Sure you turned right on a red light, but maybe the driver who just slammed into your car should have been paying attention and seen you. How were you supposed to see them around the giant tree blocking your view?
Self-Preservation & Shame
Have you ever experienced a negative interaction and recognized that you are placing the responsibility of blame on anything but yourself? Yeah, blame can be funny like that. Social psychologists call it self-serving bias, and it’s our minds ability to attribute blame where it best enhances our self-esteem and protects our ideas of a safe and happy world.
Self-serving bias is our largely practiced but rarely recognized defense mechanism.
At 14 years old, Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped at knifepoint from her Salt Lake City, Utah home. It was nine months before police were able to locate her and arrest Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee for abducting, torturing, and raping Smart.
Nationwide coverage focused on Smart in the days after her rescue. There was happiness she was found, shock for what she had survived, and empathy for the journey to recovery she’d face. There were also questions and victim-blaming.
Victim-blaming occurs when a crime or tragedy is recognized, but the blame is placed on the acts of the victim and not the perpetrator. Those impacted by sexual and domestic violence know how painful it can be and are faced with questions like: Why were you out that late on your own? What did you do to make them so angry? or even What were you wearing?
Smart herself endured questions rooted in victim-blaming, many questioning, “Why didn’t you run away?”
Words hold a tremendous amount of weight. They can create internal conflict and lead to personal blame, act as a barrier and prevent an individual from seeking support, and they can minimize an already traumatic experience and contribute to further trauma.
Secondary Survivors & Support
You can feel extreme emotion and confusion in learning a loved one has (or is currently) experiencing abuse. Some experience the loss of personal safety boundaries, while others may turn to victim-blaming or minimize a person’s experience. It is important to remember that your reactions can have positive or negative effects on an individual.
Secondary survivors are those impacted by the abuse of a partner, relative, or close friend. You may become one after witnessing the abuse first hand, struggled with guilt in not having been able to protect them, or simply by listening to them disclose their experience. Research has come to show that you may also exhibit trauma similar to your loved one’s trauma.
It is important to remember that your reactions and words can negatively or positively impact an individual. Asking an individual what they did or what they were wearing can place the blame on them, preventing them from seeking support. Attempting to shield them from the world can further contribute to the lack of control they experienced, leading to humiliation, guilt, and/or shame.
Remember that your loved one needs support and guidance in regaining the control that was taken from them. Allow them to speak and truly listen. Support their decisions and ask intentional questions that uphold the fact it was not their fault. Perpetrators are always to blame for any abuse.
Albion’s Empowering Friends and Family’s is a monthly workshop designed for secondary survivors who want to learn how they can empower their loved ones in productive ways. Classes are designated to focus on either Domestic Violence or Sexual assault, and we encourage you to learn more on how you can attend.
Shifting Our Mindset
Our brains have spent years training in the art of managing our sense of a just and safe world. It may be impossible to avoid negative questions that seek to place blame externally, but we can practice mindfulness in these situations.
- Take a moment to breathe before responding. Focus on your breathing and identify any feelings that may be shifting your blame. Do you feel embarrassed or fearful? Can you react in a productive way that helps the situation, as well as yourself?
- Practice empathy. Empathy can allow you to process the blame you’ve placed on another and how they may feel because of this. Was this blame justified? Did it contribute productively to a conversation or the situation? How would you feel if you were that person?
- Understand self-blame can be good. This does not mean beat yourself up, but to take time to self-reflect and understand how you can improve yourself. It may not always feel comfortable, but it can give you the ability to take ownership and drive action.
Albion stands with primary and secondary survivors, and those experiencing sexual or domestic violence. If you would like to speak with an advocate, call us at 812-422-9372 today.