If this is your reality, you may feel confused, afraid, angry, ashamed, or trapped. You may blame yourself or feel responsible for what has happened in your relationship. You may even feel responsible to fix it. These feelings are normal responses to abuse. There is nothing wrong with you. We know you are doing the best you can.
Before we tell you why it’s not your fault, stop to take a moment to recognize any shame or responsibility you are feeling for the conflict and pain coming from the abusive relationship. Recognizing this is the first step in your recovery. Chances are you’ve been stuffing the feeling down or ignoring it and might be numb to its presence. This will hinder your ability to heal, so it’s important to reject the lie that the emotional abuse was your fault.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why the abuse is not your fault.
You were conditioned to believe it was your fault.
The internal dialogue of self-blame is one of the most important ideas your abuser conditioned you to believe. Through constant criticism and other manipulative means to confuse you, they tried to make you feel responsible for the narcissistic abuse and any conflict making you feel worthless.
If only you looked at them differently. Or if you were a better friend, lover, child, parent – a better anything – they would not have harmed you. Or “if you weren’t so depressed” they wouldn’t have done that. Their accusations likely were relentless and wore you down, which made it difficult to reject them.
What they tried to make you believe about yourself was never true. It can make you feel like you are going ‘crazy’, or create serious cognitive dissonance crippling you from being able to evaluate your situation accurately.
Abuse is never the victim’s fault. Still, those lies they told you probably seep into your thoughts today as if they were your own. That doesn’t make them true.
If the abuse had been your fault, you would have been able to make it stop, but nothing you did seemed to work. And the abuse did not stop.
You may have reacted in ways that do not make you proud.
Another reason victims feel responsible is because they feel ashamed for the ways they reacted to the abuse which were outside their normal character. You may wonder if you were also abusive. These responses are known by professionals as “Reactive Abuse”. MEND refers to it as “Reactive Defense”, because those reactions result from involuntary brain responses triggered by ongoing trauma of recurring relationship abuse which compel the victim to respond in a fight, flight, freeze or appease mode. You may react strongly and even aggressively to the abusive situation. You can learn more about it by reading our blog on Reactive Abuse.
Reactive defense is the body’s natural self-defense mechanism designed to protect you. It is not abuse.
Self-blame helps you to see your partner in a more positive light.
Often, self-blame is not about taking responsibility, but about how abuse victims avoid facing the reality of physical or sexual abuse, or emotionally abusive circumstances they continue to encounter. A victim’s constant self-blame is like a “reverse psychological projection.” Blaming themselves allows them to project their positive traits onto their partner, which they desperately want to believe are true.
Emotional abuse is a result of the faulty mindset and worldview of the one causing harm.
Why your partner chooses to use abusive tactics that harm you has to do with their own faulty belief systems or mindsets they developed long before you met and which are possibly generational. We call these foundational truths the Pillars of Abuse:
- Entitlement: the expectation by the emotional abuser for preferential treatment, double standards, or rewards even when they do not deserve it and regardless of whether it causes harm, or deprives others’ needs or well-being. This entitlement holds a deep-seated belief that rules which apply to their partner do not apply to them under any circumstance.
- Faulty Belief System: This involves the abuser’s moralistic judgments based on limited knowledge, family system, or social bias, which causes them to oppress others. For example, gender bias, sexism, or patriarchy can skew the abuser’s belief system making it very difficult for them to recognize a need to change the behaviors resulting from that system. Equality, mutual respect, mutual validation, and reciprocity would indicate a healthy relationship where conflicts are rather peaceful and solutions-oriented.
- Image Management is when the abuser will do anything to hide their flaws or insecurities in public and protect their image at any cost, most notably at the expense of the target of their abuse.
A person’s motivation for covert emotional abuse is to intentionally oppress, power over, and control, while other times their motive is to avoid truly being seen through authentic emotional connections and conversations leading to a secure attachment. The emotional abuser is so uncomfortable with emotions they do anything to avoid dealing with their partners’ or their own feelings. The faulty thinking and beliefs drive their actions to shut down or block their victim’s voice.
Now, let’s look at some ways to release shame and self-blame.
How Can You Accept that Abuse Is Not Your Fault?
Here are some steps to help you have self-compassion and accept that abuse is not your fault:
- Acknowledge the truth. So long as the victim remains in agreement with the lie that the abuse is their fault, it will control them and hinder their healing process.
- Remember that no matter how hard you tried, you never stopped experiencing emotional abuse. Maybe it subsided for short periods of time, but it never ended. If you were responsible for it, you would have been able to make it stop.
- To begin healing, you need to adopt the truth that your mistakes do not excuse their abuse. If you made mistakes, as we all do, abuse is never an appropriate response to them. Responding abusively is a choice, it is not a mistake or accident.
- Stop telling yourself that “maybe you should have stopped it.” Many victims feel responsible for the abuse because they ignored early red flags, didn’t leave sooner, or weren’t able to make it stop. Many psychological abuse victims don’t realize that what they are encountering is abuse; they lack clarity of what is actually happening and are stuck in prolonged states of stress and confusion.
Whether you ignored the warning signs, shut down your own instinct, or stayed beyond the time you knew you needed to leave does not mean the abuse is your fault.
5. Declare aloud (and often) that the abuse is not your fault even if you don’t feel that way on the inside. Make it your daily (maybe even hourly) mantra: “The abuse was not my fault” or “I did not deserve it.” “I am loveable and deserve to be treated with kindness and mutual respect.”