is the subject of this ’emergency’ blog post. I heard from a reader a couple of days ago who put the issue of self-blame front and center in my thoughts. Self-blame lurks in many of the comments written here, and although I’ve talked about it in the subtext of multiple blog posts, it’s more than important enough to take center stage. A lot of people who come here are, to some extent, blaming themselves for having been victimized by a psychopath. This is an urgent matter, as you are about to find out.
This is the comment that inspired me to write about self-blame:
“I am two years out, but I still think of him… I still ruminate over how I was duped, and I still mourn how I gave so much and surrendered most of my boundaries to him, clinging to the hope that he would be the man I wanted him to be. When we broke up he said, ‘You knew what I was, so it’s on you for trying to change me….’
(Many thanks to the author of this comment for inspiring this discussion).
Self-blame is, basically, assuming personal responsibility for the occurrence of a traumatic event. And we hear A LOT about the importance of ‘taking personal responsibility’ for everything, not just the things we are actually responsible for. It’s a meme that’s embedded deeply into our collective psyche. We have become used to hearing and accepting things in mainstream media, books, and websites, and in day-to-day conversations with friends and acquaintances, that sound like this:
“Self-responsible means taking responsibility for everything in your life, even those events or people that do not in any way seem to be your problem or responsibility. Often the people that most antagonize us are the ones we need most to teach us what we want to learn. My mother used to say, ‘Birds of a feather flock together.’ Call it that, or call it simple attraction; anger attracts anger, hostility attracts hostility, love attracts love, and so forth…”
“The fundamental responsibility that each of us has is that we are completely, 100% responsible for how our lives turn out. This is tough! When things aren’t so good, we’re so quick to point fingers at other people and place the blame on them. Have you ever known someone who will accept no responsibility? Some people are perpetual victims of what other people do! But remember this — when you point your finger outside, you have just now accepted the victim status.”
Even on websites where those of us victimized by psychopaths go for help and understanding, we find things like this:
“I take responsibility in that I saw the red flags and ignored them, and chose this guy out of some of my own fears. Its hard to admit to but its true. Had I been healthier emotionally I doubt I would have even continued to date the creep.”
“You chose to stay. When we accept responsibility for our choices, we empower ourselves to make different choices.”
“Slowly, you begin to take responsibility for yourself, by yourself, and you try to make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never ever settle for less than your heart’s desire.”
“I have to take responsibility for having my eyes closed and not seeing who he was from the start.”
“Start to focus on why you allowed it to happen.”
The most interesting thing about these statements is that they simultaneously absolve the abuser of responsibility, and dump it on the person who was victimized.
Now let’s see this detrimental and insidious belief for what it really is.
“Victim blamers love to scream about how you’ll never recover, grow, or heal if you don’t ‘accept the blame’ for your role in the dynamic (because it takes two to tango and blah blah blah). But here’s a neat concept: It’s perfectly possible to recover, grow, and heal without accepting the blame for someone else’s horrendous behavior. That’s how we build self-respect and boundaries. That’s how we learn to stop absorbing someone else’s projection, excuses, and minimization of abuse.”
Peace, Psychopath Free
Amen! He could not have said it better.
Didn’t we get more than enough blame from the psychopath we were involved with? One of their main goals was to get us to take the blame and the responsibility for their horrendous behavior. Why should we continue taking the blame for it now? Why would we? We realize we shouldn’t have taken it then, so it makes no sense to take it now.
It doesn’t make sense at all to talk about how we were victimized by these predators called psychopaths, about how skilled they are at manipulating, about how severely we were traumatized by it — and then claim that we were somehow responsible for it. Both of those things can’t be true at the same time. To the people who ask, “How could I have been so stupid?” I ask, which is it — were you victimized by a predator or were you just stupid? The answer should clear up a lot of confusion. And no, you were not stupid.
To those who think we need to ‘take responsibility’ in order to heal, I say the OPPOSITE is actually true. As long as someone blames themselves, it means they still don’t really understand what happened or how it happened. How can we heal from something that we don’t understand? Self-blame leads to shame. Taking on responsibility that is not our own can not only paralyze us, but drag us down into the inertia of self-devaluation. Do we really need any more devaluation?
Not one of us was ever responsible in any way for what an abuser did. We were lied to, manipulated, and conned. Not one of us entered an abusive relationship with knowledge of what we were getting involved in. We stayed because we were trapped in a web of mind games spun with the intent to trap us. It wasn’t our fault. It really is that simple.
Having said that, it’s not the same as blaming yourself if you decide to figure out what your vulnerabilities were, or to work on your boundaries, or to learn about cognitive biases (the mental blind spots we all have). Because we have vulnerabilities or biases or weak boundaries isn’t the problem — the problem is that there are people who take advantage of those things. They are the ones who deserve the blame.
By the way, most of our ‘vulnerabilities’ were things like being a loving and forgiving person. In other words, human. That is all a psychopath needs to make their abuse possible.
“You believed in people. You trusted people to be as decent inside as you are. You trusted people to be as capable of love as you are. It is actually a story of your best qualities. Shame is not your burden to carry. Neither is blame, from others or from yourself. What is there to feel shame for? Being a decent, loving and trusting human being? What is there to be blamed for? Being victimized by a predator, one who presented himself as being the same way you are? The psychopath is the only one who deserves shame and blame.”
It’s normal to blame yourself for a while, but a really big step in healing comes when you stop doing that because you realize your behavior was created and nurtured by a predator who was a skilled manipulator.
Here are the words of Dr. George Simon, an expert on covert-aggressive predators:
“Many folks have told me about how hard it was for them to stop blaming themselves and engaging in a lot of self-doubt and reproach. ‘How could I have been so blind…. or so stupid?’ they ask themselves…But the truth of the matter is that while they might indeed have had some personality characteristics of their own that made them particularly naive and vulnerable (most of us do), the fact is that covert-aggressors are generally quite skilled at what they do, and the more seriously character disturbed social predators among us (i.e. the psychopaths/sociopaths) are extremely astute and talented when it comes to the ‘art of the con.’
…Besides, it’s relatively pointless to play the self-blame game. Lovingly reckoning with your vulnerabilities and vowing to become a stronger person in the aftermath is one thing, but doing an emotional hatchet-job on yourself just because you happened to fall prey to a good con artist is quite another… as hard as it might be, one of the most important tasks any recovering person has before them is to end the destructive cycle of self-doubt and blame.”
~ Life After a Manipulator
It’s worth repeating:
“One of the most important tasks any recovering person has before them is to end the destructive cycle of self-doubt and blame.”
I think it’s common to forget the basics of what we experienced, so here is a quick review:
Psychological Manipulation: A type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at another’s expense, such methods can be considered exploitative, abusive, devious and deceptive.
The very nature of ‘deception’ means you don’t know what’s really happening because you’re being deceived.
Psychologist George Simon writes that in order for psychological manipulation to be successful, the manipulator:
- Conceals aggressive intentions and behaviors
- Knows the psychological vulnerabilities of the victim and uses them to determine what tactics are likely to be the most effective
- Has a sufficient level of ruthlessness to have no qualms about causing harm to the victim if necessary
OK, so the predator studied you, figured out your vulnerabilities and then exploited them, and they did it covertly, so you didn’t know it was happening. Does this sound like something you should take personal responsibility for? Is it something you should be blaming yourself for? And if you say you ‘should’ have known, remember that the whole point is that you didn’t know because it was designed so you wouldn’t know.
To suggest that survivors are to blame for what happened is to re-victimize them. It sounds almost reasonable in the context of our ‘take personal responsibility, or else’ culture, and almost rational in the context of believing you’ll never heal unless you do or that you’ll fall victim again if you don’t. But it couldn’t be further from reasonable or rational. Self-blame and others admonishing us to blame ourselves continues the abuse where the psychopath left off. He or she conditioned you to blame yourself, and now you’re on automatic pilot. Wouldn’t it make them happy to know that?
“Self-blame is linked with more distress, anxiety, depression, harsh self-criticism, low self-worth and poorer recovery from trauma (Harvey & Pauwels, 2000). Self-blame is in fact an additional and internal trauma that individuals, who survived the unimaginable, inflict upon themselves. The survivor keeps thinking about the event and what he or she could have said and done differently.”
Here’s something we can do differently right now: Let’s put the responsibility right back where it belongs — let’s put the responsibility for the abuse on the abuser. Let’s take the obstacle of self-blame off of our road to recovery.
I just got this comment from Aurora, and I think it will help others:
“I too blamed myself for being duped, and there was so much shame about why I had allowed this to all happen to me. Truth is, forgiving myself was the hardest part.
We don’t consciously choose to be victimised, and being able to ‘take back myself’ from all the wreckage left behind was a huge achievement. Its so easy to get stuck in the warped and twisted reality of what happened to us, and it takes ages to work it all out – like unraveling a massive ball of wool – to get to the bottom of things. It doesn’t help that well-meaning friends tell you to get over it, or you’re lucky you’re done with them, or whatever.
The self-blame aspect, and as you say that turning point where you finally release yourself from it, is so powerful in healing.
I hope all readers get to that point in the process. No one wants to be duped by a psychopath; most people have an intrinsic sense of the good in humankind and want to see the best in people. Unfortunately psychopaths seem to be able to sense that in those of us who are caring and compassionate, and then turn it to use against us. I was ashamed to be human, loving, forgiving, etc etc after I left the psychopath. Now, 18 months down the track, I say I am proud I am human, with human failings and all. What happened to me with the psychopath was not my fault.”
♥ Thank you for reading.
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