“You saddled me with a lie I never deserved. I won’t forgive you for it… You led me to believe I was responsible.”
~ The Prize, Irving Wallace
Most people experience self-blame after involvement with a psychopath, for good reason. These master manipulators are skilled at creating extreme confusion and self-doubt, which are powerful ways to disguise lies and camouflage truth. Doubt and confusion don’t spontaneously resolve after the manipulation ends — they are ongoing, and last until we can finally see the truth of what happened.
I received this comment from a reader:
“It is important to take full responsibility for what happened to ensure that such a thing never happens again. Taking responsibility is different than blaming yourself. If you take responsibility, you will feel empowered. Don’t give the power to the psychopath by blaming them – that’s irrational.”
On the contrary. If we’re talking about the abusive predators who used covert psychological manipulation as their weapon against us (and I think we are, since that’s what this blog is about), then blaming ourselves would be irrational, as well as dis-empowering. But putting the blame where it belongs — with the abuser — enables us to start taking our power back.
How can blaming yourself (or *taking responsibility) for something you were not responsible for be empowering? I fail to see how holding yourself responsible for something that wasn’t your fault can help. To me, it means there is still more understanding needed regarding the type of predator who victimized you and how they went about doing so.
(*It’s interesting to notice the knee-jerk response if you say you aren’t taking the blame because you were not to blame. You will most likely be told that you’re right, you shouldn’t blame yourself — you should take responsibility, because it’s different. ‘Taking responsibility’ is a term that sounds so upstanding and principled, but it means exactly the same thing as blame in this situation. It’s also much more effective when attempting to shame someone into blaming themselves. If one of your tasks after all of this is to recognize manipulation, this is a very good place to start.
If you refuse to blame yourself because you know you were not to blame, it’s a strong statement that says you know the truth and you trust your self and your perceptions. Don’t let others make you doubt yourself again by using guilt or shame or admonishments about what you should do. It’s just more of the same. Even if they “mean well.” Part of healing and growth is developing boundaries, trusting yourself, and refusing to be manipulated.
While most people realize they weren’t responsible for what happened when the victimization began, they end up feeling at least partially responsible for letting things go on after events took a turn for the worse, as the reader I’m quoting illustrates:
“Nobody deserves what happened when a psychopath chose them for a victim, but as time went on I saw the signs – I just didn’t listen to myself. I should have known better.”
When someone claims they were a victim of psychological manipulation — yet at the same time, they blame themselves for ‘not listening to themselves’ or ‘not knowing better’ — there seems to be some fundamental disconnect from the very meaning of the term ‘psychological manipulation.’ No one who understands what psychological abuse is would feel responsible, when you consider the definition:
“At a psychological level, the art of manipulation primarily involves two things: concealing aggressive intentions and behaviors and knowing the psychological vulnerabilities of your opponent well enough to know what tactics are likely to be the most effective weapons against them.
Psychological manipulation is most often accomplished through covert-aggression or aggression that is so carefully veiled or so subtle that it’s not easily detected. Manipulators want what they want and fight hard to attain their goals. But the tactics they use can make it appear like they’re doing almost anything but simply trying to get the better of you.
The tactics are also very effective weapons of power and control. That’s because even though they’re hard to recognize as aggressive moves at a conscious level, at an unconscious level others feel backed into a corner and are thrown on the defensive. This makes it more likely that they’ll back down or give in to their manipulator.”
~ George Simon, PhD, “Psychological Manipulation, An Overview”
What could possible cause a victim of this destructive psychological abuse feel they are responsible in some way for what happened?
The manipulation itself. In this kind of scenario, the victim is manipulated into being unable to see the manipulation. It creates doubt and confusion, and hides within it. And in the ultimate sleight of hand, it makes everything it does appear to be the victim’s doing, and the victim’s fault.
No wonder you blame yourself — the manipulation you experienced was designed to make you do so. When you were in the relationship, you were made to blame yourself for what appeared to be ‘things going wrong.’ Now, you blame yourself for not seeing the manipulation as it happened. You tell yourself you should have seen it. You even tell yourself you did see it, but ignored it. The truth is, every time you wondered what was going on, you were manipulated back into complacency. You were manipulated into doubting your perceptions, and found at fault for having perceptions in the first place. And so it went.
The relationship got off to an amazing start. Remember? He or she seemed like your perfect partner — your soul mate, probably — and the honeymoon phase was idyllic. Then, things took a turn. When that happened you were manipulated into blaming yourself for the problems, and you desperately tried to repair the damage you believed you were causing. Of course you did — this was the best thing that ever happened to you, and he or she was the love of your life. How can you say now that you should have just walked away? But as you tried so hard to save it, the manipulation only became more intense.
“Manipulation is an evolving process over time,” according to Harriet B. Braiker, PhD., author of “Who’s Pulling Your Strings.” Victims are controlled through a series of promised gains and threatened losses covertly executed through a variety of manipulation tactics. In other words, the manipulation builds gradually as the abuser creates uncertainty and doubt by going back and forth from hot to cold, by going back and forth from giving you what you desire to taking it away.
Back to the reader and her comment:
“I saw the signs – I just didn’t listen to myself. I should have known better.”
I asked her why, if she saw the signs, did she not listen to herself? If it is so clear now that she should have, but ‘just didn’t,’ what was different when she was in the situation? Was it, perhaps, that she was so mentally manipulated that she couldn’t hear her own voice over the din of confusion, and that she doubted her own perceptions as a result of abuse that aimed to make her do just that?
I didn’t get an answer.
I blamed myself at first, until I learned how manipulation worked. Then I stopped, because I realized I was not responsible for his behavior, or for my own when I was under the influence of his manipulation. I had been manipulated to the point where I had formed a strong bond with the abuser, and to the point where I doubted myself and I couldn’t figure out what the truth was. It’s important to note that I didn’t know I was being manipulated, which is how — and why — manipulation works.
When I gave up my misguided (psychopath-guided) blame, and I assigned responsibility to the one who was actually accountable, my emotional state improved significantly. I had relief from the intrusive thoughts, from the maddening vacillation regarding who he really was, and from wondering whether or not I was to blame, and for what: Was I responsible somehow for wrecking a wonderful relationship, which is what he wanted me to believe, or was I responsible for sticking around through an abusive relationship, when I should have known better? It had to be one or the other, right?
Neither one was true, as it turned out. When I knew that, I began to make real progress.
Should I have known better? Should you have? How could we have known better when we didn’t know yet that anything like that was possible? How could we have known, when we thought something vastly different from what was really happening was going on? How could we have known what we didn’t know? How could we have known, when covert manipulation was used to made sure we didn’t know, and when we didn’t even know what covert manipulation was, let alone that it was being used on us?
It’s confusing, isn’t it? Confusion works wonders. Ask any psychopath. Better yet, ask yourself. You experienced it, and you know the power of confusion, especially when you’re too confused to know how confused you are.
To say ‘we should have known’ just doesn’t make sense. It means nothing. It’s crazy. In fact, it reeks of the confabulated, nonsensical bullsh*t of psychopath-crazy. Maybe that’s because a psychopath is the only one who could make anyone think something like that.
The psychopath is gone, but their magic is still at work.
Soon after my victimization ended, I read a comment in a forum that I thought was so significant that I copied it into my journal: The writer felt she was host to a “self-replicating thought spiral.” I understood. Another victim described that thought spiral as an infection. Still another said it was “a thorn in her brain.” If these things resonate with you, you are not alone. You’ve got the remains of a psychopath in your head, and it’s time to get it out of there.
The most powerful way is to finally realize you were not responsible. That burns down the psychopath, while you rise from the ashes like a Phoenix.
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