Many survivors of abuse tend to carry guilt and a sense of responsibility for the abuse they suffered. Some of us may question why we did what we were told to do by the perpetrator and feel this participation meant we wanted the abuse to happen in some way. Some of us carry guilt about why we kept the secret, why we didn’t tell somebody sooner. For victims of domestic abuse, survivors may feel guilt about staying in the relationship for as long as they did.
Even worse than guilt, some survivors carry a sense of shame associated with the abuse. We can often believe that we somehow attract the evil of the world. We may take responsibility of why it happened to us thinking it is because of something personal to our character our a flaw that we inhibit. We can feel dirty, worthless, weak and we can often search for a reason as to what was unique to us that made the abuser choose us. We can also often wonder what we did to deserve it. We can go over our choices like how we behaved around them, what we wore, if we made them mad or angry , if we drank too much etc. and critique ourselves in the belief our choices contributed in some way.
This thinking is counter-productive to our recovery. The first step in healing is to put the responsibility for the abuse firmly at the feet of the perpetrator. Abusers usually choose their victims based on a vulnerability that they see in them. They can be extremely good at building us up and forming a bond of dependency and loyalty to them, often before they even begin the abuse. They are master-manipulators who isolate us and make us feel like we need them and as if they care about us. Yet they do not look like monsters, they often look and speak like regular everyday people so we don’t see their motives until it is too late. This is not our fault.
If we were abused as children , it’s unfair of us to look back now with an adult mind and be critical of the choices and beliefs we held when we had the mind of a child. Just because we quickly learned to do what we were told does not make it voluntary participation and certainly does not mean we wanted the abuse in any way. Nor did we bring it on ourselves. If abused by a parent or family member we can also find conflict in our minds as we may feel we still hold love for that person. This too does not mean we were ever ok with the abuse. Love and hurt do not always happen in isolation. If we went back to an abusive relationship, this does not mean we deserved or wanted to be abused again. Nobody is abused because of themselves, they are abused because another person was capable and willing to hurt them in that way and the responsibility lies with that person, never the victim.
Some Survivors of childhood sexual assault may have, as an adult or young teen, had further sexual relations with their abuser and can feel very ashamed of this. It most often happens when the victim has never received any help or support for the abuse and may not have even recognized that what happened to them was abuse. Some of us may have gone on to include our abuser in family gatherings or friendships. This in no way means the abuse was condoned or wanted by us. Perpetrators get inside the mind of a victim and the sense of loyalty, closeness and dependency built over time by the abuser, can last a lot longer than the abuse itself. Professional help is often needed to break these ties and to help the survivor recognize that what they endured was indeed abuse.
In our journey ahead we need to look at areas where we have mistakenly taken personal responsibility for the actions of the perpetrator. We need to acknowledge and discredit this self-blame to avoid the self-hatred and sense of shame it comes with. This step is not a step that we only do once and move on from, we can often fall back into old patterns of self-blame and need to remind ourselves of Step 1 numerous times in our recovery. We were powerless over the abuse and it was not our fault.
“ On one hand we hated the man who treated us so dreadfully, and yet on the other we still strived to be accepted and loved by the very person that created the hell we lived in “ - The Kavanagh Sisters (Why go Back)
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over the abuse and that it was not our fault