Avoid Self-Blame to Maximally Empower

Self-Blame in the Aftermath of a Toxic Relationship

Self-blame in the aftermath of a toxic relationship is unfortunately quite common. It’s horrifying to realize the truth about your relationship once the mask comes off a covert partner. (See also: When the Mask Comes Off a Covert Character.) But sadly, many victims don’t just blame their abusers. They blame themselves. They can fault themselves for not seeing things sooner. And they’re often angry about tolerating things and hanging on too long.

It’s very natural for victims to be angry. And, fundamentally, it’s healthy to be angry. But what we make of our anger and what we do with it makes all the difference in the world. Exploitation victims find out in short order that directing anger toward their abuser is futile. And it often only fans the fire, too. But directing anger toward oneself is even more problematic. Self-blame only drains precious emotional resources. And it deepens the pain a victim already feels.

Righteous anger is meant to propel us into corrective action. And that necessarily involves refocusing attention on ourselves and our legitimate needs. But you can’t properly advocate for yourself while engaging in self-blame. There’s only one way to end the nightmare of a toxic relationship. First, you have to properly embrace your anger. Then, you have to channel it in the right directions.

Honest, Loving Self-Reckoning and Positive Self-Assertion

We have to reckon with our mistakes if we’re to grow and gain wisdom. But to honestly and lovingly self-reckon we must avoid destructive self-blame. It’s often simply too hard to properly discern the nature and extent of someone’s character impairments at the outset of a relationship. In the age of character disturbance, none of us can be that astute. Besides, covert characters are adept at concealing their true nature. So, it’s easy to get duped.

To move on in an enlightened way, you do have to reckon with how you likely got duped. But to do that properly, you can’t berate yourself. You just have faithfully discern what it was about your abuser (and may have been about you) that enabled any exploitation. Honest but loving reckoning brings the wisdom necessary to avoid similar traps in the future. (See also: Moving On After an Abusive Relationship.)

Honest reckoning is only the first step to personal empowerment. The next step is to take proper action. And that necessarily means directing our attention and energy in the right places. Taking action – any action – on your own behalf is the key. Too many victims fall into the trap of staying unhealthily connected to their abusers. Even after separation or divorce, they may allow their abuser to dominates their thoughts. Victims can continue to focus on what was done to them and what their abuser still does to make their life miserable. This is an energy drainer. And as I explain in In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance, it’s also the formula for depression. Focusing instead on yourself and the actions you’re willing to take on your own behalf is empowering.

Moving On Empowered

Moving on in an empowered way after a toxic relationship is a challenge to be sure. That’s why Dr. Armistead and I wrote How Did We End Up Here?. It’s to easy to be paralyzed by past hurt. And concern for the future naturally breeds anxiety. To be maximally empowered, we have to stay in the present moment. And we have to focus on what we’re doing in that moment to take care of our soul. I’ll be talking more about such things in the coming weeks.

8 thoughts on “Avoid Self-Blame to Maximally Empower

  1. I gave 7 years of my life to reaching out to my dil who is a complete narcissist. She thinks she’s smart, funny and most of all powerful. In reality she’s nothing but a fool. I’m definitely NOT self blaming that I was so loving and kind to my “family”. Likewise, I am no longer staying in touch with them so they can re abuse me!!!

  2. Thanks, Dr Simon.

    You said, “To move on in an enlightened way, you do have to reckon with how you likely got duped. But to do that properly, you can’t berate yourself. You just have faithfully discern what it was about your abuser (and may have been about you) that enabled any exploitation. Honest but loving reckoning brings the wisdom necessary to avoid similar traps in the future.”

    What if honest discerning reveals that one stayed because of one’s genuine Christian-based beliefs, as encouraged and validated by one’s community? I’m not trying to make excuses, but in all honesty, that’s all I can think of. I consider myself a dedicated faithful believer and nobody in the leadership of my church supports divorce, so it never entered my mind. The psychologist, counselor and pastor I saw forbade any separation. That’s why I stayed as long as I did. How could it have been any different? The only way I was able to break free was to cut ties with my church. It meant losing friends of many years. It also meant losing the only supports I had. Not only that, it meant they believed him when he denigrated me to them. No wonder people in church don’t leave.

    1. If you haven’t already, i would go find the book Boundaries, by Townsend and Cloud and perhaps some of their online articles. They address some of these issues you bring up. They use sound psychology, and often address it with support of Bible quotations. Good luck.

      1. Thanks, Sebastian. I read their books (not just Boundaries, but their other books as well) many many times. They were very clear that divorcing is not part of boundaries because divorce kills a marriage. In their other books, they give suggestions and instructions on how to approach and create conversations that establish boundaries. I tried all of them, nothing worked because his agenda was different. Although one may say that I had to try them to discover they wouldn’t work, the process of going through them created traumatic memories, but I have since been able to re-process the trauma. I’ve also had to re-process the traumatic experiences in counselors’, pastors, and a Christian psychologist’s office.

        In short, my part was inevitable because I thought it was right to stay within a Christian community. To say anything else is to bear unnecessary and inaccurate self-blame.

        1. Geez. Sorry to misdirect you, Erin. I didn’t know they rejected divorce as an option. I never read their Boundaries book on marriage, only their first and the one on dating. I didn’t think they would go so far as to not consider divorce as an option. I DO know they recount issues with some churches, so they don’t have an all or nothing view of individual churches and their members, which I think would apply to your situation, although clearly, not entirely.

          I hope you can find a place to support you. Boundaries are a litmus test, as the authors say, so you do what you have to do I say. Again, good luck.

        2. Jeff Crippen is a pastor and also authored several books about abusers, domestic violence, and he supports divorcing abusers. Many Christians get told that God hates divorce, but that’s not accurate. Treacherous divorce is to be hated. Men who abuse their wives are trashing the marriage covenant in their criminality and behavior. It is akin to desertion/abandonment. Adultery, abuse, and desertion. All trash the marital covenant.

          Barbara Roberts authored a book too, that goes into Scripture and she is revising her book at the moment.

          You can google their books and order them if you wish.

          So many Christian women believe they are not to divorce – no matter what. You were (are?) not alone in that belief and it traps so many women in domestic violence and domestic abuse. Both of the authors also have blogs, so you might want to check them out, too. Jeff Crippen has a sermon series on abusers and you can find that on the Christ Reformation Church’s page of SermonAudio (dot com).

          I guess Dr. Simon doesn’t want us to post about religion, but I thought I’d reach out to you as such is important. I’m Christian too and I stayed because I thought God hates all divorce and it was my duty to do so. You’re not alone in that, Erin.

  3. If you haven’t already, i would go find the book Boundaries, by Townsend and Cloud and perhaps some of their online articles. They address some of these issues you bring up. They use sound psychology, and often address it with support of Bible quotations. Good luck.

  4. I needed to read this. Pretty sure this is an area where I get stuck. Tend to blame myself and/or feel guilty and of course the abuser encourages that.

    In regards to my daughter. I definitely blame myself – for marrying her father, for not recognizing him for who he is sooner, for encouraging a relationship between them when she was little (he didn’t want to spend time with her), for not recognizing my vulnerabilities, for not being even firmer with both of them, for thinking she was immature and would grow out of it with therapy and boundaries. When she moved out she just got worse but she was more skilled at hiding it. And the line where you say you can’t properly advocate for yourself and self-blame really resonates with me. The abuser sees that you blame yourself and encourages that self-blame and it’s a vicious cycle.

    I look back now and wonder how I didn’t see it. It is easier to see with distance.

    “Victims can continue to focus on what was done to them and what their abuser still does to make their life miserable. This is an energy drainer.” Been there, done that. Too many times. What you focus on expands. I know better, but still fall in the mental trap more than I’d like. Get angry at myself for having allowed it and tolerated it for so long and for having hope on occasion that she will change.

    That’s exactly why I chose the moniker, Mindful. Because that’s what I need to be to grow past this pattern and trauma to heal.

    Thanks for reading. Needed to get this out! 🙂

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