Blame-shifting is a classic technique of the abuser. It is used in the home, in the church, in the therapists office and even in government agencies (as I found out first hand today - but I'll get to that in a minute). It has even made its way into pop psychology and people who do not take the time to think things through and (heaven forbid) empathize, have swallowed it - hook, line and sinker. Anna Valerious, Kathy Krajco and Gale Warnings have all written on this or related topics. Personal opinion? Most people who have taken this idea up have done so because it absolves them of having to take the responsibility of looking evil in the eye and dealing with. If the victim is provoking the abuse, then the abuser is not evil. Ta-da - problem solved. BLEAH!
Friday, April 4, 2008
So, what is it? I will start with how it works in the home. Essentially, the target of abuse is abused in some way - yelled at, for instance. Then, when the target begins to cry or complains that the yelling is wrong, the abuser tells them that it is the target's fault for making them yell. Boom - the target has been abused, then told the abuse is their fault, deepening the abuse.
Some examples that come to mind from my own experience are: once, my little sister walked behind me while I was lying on the floor watching TV. As she passed, she kicked me in the small of my back. This hurt - a lot. I complained to my mother. Response? "I warned you that if you tormented her when she was little, she would pay you back when she grew up." First, my sister and I have talked about this. I never tormented her when we were growing up. That was a calculated remark on my mother's part. Second, this remark, made often, taught my sister that it was okay to kick or disrespect me and get into my things because mom said I had it coming. (My sister has grown out of that, thank God.) Another example was once when I was about 11, I asked my mother if I could make myself a bowl of ice cream. She said no in a very irritated way. I asked why and she slapped my mouth. Even now, when asked about it, she says, "Well, you must have been mouthing off for me to have to resort to that." Do you see what happened? In both cases, being kicked and being slapped were my fault - blame-shifting.
The same idea applies when the abuser is a spouse. "It's your fault I hit you - yelled at you - belittled you - scared the crap out of you. You provoked me." Provoked how? For suggesting that they might be wrong, for heaven's sake...
This is how it works in an abusive church. You are taught how wonderful life can be if you do things the prescribed way (that is, their way). If you follow their instructions correctly, everything will be just great. Now, what do they do with people that have real problems - problems like a husband that is beating the crap out of them or their children or cheating on his wife? They blame-shift. If you were doing things right, these things wouldn't be happening to you. Some examples: if you would just submit to your husband more, he would not feel the need to beat you into submission. If you just pray more God will fix it. Here are some actual quotes from the pulpit of the church I was a part of:
"Hurting people hurt people."
"Depression is a sin. If you're depressed, repent and get over it."
"If you say to yourself every day, 'My husband loves me. My husband loves me,' and really believe it, it will be true."
Let's look at each of these. First the one about submitting more and he won't beat you. HOW MUCH MORE SUBMITTED CAN YOU GET THAN LETTING HIM BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF YOU??!! It is criminal to send someone with fractured bones and bruises back to an abuser with the counsel that the abuse is their fault. That could get someone killed - not to mention giving the abuser a free pass to abuse whenever they want. It is also criminal to send a woman who is so emotionally beaten down that she doesn't even know she deserves better back to that, adding to her wonderful self-image that the fault for her abuse is hers.
The next one - just pray more and God will fix it. Again, you're not doing it right - you're not praying enough - not praying in the right attitude not blah, blah, blah. Therefore, what can you expect until you get yourself in line. Again, criminal.
Now for the phrase, "Hurting people hurt people." Our pastor said this from the pulpit often. He is an abuser - in the church and at home and . . . I actually saw this statement on a billboard yesterday. Grrr! This demeans the victim by excusing the abuser. It also demeans every person who, though abused and hurt, never resorted to using abuse. Besides, not all abusers where abused. Being abused is NOT AN EXCUSE!
Okay - next. Depression is a sin. Repent and get over it. Words fail me. That is the kind of statement that could send someone suffering from depression over the edge to suicide. Grr! again.
And the lovely one, "Tell yourself that your husbands love you and it will come true." This is like some kind of superstitious magic something that I can't even . . . aaahhh! So, your husband says, "I hate you. You disgust me," and you're supposed to smile and say to yourself, "my husband loves me." He punches you in the face and you're supposed to say, "my husband loves me." This is called D-E-L-U-S-I-O-N-A-L. This kind of advice can actually drive someone into a form of insanity - thinking black is white - good is evil.
The way this is used in the psychological community has been well covered by the blogs mentioned at the beginning of this post and I won't re-invent the wheel on that one - just recommend reading them yourself.
Now to the experience I had today. To set it up, I came out of an abusive church where I was a leader about 14 months ago. I was abused growing up by both of my parent - mostly emotionally, but occasional physical. My mother is - I believe - a malignant narcissist and my father just criticized and yelled and blah, blah, blah. I was also, growing up, sexually abused by an older cousin. I have been in therapy for about 4 months and have been working hard to get myself out of the hole I have spent my life in. Next step - getting a job and getting independent from family. So - off to Vocational Rehabilitation I go. This is a state agency whose purpose is to help people with disabilities (mental as well as physical) get the training and assistance they need to get and keep a job - a good one that makes enough for them to live on. Believe me, those who have been emotionally or physically abused are disabled. It is not a permanent disability if they get help and get out of the situation, but part of getting out of the situation includes being able to work and support yourself. So, voc rehab, here I come.
Now, I was a little nervous going in. I am gun-shy about talking to strangers about my problems. Those in my church were NOT helpful and treated me like I was trying to catch a disease and might already be contagious. So I follow the counselor into her office and the first thing she does is look at my application and say, "It says here that your disability is depression?"
"Well," she says, "we are not here to provide medicine or counseling."
Well, duh. But I am already in a defensive mode and this confuses me because my therapist said to come here for help in getting a job. I wasn't there for medicine or counseling - except job counseling. Then came questions about why I was depressed. Abuse. A ton of questions about the abuse.
Then she looked at me with a look that dripped with condescension and said, "Grown-up adult women get out in the world and take care of themselves."
I felt like I had been punched. By this time, I was already crying and shaking. And she implies that the abuse at home must not be too bad or I would get out. Bingo - shift the blame for the abuse to the victim. As she processed my paperwork, she continued to make comments along this line. Finally, she asked me how old my dad was . . . was he retired . . . yes . . . what did he do. Uh-oh. After all this - nearly an hour's worth, we discovered that she used to work with my dad - thought the world of him. She then suggested that his behavior was a "generational thing." WHAT?!?! Since when does someone's age give them a free pass to be abusive? Now, she is suddenly kindness itself - although I think, for a minute that I may end up trying to comfort her, she is so distraught over the fact that my dad would do that.
Mind you, I didn't realize this was what was going on at the time or I would have said something (I hope). I was in a state of confusion and fear - the kind abuse creates in it's victims. Like I said, I was crying through most of the interview and shaking through part of it. It was several hours later, after thinking about it, that I realized what had happened. I am glad I told her that this (her knowing my dad) created a conflict I was uncomfortable with and asked to be assigned another counselor.
When dealing with the victims of abuse IT IS NEVER OKAY TO TELL THEM THAT THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ABUSE. Don't shift the blame for abuse onto the one being abused. It is like telling a mugging victim that they are to blame for being mugged. It's like telling the family of a murder victim that the victim was to blame for their own death. It is wrong. It excuses evil. Period.