Victims do it. Abusers do it. Regular people do it without even realizing it. All too often in abusive situations, all the attention goes to protecting the abuser and blaming the victim.
For most of my life, I absorbed the responsibility for my abuse. I did it because at a young, formative age, I was taught to do it. As a child, I had no other option but to accept that my parents’ bad behavior was my fault. Their failure to treat me with love and respect was my fault. When I was sexually abused, I internalized that I was the one who was wrong and bad for what happened. I dutifully kept secrets for my abusers because I was used to doing it, and because I correctly believed I would be the one punished if I said anything. When I did finally stand up to the abuse and escape my toxic family, I was scapegoated. When I went no contact, I still felt guilty about it. Even today, it is difficult for me to separate understanding my abusers from excusing them.
I’ve been putting off writing about this, because it is such an insidious topic. For victims, a shitload of shame can keep this practice in place. Protecting the abuser is so ingrained in the abuse itself, many victims don’t realize the blocks they have. Perhaps they’re so used to making excuses for their abuser’s bad behavior, they don’t even realize they are doing it. Often, the fear of retaliation keeps them silent. Victims of narcissistic abuse are typically emotionally intelligent, empathic people. Their ability to understand the point of view of others and manage “difficult” (abusive) people is typically what made them a target in the first place. It’s this strength that turns into a trap when an abusive person makes the abuse their fault.
Of course, abusers have set up the whole situation to protect themselves and scapegoat their victims. From the moment they start grooming someone, they are creating a scenario in which they can never be at fault, and their victim is the crazy one. It’s usually the voice of the abuser whispering lies into the ears of others, intending to manipulate perception. “She probably did something to deserve it.” “She’s crazy.” “It wasn’t so bad.” “She’s overreacting.” “No one can be that evil.” “She’s lying.”
Then there’s the bystanders, typically unaware they are being duped by a predator. It’s a part of human nature to believe that most people are basically good, and when we encounter true evil, we expect it to have a red face and pointy horns. It’s hard for some people to accept, in spite of clear evidence in front of them, that someone intentionally meant to lie, cheat, harm, and destroy another person. It’s much easier to believe there must be some reasonable explanation. In normal, non-abusive situations of disagreement, conflicting perspectives happen. But in situations of abuse, there is only the abuse and the abused. No one does anything to “deserve” abuse.
Additionally, we live in a broken society in which rapists walk free because they are good swimmers, celebrities walk free because they are rich, and predators who embody the epitome of narcissistic, emotional, and sexual abuse get elected President. The double standard is shocking.
If you have been abused, the first step is to admit it happened. The second step is to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the abuser. No excuses. A victim may understand the reasons why an abuser acted the way he did, i.e. he had an abusive childhood, but that does not excuse the abuse. Ever. The third step is to tell someone safe. Often, we only find out who is safe through trial and error. Be willing to walk away from anyone who makes excuses for an abusive person. Be willing to walk away from anyone who tries to make you act or feel anything different from what you are experiencing. Some people will disappear. Some will condescend. Some will treat you like you have a contagious disease. These are not your people. Some will listen. Some will relate. Some will empower. Surround yourself with these people, and you will heal.