The Insidious Power of Blame

It often takes time for the partners of verbal abusers to realize that the abuser is the one with the problem. Most women who are verbally abused spend time focused inward, soul-searching, taking inventory, trying to identify their “sins,” trying to find out what they did wrong. Because they have been blamed for their pain, they look inside for solutions. With no place even to turn their anger, unless against themselves, they have nowhere to go and no one who would understand. So they believe the lie. “There must be something I can do.”

Looking back on their lives, survivors have wondered why they spent any time at all in the situations they were in. Was it just low self-esteem? I don’t think so. I believe that never knowing quite what was wrong because they were always being blamed did much more than erode their self-esteem. It so totally denied their experience and invalidated them that eventually there was nothing they felt they could know for certain, nothing on which to base action. Being blamed is one of the most common experiences of the partner of an abuser and may do more than any other abuse to disempower the partner….

Sadly, many women go through their lives in pain and confusion trying to find out what is wrong while their culture tells them “nothing is wrong.” Women who went to many sources looking for help were told to try harder, as if the abuse was their fault and their suffering the norm. For them the whole world was crazymaking.

Once a woman is aware of the ways she is blamed by her culture (“What did you do to provoke him?”), she finds it easier to look outside herself. In a verbally abusive relationship, this is essential. She must come to realize that the abuse has nothing to do with her. It is very difficult for anyone, including the partner of the abuser, to grasp that a person who seems to get along quite well in the world, as many verbal abusers do, could suddenly lash out unprovoked at his partner for no apparent reason. Yet this is exactly what happens.

— Patricia Evans, Verbal Abuse Survivors Speak Out, p. 77-78

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