Many people blame themselves for the abuse that they have lived through. This is a very normal way to respond, but the fact is that abuse is never your fault. Whether the abuse is physical, emotional, sexual, or any type of abuse. It is not your fault. This is no matter what the circumstances of the abuse are, or what your age is when it happens. This article is going to focus specifically on childhood abuse.
Many people who have been abused blame themselves for reasons they have come up with themselves, perhaps on a subconscious level. One of these is because they feel it gives them a level of control. If there is something you could have done to stop the abuse, then you might feel that there are things you can do to avoid bad things happening to you in the future. It also might be a way to justify to themselves why it’s okay to keep a connection with their abuser, especially if their abuser is a parent or other family member. They may feel they owe loyalty to their abuser because they love their abuser and feel sure their abuser loves them. They may believe breaking bonds with their abuser would be a betrayal of that love. If you were abused by a parent, you may subconsciously believe that admitting your parent abused you would also mean admitting your parent doesn’t love you, which may seem more painful than blaming yourself.
Many abusers will make all sorts of justifications for why they acted as they did, but there is something you should always keep in mind when you hear such arguments: There is *no* excuse to abuse a child. Ever. For instance, some people may claim the reason they were abusive was due to an emotional reaction, such as feeling extremely angry. But no matter how extreme a person’s emotions may be, it is their responsibility to control how they respond. It is never a child’s responsibility to manage other peoples’ emotions, especially those of an adult. Many abusers are well aware of how to manipulate children in order to make children blame themselves.
People abused as children may blame themselves because an abuser has convinced them it was their fault.
If their abuser told them such things, they generally did so only as part of their plan to transfer responsibility and guilt to the one abused. Abusers know that if they make a child take on responsibility, it will make the child less likely to tell anyone and improve the abuser’s chances of avoiding being caught and/or facing consequences. You were not abused because you were “bad.” You were abused because they were an abuser and trying to justify their abusive behaviours. Abusive adults find ways to emotionally manipulate children such as making them feel they are unlovable or deserve whatever abuse they receive - this is not a child’s fault at all. Abusers know how to exert power and pressure on children and make those children believe there are very good reasons to stay quiet. No matter what reason an abuser may give, the only one to blame is the abuser.
A child may blame themselves because they did not tell anyone, but there are many valid reasons a child would not tell.
It may seem easy, as an adult, to look back at your childhood and think, “I should have told someone.” But the reality is that it is not so easy when someone is only a child. (And even in cases where someone is not a child, this can be unimaginably difficult.) A child may not have told someone about abuse because they were threatened. The child may have felt no one would believe them. If they felt like no one listened to them about other subjects, it might feel very unlikely that people in their lives would believe them if they accused an adult of terrible actions. The child may have been conditioned by their abuser to see their abuse as normal. If they thought what was happening to them was nothing unusual, they may have seen no reason to talk to others about it. The child may be convinced that they would be in trouble for the abuse that was happening to them and worry for the consequences.
The child may not have understood what was happening to them. They may not be aware it was abuse. If this was the case, they may have had no idea how to put it into words in order to tell someone. The child may think it's okay for parents to say whatever they want to them. The child may have felt ashamed of what happened to them. Particularly if their abuser told them it was “dirty” or they had heard about someone else being bad for doing something which seemed similar to what the child went through, they might feel they shouldn’t tell anyone about it. Related to this, the child may have been convinced, by their abuser or by being told they are “bad” for other reasons, that they deserved their abuse. This is particularly true if that abuse was framed as “punishment.”
Even for an adult going through abuse, reasons such as these can be very convincing. As a child, it can be even more difficult to decide to go against such reasons and tell someone about abuse, because it is harder to have the knowledge and understanding that allows a person to disprove these reasons.
Many children feel they are to blame because they let abuse continue over more than one incident. While it is easy to look back and say, “I could have stopped things after the first time,” the truth is that abusers have the power in an abusive dynamic, especially when they are an adult abusing a child. Most children feel very little power to stop the abuse in such a situation, and their abusers manipulate things to make them feel more powerless. Even if a child feels like there is something they could have done or their abuser told them they just needed to behave better, the truth is that they had very little if any power to stop things. If a child “behaved better,” and their abuser wanted to abuse them, they would find a way to say the child still “misbehaved” or find some other excuse to abuse them.
In cases of sexual abuse, there are other reasons a child may blame themselves.
When a child is sexually abused, that abuse may not feel entirely unpleasant. They may have enjoyed the “special attention” because it made them feel important. Every child needs love and attention, and to feel special, and abusers know how to use this to take advantage of children to get what the abusers want. The child may be convinced that this is a way they are shown love. The child may have experienced arousal or physical pleasure during the abuse, and believe this means they wanted it to happen - but these are physical reactions and do not at all mean it was wanted or is okay.
In some cases, they may have thought or even said they wanted it. Children are not mentally or emotionally ready for a sexual relationship and adults should be mature enough to understand that and should decline any such “offer.” Instead, abusers take advantage of children in these situations.
A child being sexually abused may be convinced that if they tell someone, they will be the ones in trouble. They may feel ashamed or any number of things.
There are many reasons a child may blame themselves for their abuse. This is not even close to an exhaustive list. A child may blame themselves because they didn’t say “no” or didn’t say it “enough,” or feel they didn’t fight hard enough, or acted submissively, or did things to try to please their abuser. None of these actions means the child was in any way, “asking for,” or condoning their abuse. They were trying to find whatever way they could to make their abuse stop or make it not as severe, or at the least survive it. A child who is being abused has very little if any power over the situation, and it is not wrong or shameful or in any way wrong of them to have done what they could to survive.
No matter what your reasons might be for blaming yourself, your abuse was not your fault. The only one who should be blamed for your abuse is your abuser. No matter what they or anyone else might have said, there is never an excuse to abuse a child. And there was no reason, explanation, justification, argument or excuse that would make your abuse okay or make you to blame for it.
It was not your fault. It was never your fault. I promise.