victim and “allowing” it. I “deserved” whatever I had coming to me. They were disgusted with me and I was disgusted with myself. People said the same thing in different ways:
“You can’t blame anyone else until you do something to change things.”
“You deserve what you tolerate.”
“You must have wanted it since you kept going back.”
“You were 50% to blame since you knew what he was like.”
“It’s not his fault since you did something to provoke him.”
I was told that since I was the common denominator in all my abuse—my childhood and later abuse—I was the problem. Supposedly, the remedy to that was to accept the blame so I could make the necessary changes to myself and my circumstances. I was supposed to stop being angry with others for their mistreatment since I was really the one at fault for allowing it.
The problem with that was that I got angrier with myself. I already thought I was a pathetic loser who didn’t deserve love. Now I was lower than that. That didn’t motivate me to change the circumstances or myself.
I felt incased, trapped in my powerless tomb. What good would it do to leave my abuser? If I deserved the abuse, why should I fight it? And since I wasn’t worthy of love, what was I leaving for? There wasn’t anything better. Taking the blame for my own abuse only kept me in the abusive cycle. It wasn’t the key that I was told it was.
Accepting blame is only helpful if I really am at fault. If I keep getting fired from every job because I’m on Facebook at work, blaming my boss won’t help me; blaming the company or my co-workers won’t help me. Blaming others in that situation will keep me in the cycle of employment problems until I recognize my responsibility and do something to change my behavior.
Accepting responsibility for things that are my fault can help me not to repeat the cycle, but accepting responsibility for things that are not my fault can also keep me in the cycle. The truth set me free. I needed to see who truly deserved the blame and when I did, I was free from the destructive cycle.
Before I understood the cycle of abuse—the build-up, the explosion, the honeymoon—I misunderstood the “provoking”. I thought it meant I was to blame for my abuse.
In reality, I unconsciously knew the cycle and the build-up was agonizing. I knew it was coming, but WHEN??? I had to get it over with and get to the honeymoon part of the cycle, which is what I lived for.
I still believed I was the helpless child that I was during my original abuse, so the only choice I thought I had was when I’d be abused–not if.
It took a lot of time to start to see where my thinking came from so I could see the true choices in front of me. But I’m not responsible for other’s actions. Believing that I am comes from misunderstanding boundaries and taking responsibilities that were never mine to take. It’s unhealthy to accept the blame for anyone else’s feelings or actions.
But why the need for blame at all? Blame is said to be a wasted and negative experience. Is it really necessary at all? This is another common sentiment about blame:
“We can sit for years and talk about blame and it gets us nowhere, except to become bitter, resentful, angry, vindictive people. It happened, it’s over and done with and there is no use in continually hashing it over because nothing will change the past. I resolved to change today and tomorrow and let the past go.”
There is some truth in this statement, “It happened, it’s over and done with and there is no use in continually hashing it over because nothing will change the past.”
It’s true that placing the blame on the abusers doesn’t change the past. But just because it can’t change what happened doesn’t mean it does not serve a purpose.
When I finally placed the blame on the perpetrators of my abuse, I had permission to direct the anger toward them, where it should have been directed. Before I did that, I focused my anger inward or in indiscriminate places.
As long as I projected it in all the wrong places, I could never work through it; there was a never-ending supply. When I finally directed in the right places, I could work through it so there could be an end to it.
The truth about blame is that it’s helped me—but only when I used it through the lens of truth. As long as I thought it was a useless tool, I misdirected it. Sorting out the truth helped me to use it correctly so I could move forward in my healing process.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
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