It’s Not You; It’s Them

When you have been abused, the tendency is to blame yourself. Why?

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As with anything, there are multiple reasons victims of abuse might blame themselves. For one, people who are abusive must try to make their targets believe it is their fault, so they will be less likely to fight back or tell someone what is happening to them. If you think you are the cause, why would you tell someone about it?

For example, when I was a child, I was so convinced I was to blame for my father’s rage and other abusive behaviors, I never would have dreamed of telling anyone for fear they would agree with him and confirm that I deserved it. Instead, I did everything I possibly could to prove him wrong, so I could receive positive reinforcement from others without having to admit the awful truth about myself: that I was actually an “incompetent idiot” who “couldn’t do anything right” and would likely “never amount to anything.”

The narcissist must believe, and therefore, convince you the problem is “not them; it’s you.” Realistically, it’s the other way around, and they are never going to change, because they refuse to acknowledge anything that’s wrong with them. And you can’t fix what you won’t admit is broken. Here are some other reasons you might blame yourself, but I promise that it’s not you. It’s them. 

Narcissistic Injury

Narcissistic injury is caused when the narcissist perceives an attack or a threat (real or imagined) against them, generally leading to narcissistic rage. Because they perceive something you said or did as a personal attack, they believe they are justified in abusing you because, in their mind, you started it. That’s right. Take it all the way back to the playground, because that is the mentality with which you are now dealing. You said something to hurt their feelings, whether that was your intention or not, so now it’s on. In reality, what you said could have been totally innocuous, but if they perceive it as an attack, a threat, or even just a mild criticism, they will feel well within their rights to retaliate against you with abuse. Healthy people do not “retaliate” against others, especially over something as insignificant as a mistake, misunderstanding, or criticism. This is how you know there is something wrong with them, not you.

But the Narcissist is Never Wrong

You and I both know this is definitely not the case; however, the narcissist does not. Aside from being a useful tactic in ensuring your silence, victim blaming also shifts responsibility for their inappropriate actions to someone else. This is necessary to maintain the facade of their “false self.” As I said, they think you deserve whatever they dish out because they can’t possibly be wrong. Reasonable people know they are flawed, because no one is perfect, and they accept that they will make occasional mistakes. However, when your ego is that fragile due to the pressures of constantly hiding your inadequate “true self,” it is far too painful to admit your shortcomings, which brings us back to narcissistic injury and narcissistic rage. They will never stop abusing other people, because they will always find a way to make it their victim’s fault. That’s how you know you are not actually to blame, and the problem is theirs alone.

The Narcissist is Always the Victim

In keeping with the theme, the narcissist is a perpetual victim…of the world, so of course their abuse of others is always warranted. The world (and everyone in it) obviously owes them something, and they are going to collect by any means necessary. This is probably compounded by the fact that they were likely victims of similar abuse in their own childhoods, so they really do feel like the perpetual victim of circumstance, because they can’t understand that they have the power to change their lives now. Further, when their own abusive and exploitative actions come back to bite them, it provides them with the ideal excuse to play the victim again. I think narcissists believe that being the constant victim automatically absolves them of any responsibility for their actions. “Look what you made me do!” Sound familiar? It’s all about shifting the blame to the target and becoming the victim themselves, so they never have to be wrong or accountable for the consequences of their behavior. Healthy people won’t try to destroy you over a simple disagreement, misunderstanding, or mistake. On the other hand, those who take everything as a personal affront will, which is another way you can tell that it’s not you. It’s them.

Gaslight Special on Aisle Me

Narcissists love a good gaslight, and they won’t hesitate to tell you all of their excuses for abusing you straight out because, as we’ve established, it is all your fault anyway. For instance, if you could just learn to keep your mouth shut, they wouldn’t have to teach you a lesson. You know how much it bothers them when you question them, and you probably even did it on purpose because you like the drama. Or maybe it’s because they love you so much that it makes them uncontrollably angry when you disagree with them, talk to someone else, find a hobby, get a job, make a new friend, or have any outside interests at all. They can’t control their reactions because they are so passionate about you. (Don’t be flattered by that, by the way. It’s not real.) Just remember, we all have emotional reactions to things other people say and do. The difference is, healthy people don’t act on their emotions in an abusive way. Narcissists, abusers, and other toxic people shift the blame for their actions to others, so they don’t have to take responsibility for their abusive behavior. That’s how you know it’s definitely them and not you.

Victim Blaming Society

In addition, there is no doubt that we live in a victim blaming society. You quite literally can’t get away from it. When a woman is sexually assaulted, why does the first question people tend to ask have to do with the clothes she was wearing? Or, does it really matter if she was drunk or how much she had to drink that night? Is a woman ever actually “asking for it”? (Just in case you’re stumped here, the answer is a solid “no.” Unless she literally asks you for sex, she’s not asking for it. Case closed.) Why are there people who blame the victims of police brutality instead of blaming the police for using excessive force and not training officers to diffuse and deescalate situations? That is, after all, their job. To put it simply, those who value traits like loyalty and obedience to authority over compassion and empathy are more likely to blame the victims of crimes or abuse, rather than the actual perpetrators. Therefore, it stands to reason that society would have a vested interest in pushing the victim blaming narrative. (Read more on societal gaslighting.)

The Perfect Target

As I touched on in my last blog post, narcissists look for a specific combination of characteristics they can exploit. Universally, they choose people who are authentic, trustworthy, trusting, optimistic, kind, empathetic, compassionate, responsible, hardworking, respectful, respectable, generous, and vulnerable. People who possess these traits are likely to project them on to others, as well as be more prone to look for the best in everyone, and narcissists use this to their advantage. Does it seem as though there is anything wrong with a person who possesses all of these wonderful qualities? I would argue that being such a person actually means there is something very right about you. If you have these traits and a history of abuse, you’re basically the perfect target, because the narcissistic abuser doesn’t have to spend the time to groom you. All of that hard work has already been done for them by your previous abuser, which means more time to play with your emotions and suck the supply right out of you. It also means it takes much less effort to convince you that you’re the problem, because someone else has already done that for them, too.

It’s Not You

All of this muddies the waters, blurs the lines, and creates intense confusion, as it is meant to do. The fact that our culture often casts doubt on victims, does not make it right. We have been brainwashed to believe it’s warranted in certain cases, but it never is. The victim is never to blame for the behavior of the perpetrator of the crime or abuse, because that implies that anyone has any power or control over the actions of other people, and that is unequivocally untrue. In fact, that is a flagrant control tactic used by oppressors against those they are oppressing.

Please do not ever blame yourself. You do not deserve to be abused or mistreated in any way or by anyone. You deserve to be loved and treated with kindness and compassion. Take an honest look at the situation, relationship, and the other person or people involved before you continue to try to fix something you didn’t break in the first place. Please believe me. The problem is not you because people are interchangeable to narcissists and other abusers. All they care about is getting their supply or fuel from you. And that is how you know for sure that it’s not you; it’s them.

The Repeated Reawakening

For an explanation of gaslighting on a larger scale, please see my most recent HuffPost article, “Gaslit Nation”.

The worst part about “waking up” to realize you have been abused by a narcissist (or otherwise toxic person) is, perhaps, the number of times it occurs after the initial awakening. In fact, once you catch a glimpse of what’s “behind the curtain” and actually comprehend its meaning, it feels like it just keeps happening, because you can never “unsee” it. When you become aware of an abusive behavior pattern in one person in your life, you will start to recognize it in other people and relationships, as well, if it exists. You may wonder if you’re imagining it due to the effects of the gaslighting you have no doubt endured, but it doesn’t just seem like it’s everywhere. It is everywhere. This is partially because you have been victimized by an abuser; therefore, you are more likely to attract other abusers as you have already been groomed, making you an easy target. Do not let anyone convince you that you only see it now because you are paranoid or delusional. Instead, take that reaction as a red flag and be more cautious of that person.

If you are noticing it more now, it’s because you know what it looks like, and you have probably picked up quite a few of these parasitic strays throughout the course of your life. If you come from a narcissistic or toxic family, you are likely one of just a few scapegoats, if not the only one. This can make it appear as though you must be the problem, to yourself as well as others. After all, how could it possibly be everyone else? Simple. Personality disorders and mental illnesses tend to run in families, so if you’re the only one who can see the truth, congratulations. You may be alone in your family of origin, but you are not alone in the world. There are large numbers of us, all at various stages in our recoveries.

When I began my healing journey approximately five years ago, I learned I had been “programmed” to believe I deserved to be mistreated (among other things), so I failed to recognize certain behaviors as abusive up until that point. Then, about a year ago, I stumbled onto some information about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and narcissistic abuse, and the pieces really started falling into place! Since then, I have come to the depressing realization that the overwhelming majority of people I have known the longest are toxic, and I’ve been systematically removing them from my life as I discover them. It feels like there will be next to no one left when I’m finished. There have been times I have second-guessed myself and wondered if I’m overreacting. However, I know that is the result of a lifetime of gaslighting, so whenever I feel self-doubt lurking, I ask myself these questions: Why am I cutting this person off? Do they consistently make me feel badly about myself? Do they continue to do things they know are hurtful to me? Do they engage in abusive behavior? 

Whether they understand what they are doing or not, if their behavior is abusive, they are detrimental to my recovery process, as well as my mental health and well-being; therefore, I must protect myself from them and their actions. If they do any of the following, I know I’m not “overreacting” or being unreasonable:

  • Gaslighting
  • Lying
  • Minimizing or denying their own hurtful actions
  • Invalidating or dictating my feelings and emotions
  • Passive aggressiveness
  • Infantilizing
  • Condescension
  • Blame shifting
  • Playing the Victim
  • Twisting words
  • Silent treatment
  • Stonewalling
  • Intimidation
  • Rage

As I mentioned, not everyone who engages in these abusive behaviors understands that what they are doing is wrong; however, that doesn’t mean they should get a free pass. On the contrary, you must be just as vigilant with someone who doesn’t know they are destructive as you are with people whose central objective is to destroy. No one has the right to mistreat or abuse you, no matter who they are, what your relationship is, or what they have been through, even if they don’t recognize their own actions as abusive, and they certainly cannot demand to stay in your life. It is your life and your choice to make.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to go “no contact” with someone who is toxic. Perhaps they are a coworker or someone else with whom you must interact. In these situations, going “gray rock” may be the best solution. For those who have never heard or seen the expression, going “gray rock” simply means making yourself about as interesting to the narcissist (or abuser) as a gray rock. This means not discussing anything personal or interesting with that person. It also entails not reacting when they inevitably attempt to provoke you or ensnare you in an argument. The goal is to stop supplying that person, so they will eventually grow bored with you and move on to the next target.

Frequently, people from your past will attempt to keep you locked into that time for their own selfish purposes. More than likely, it is because your truth threatens the lie they are continuing to live. They may minimize or deny the abuse you suffered to protect themselves from having memories of their own abuse, for instance. It can be difficult to admit you’ve been the victim of abuse, especially if it is a “normal” part of your life. If you feel something is “off” or wrong, do not second-guess yourself. I know it hurts, but allow the toxic and abusive people to leave your life, or leave them first. Once you have rid yourself of toxicity, parasites, and abusers, there will be space in your life for genuine, healthy people who will support you and care about you. Believe me, I understand how frightening it is. I’m scared, too. Nevertheless, I can no longer allow abusive people to have free reign to wreak havoc on my life.