It’s Not Your Fault
by Teresia Smith
There are many things people can work on forgiving themselves for, from minor mistakes to major mishaps. However, so many are struggling with a sense of blame that does not actually belong to them, for events that were outside of their control, for crimes against them that were committed by others. I see this many times among survivors of abuse and assault. While we are quick to offer compassion to others, we are often harsher with ourselves.
Survivors of abuse, domestic violence or sexual assault are often blamed and shamed for being victims in the first place, and it’s no surprise that they struggle with self-blame in the aftermath. There are so many questions others asks victims when they tell their stories. A domestic violence survivor is asked why they didn’t leave earlier. A sexual assault victim is asked why they wore that dress or why they drank that night or why they dated the wrong person. They are asked to fit an ideal of a “perfect victim” before being supported or believed.
Through this response from society, we are shamed. However, experiencing the trauma itself carries its own toxic shame. Just having experienced such trauma makes us feel small, unimportant and puts doubt within us that we are just not good enough and we must be defective in some way since we were targeted in the first place. Carrying such self-shame can wear one down and sometimes forces a victim to feel the need to explain themselves in a defensive way and try to justify themselves, even though they are the victim and did nothing wrong. Rather than being asked how they can be supported, many times they are asked what they should have done differently.
These societal responses must be reframed. We must let victims know that they don’t have to take the blame for the heinous actions of others. Just because they thought they were in a loving relationship or stayed longer than they should have, or thought they were with a safe person does not mean they deserved to be abused. You’re not to blame if you were groomed by a predator or taken advantage of by someone you trusted. Rather than seeking to blame the victim, we should be asking how we can help them to heal. We should be encouraging their self-care and how we can support them in their journey back to wholeness.
As a victim, we encourage you to be gentle with yourself, allow space for self-compassion, and don’t make yourself pay for someone else’s actions. You can explore self-compassion through activities such as art therapy, positive affirmations, spending time outdoors, yoga, journaling, meditation, and support groups. Self-blame is a very common effect of abuse and it takes time and effort to heal it.
Even if you don’t wholly believe it yet, it is important that you embrace that is was not your fault for being victimized. You didn’t deserve to be abused, assaulted, or violated. There is no excuse for raping, assaulting, or abusing anyone, regardless of any reason. These are all horrendous crimes of power. While self-blame might arise after trauma, know that you shouldn’t have to forgive yourself for being the victim of a crime. Self-compassion is paramount.
Crisis Services of North Alabama strives to create a community where we listen, show compassion for those who are hurting, and encourage them as they travel the road from victim to survivor. If you have experienced intimate partner violence or sexual assault, Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services such as crisis counseling, referrals, safe shelter, court advocacy, and support groups. We may be reached locally at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000. You are not alone.