The fact that someone abused me was not my fault. This is a reality that even on a good day I have to talk myself into; a reality that has taken me years to begin to accept. Years of fighting with myself and repeating the words over and over and over again. It was not my fault. It was not my fault. Years of listening to a string of therapists remind me again and again. Years of going over each event in my mind, analyzing it from every angle, replaying the hands gripping my wrists and wondering if maybe I could have twisted my body differently, could have screamed louder or tried a different collection of words that might have prevented it all from happening the way that it did.
Why didn’t you fight back harder? Why didn’t you yell? Why did you let him hurt you? Why did you stay? Why did you date someone like that? Why did you get yourself into that situation? Maybe you have a bad judge of character? Maybe you deserved what happened to you. Maybe he wouldn’t have acted like that if you weren’t for the way that you are. Maybe you made him crazy. Maybe you are over exaggerating. Over reacting. Overly picky. Too weak. Too quiet. Too soft. Too hard to please. Maybe it was your fault.
In the circumstance of domestic violence, self-blame is, in many ways, a natural response for a victim—the product of being hurt by someone you trust and love, and then being told that it is your fault again and again. For me personally, taking responsibility for what happened to me was my way of maintaining a sense of control and balance. It was somehow easier to accept that I was abused because I was a bad person, there was something wrong with me and I somehow deserved it, than it was to accept that sometimes terrible things happen in life that we have no control over.
It is shocking to me now, looking back over the years and watching the messages blur all around me, coming not only internally but externally as well. I remember people asking me these same questions. I can still hear my friends call my ex ‘crazy’ over and over as they saw him hiding behind the bleachers at our hockey practice, but then in a closed conversation late at night under the blanket of a sleepover they would get the courage to question whether maybe I encouraged his behavior, and if maybe I felt lucky sometimes to have someone that loved me so much.
And then recently, someone close to me questioned the “type of person I must be to have had a past like I do.”
Am I too trusting? Do I get myself into bad situations? Do I put myself at risk? I head a voice inside me chime in.
“Maybe,” this person said, “maybe you aren’t the best judge of character….Maybe, you are a liability.”
The result is traumatizing. A few years ago, a comment like this would have devastated me for a long time. My answer would have been yes. Yes, I am a bad person and what happened to me is a reflection of that simple fact. Yes, I should never have trusted or loved…I watch as everything falls in line: my abuser told me that it was my fault, I told myself that it was my fault, and my friends and people outside of the situation questioned whether it was my fault. So, yes, it seems like an easy question to answer: it must have been my fault.
Today, I know so much more than I did when I was fifteen. If I could go back, would I do things differently having this knowledge? Absolutely. Would I have been able to prevent it all from happening? Maybe parts of it, yes. But could I have changed his actions? No.
If I had known what my ex was going to be like, I never would have dated him. If I had known I had help available, I would have tried to use it.
But the reality is, I didn’t know what I now know about abusive relationships. I didn’t know the red flags, the warning signs, the definition of stalking or harassment or assault. I didn’t know that a person I knew for a long time could change into a complete stranger.
As I have gone through the recovery process, I have begun to realize and to accept that what happened to me was not my fault. I did not get myself into a bad situation, I got myself out. I didn’t fall in love with someone risky who I knew would hurt me, I fell in love with my best friend- someone I loved and my family loved and I thought that I could trust. I didn’t cause him to go crazy, I found a way to survive when it turned out that he had deep-rooted psychological problems. I wasn’t hurt because I was a bad person and I deserved it, I was hurt because someone else made poor decisions and intentionally tried to hurt me. I made the best decisions I could with the knowledge I had at the time, and unfortunately I was exposed to someone who’s unhealthy decisions led to devastating consequences in my life.
Think About This:
When I was eight years old, my grandmother was attacked while stopped at a red light as she was driving to the store. A man in black clothing forced her door open and dragged her from her car, leaving her on the side of the road as he stole her vehicle. Did people ask her why she didn’t fight harder against the man that attacked her? Did they question what kind of person she was that allowed her to be taken advantage of? Did they ask her if she had a problem of putting herself in bad situations? No. They told her that they were happy that she was alive and that they were sorry for what someone did to her and he deserved to be punished.
So why is it so different for things like domestic violence and sexual assault?
It’s not. And to anyone who has ever been a victim, keep remembering this. It isn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault. It will never be your fault. I am so sorry for the bad decisions someone else made, and the trauma is has caused you, but the reason for the abuse had nothing to do with you. The reason for the abuse was the abuser.