It is an established fact that most children who are mistreated by their parents or primary caregivers believe they are to blame for their abuse. I know I did. Indeed, I concluded I must be a terrible person or why else would I be treated so badly? This, too, I have since learned, is an extremely common inference mistreated children make.
Because we tend to blame ourselves for the bad treatment we received (such as psychological abuse, physical beatings etc), we develop a deep sense of deep and abiding shame.
As a consequence, we tell nobody about our terrible predicament; in my own case, I absolutely dreaded others finding out and developed an obsessive and profound (and irrational) anxiety that somehow they would; I imagined other school children taunting me with comments such as:
‘What sort of freak are you that your own parents hate you and don’t want you!!??’
The Need To Stop Blaming Ourselves
It is very important that we stop blaming ourselves for what happened to us as carrying around a sense of guilt is exceptionally psychologically debilitating and prevents us from gaining any pleasure from life as we believe we simply do not deserve any happiness. Also, our sense of being ‘a bad person’ tends to be self-perpetuating.
However, despite the obvious benefits of freeing ourselves from crushing, yet irrational, guilt, the process of doing so can entail its own painful elements: for example, by stopping blaming ourselves, we may need to face up to the reality that, in fact, it was someone who should have cared for us and protected us who was the wrongdoer. At last, seeing the truth about this person (or persons) can be extremely upsetting and an enormous shock.
Who Was To Blame?
According to the psychologist, Padesky, we should try to identify all those involved in our mistreatment which can help us to deflect the blame from ourselves. For example, the list that we come up with may look something like this:
– family members who turned a blind eye to what was happening
– our school for not picking up on signs we may have been at risk
– social services for not intervening
– the abuser/s themselves
– doctors who missed signs we were at risk
Reminding Ourselves Of Our Former Vulnerability
Another technique we can use to help remind ourselves we were not to blame is to find and look at, photographs of ourselves at the age we were at the time we suffered our mistreatment in order to help us to empathize with just how vulnerable we were at the time.
Reasons We Were Not To Blame
Finally, given that we may have spent years experiencing self-blame and self-hatred it can be very useful to make a list of all the reasons we can think of why we were not to blame and to occasionally re-read this list in order to help ourselves in our continuing recovery process.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).