“Over the last years I realize more and more that the constant feedback of me being lazy, undisciplined, self-centered and fat (as the main themes)  prevented me from being a confident person, and for a long time stopped me from being a successfully independent adult.”

So often we are made to feel guilty for laying blame for our lives with other people. How can it be John’s fault that you are in an underpaid job, how did Violet cause you to have health issues? Well, however confusing and unbelievable this may be, if John and Violet were in fact emotionally and mentally abusive there is a good possibility that their behavior has influenced their victims so much that they lack the confidence to orchestrate a successful career or the drive to properly care for their bodies.

It is a difficult process to understand how non-physical abuse can affect a person in the long run. Every survivor in the world will be able to tell you that their experiences influence choices they make. Whether a lack of self-confidence, enormous distrust or a lack of life skills, the past resonates in the present. And those are the semi-conscious effects. We often forget the exposure to non-physical abuse can have so many physical ramification, if not only for the experience of constant stress wearing a target out.

Laying Blame With the Abuser

Even the target themselves can have trouble identifying all the little ways in which they were influenced, and then when they do are often made to feel guilty about assigning blame to those who hurt them. In general terms I think our society does far too much victim-blaming, but when it comes to non-physical abuse it seems we are not even allowed to acknowledge the indiscretion.

Asking someone who has been mentally abused not to behave like they were abused
is like stabbing someone and asking them not to bleed.

That statement is even more true than most think, as we are becoming increasingly aware that emotional pain is much more similar to physical pain than previously thought (more on that on Psychology Today). So if we know that non-physical abuse has such far reaching effects, should we then not be able to assign the same level of responsibility to the culprits?

Assigning Blame Without Loosing Responsibility

“I continuously find that I feel guilty about giving them some responsibility over how I have struggled with certain aspects in my life. Am I after all not responsible for how my life turns out? When I try to step back and look at certain incidents I see their influence now. I need to allow myself to assign that “blame” without that meaning that – now that I have figured that out – I use them as an excuse”.

Maybe that is the key to it all, you can assign blame to someone about their indiscretions against you, without giving up your own responsibility of dealing and healing. Figuring out where behaviors originated is not the same as trying to find a scapegoat for whatever is wrong in your life. In fact looking for the origins can be an important step in learning from your past.

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Having gained experience while working for a variety of European non-profits, I am proud to now work with SwanWaters. My connection with the website is not only professional. I am glad to tap into my personal experiences to help those who are living in toxic relationships whether with parents, partners or in their professional life. We need to make the world more aware of the devastating effects of emotional abuse and help more people on their way to heal and thrive.

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  1. Profile photo of Niamh

    September 5, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Excellent article Harmony. I think so often, especially today, there is a real tendency even in therapy land to push people to “forgiveness” as quickly as possible, negating the damage that is done by this kind of dysfunctional programming. As children we form most of our beliefs about ourselves and the world before the age of six and then they get buried away from conscious awareness. The sad thing is that they still run most of our behaviours until they are hunted down, rooted out and dealt with.
    Coming to an understanding of why we are like we are is not about blaming- it is about identifying the problem, the cause of the problem and then taking steps to heal it. The truth is that growing up in the N dynamic is more than abuse, it is psychological torture and the scars run deep.

  2. Profile photo of Amy

    September 5, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    This is a really important article and one I needed to read…I’m going to come back to it.

  3. Profile photo of Breezie

    October 13, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    This is a very good, and familiar, story. Shame and blame are the weapons of the narcissist mother, with the help of a disengaged father, who takes no responsibility by ignoring and doing nothing to stop it. The outcome is not a pretty sight, and leads us into multiple relationships with narcissists. Why this happens is very clear to me, but it took a long time to get here.

    • Profile photo of Monkey

      October 15, 2015 at 9:15 am

      It is difficult to realise what is going on, because it challenges our entire sense of reality. However messed up our upbringing, it is what shapes our definition of ‘normal’, and that is a very difficult concept to change.


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