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Letting Go of Self-Blame -- It's Not Our Fault

Posted by CoachRachelG , 13 December 2012 · 128 views

Of all of the false beliefs we might develop as a result of abuse, "It's my fault" seems to take root early on and cause the most damage. We blame ourselves in order to achieve a couple of things. First, if we blame the abuser, then we have to acknowledge that someone we love, someone who is close to us, is capable of doing things that are very bad, cruel, and mean. The image we hold of our parent, caregiver, relative, or neighbor is threatened. It is much easier to stomach being at fault than having to face the reality that those who we trusted could cause us such great harm. Especially if the abuse occurred while we were young, it is extremely hard for the mind of a child to reconcile that the same person who tucks us in at night is also abusing us. In an effort to protect our relationship with the abuser and the world, we blame ourselves.

Secondly, if we blame ourselves, then we can hold onto the idea that there must have been something we did to cause the abuse. Therefore, there must be a way that we can protect ourselves in the future. We believe, “If it’s my fault, then I can stop the actions that caused the abuse, and I won’t get hurt again.” Part of the challenge of giving up the story of “It’s my fault” is it requires we acknowledge that even the people who we are closest to can harm us and that we cannot always control what happens to us.

One of my clients believed that it was her fault she was raped, because she drank too much and went into the room with the man. She decided that if she no longer drank, she would be safe. This gave her a sense of control and power, and for a while, that was really important to feel. However, eventually the burden and effects of blaming herself took their toll. Once she began to see that not drinking was providing a false sense of security, we were ready to challenge this false belief.

My client first needed to understand that she did not enter a room with a big sign above the door that said “Rape This Way.” I suppose had she seen that sign and then walked through the door anyway, then we would need to have a different conversation. This was not the case though! Yes, she is responsible for drinking. She is not responsible for the choice the man made to rape her. Most importantly, one did not cause the other.

All of us found ourselves one day being abused. There was no sign warning of our impending abuse. There was no option to choose offered. So, let go of the blame. Place it where it belongs—with the abuser.

Moreover, holding onto this story impacts all areas of our life. Just imagine yourself walking down the street with a big sign over your head that says “It’s my fault world!” When someone bumps into you on the street, you immediately apologize (after all, it’s your fault). When your husband loses his job, you apologize (after all, it’s your fault). When you can’t make it to a friend’s dinner party, you feel disproportionately guilty (after all, it’s your fault). The point I am making here is that you begin to behave as if everything is your fault and life becomes unbalanced.

In addition, the more often you show up as the one who will take the blame for everything, the more the people around you will come to expect this and reinforce your false beliefs by playing the game with you. They will not feel compelled to examine their roles and behaviors because it is expected that you will just let them off the hook by believing it is entirely your fault.

Bringing into balance our ability to acknowledge the part we play while also holding others accountable is extremely important if we are going to live a healthy, powerful life.

Bonus: It used to be my fault

Sometimes, we are able to very clearly pinpoint the moment when a story or false belief was created (wired). For me, I know exactly when I decided that the abuse was my fault.

One day, I was sitting with my grandfather on the front porch (the abuse often occurred there). My mother happened by the window, glanced out, and saw what was happening.

The porch door flew open violently, making a loud crashing noise, and my mother yelled, “Rachel, get in this house!” in her very best “You’re in trouble, child” voice. I jumped up from the swing and ran inside the house, convinced I was about to be grounded or spanked. My mother was actually quiet, and I don’t remember exactly what came after that. I do know that, in the moment when she yelled at me to get inside, I decided right then and there that the abuse was my fault.

As I began the work of recovery, I returned to this moment and did the steps to separate what happened from the false belief that was created by first looking for alternative interpretations. Now, it is your turn.


False belief (Story): It’s my fault because ...
Example: My mother is upset and yelling at me instead of my grandfather.

Truth (What happened):
Example: My mother yelled at me to come inside.

Alternative interpretations:
Example: My mother was scared and just wanted to get me away from him.

Wonderfully written post.

October 2014

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