Blaming oneself about the violation you endured is a common phenomenon among survivors of sexual abuse, as well as children who have been abandoned emotionally or physically. It happens to sufferers of other forms of abuse and coercion, too, including physical and psychological abuse. It is a poignant effort that displays the victim’s resilience—of trying to find any semblance of control when there was none. It is a natural reaction. However, this shame is not the victim’s to carry (that is the good and hopeful news).
Self-blame is a form of self- protection during and in the aftermath of trauma. When a survivor/victim/endure-er of sexual trauma blames themselves, it is done as an act of self-protection and incredible self-preservation. This self-blame is not meant to last for forever. The survivor is often the last one to know about this.
Nor is it an admission of guilt—because, how could it be? The person who endured the abuse was not the person who abused. Only the abuser did the abuse. While this may seem so simple or obvious, we need to remind ourselves. We need to remind society, too.
We remind society every time we remind ourselves. This is one manifestation of reclaiming your voice and letting your voice speak.
The blaming that victims/survivors do to themselves during and in the aftermath of trauma is automatic; it is not planned or thought up. It is a response to betrayal so traumatic on so many levels, that claiming responsibility is a way to organize that which is nearly impossible to make sense of. Gathering one’s consciousness around such violation is inherently hard.
Self-blame is an adaptation. It’s a reasonable adaptation when you are terrified and confused. In fact, it’s a pretty incredible adaptation, too. It’s a method of coping. To cope at all when you are faced with danger and terror is pretty awe-inspiring, by the way (which means, well, you are, too). When we think of it like this, we can see that blame serves as a compass of sorts, something to follow to help navigate the fear, pain, suffering, uncertainty, confusion, distraught-ness, terror, anxiety, and anger.
And something else.
Self-blame can also suggest a “penance”—a price paid for the relief or gratitude that a particular event or events, episodes or encounters, abuses, violations are over, and that you made it out alive. This is not a penance you need to keep paying, however.
As thinking creatures, we seek order and predictability, especially in the midst of chaos. Self-blame is an attempt to organize, to bring order to a horrific set of events.
At some point, your self-blame will yearn to be questioned…by you. The yearning might sound like or be translated to:
Why do I feel guilty for something I didn’t do?
Even though it wasn’t my fault and I didn’t do anything wrong, why do I feel so much shame that it happened to me?
Instead of taking self-blame at face value, let’s use it for your own benefit. One way is to start by viewing this self-blame as evidence of your resilience. Yes, resilience. Your resilience.
It was your resilience that utilized self-blame for your survival and self-preservation.
Now, use that incredible resilience—you’ve definitely got it—for examining and believing and understanding in a deeper way how the trauma was not ever your fault.
This is less an intellectual pursuit and more something that happens when you create a space for soul and emotions to intersect. How do you create the space? You do it by feeling into it. By leaning on the notion. And allowing it to be. Your intellect presents the idea; your soul and emotions filter them at deeper levels.
The process of holding this truth and experiencing your experience is the point.