A victim of domestic abuse carries a very heavy weight. She carries the pain of all that she has been through AND she often carries the weight of responsibility for the abuse that she has endured.
Today, I want to talk about a couple of ways that a victim is blamed for their abuser’s behavior.
Ways the Victim is Blamed
1. By the abuser himself
A common tactic of an abuser is to blame the victim for everything. This includes problems, life events, misfortunes, and many other things that the victim actually has no control over and is not responsible for.
This also includes the abuser blaming the victim for their own behavior.
Consider the statement, “If you wouldn’t have made me mad, then I wouldn’t have done that (or had to do that).”
This is a perfect example of misplaced responsibility. The reality is that no one can make you feel or do anything. We choose our response. So, they chose to be mad, and they chose the action that followed. Their anger and response are their responsibility not that of the person on the receiving end.
When emotions and actions are blamed on the victim it creates an environment where the victim has to walk on eggshells. This causes the victim to do everything they can in order to not set the abuser off. Generally speaking, no matter how hard you try, the abuser will find some reason to fly off (or get passively angry) and blame you for it. This creates a highly stressful environment. You live on edge and it takes an incredible emotional toll.
2. By the trauma and pain of the abuser’s past
It is also very common that an abuser comes from an abusive background or has some sort of trauma in their own history. This is tragic and unfortunate; however, this also does not give them a pass to be abusive. This painful past may bring with it challenges that need to be overcome, but that is the responsibility of the person to seek the help that they need to be whole.
Generally, rather than seeking any kind of help, this becomes a means of manipulation, playing on the victim’s compassion and empathy, and essentially blaming all of their behavior on their past.
Often victims of abuse are naturally highly compassionate and empathetic people and are quick to take on the pain of others out of genuine care. However, this dynamic is a set-up, because the abuser is more than happy to pass off the responsibility and the victim willingly receives it. Then it becomes a case of, “if I can just show him enough love, care and compassion,” or “if I can just show him that not everybody is out to hurt him”, or “if I can just create a safe space for him to be himself”, then maybe he will change. Again, the weight of responsibility for the abuse is laying squarely on the shoulders of the victim, rather than on the abuser where it should be.
This is another way of relegating responsibility to someone else for the very behaviors that the abuser is willingly choosing to engage in.
***It is important to note that if the abuser truly couldn’t help themselves, then they would be abusive to everyone that they interacted with. The very fact that they can choose to be kind, charming, serving towards others when they want to, undermines the argument that their victim “makes them” act that way or that they can’t help it.
3. By the response of others
Lastly, sometimes it is spoken directly and sometimes it is unspoken or communicated indirectly, but so often a victim is encouraged to try harder, pray harder, forgive better, overlook more, cook better meals, have sex more, and just generally be a “better” wife.
The problem with this advice is that it implies that if the victim would just do the right thing then the abuse and mistreatment would stop. Again, it implies that her actions are responsible for the choices that he is making.
This creates a crushing weight that she cannot and was never meant to carry. Instead of encouraging the victim to step up in areas that she has already been giving everything she’s got, we need to begin to hold the abuser responsible for his choices. This means that he suffers the consequences of those choices. He and he alone is responsible for himself and his behavior.
The Burden of Responsibility
The crux of the matter is that we can only change what we are responsible for. If an abuser doesn’t take responsibility then they never have to change. So, passing off the blame on their victim becomes a lifestyle. It’s convenient for them and destructive to their victim.
The reality is that we are NEVER responsible for someone else’s actions, words, or feelings. As an adult, we are 100% responsible for what we CHOOSE to do, say, and feel and for the consequences that follow. Can it be hard to choose the right actions, words, and feelings? Absolutely! But that should encourage us to pursue help in these areas so that we are better able to control ourselves.
The challenge of choosing well does not give us a pass to blame someone else.
Lifting off the Weight
So, I want to free you today. You are not responsible for your abusive husband. You are not the cause of his wicked words and lies, you are not responsible for his dishonest and hurtful behavior, you are not at fault for his unfaithfulness.
It is not your job to get him healed and whole. It is not your job to toe the line well enough so that he can stop acting the way he does. You are NOT responsible for his words and actions. You are responsible for your own.
So, what does it look like to move forward today with intentionality, to make forward movement in the areas of your life that are your responsibility, and to lay down the burden of responsibility that is not yours to carry?