There were many times when there was a voice inside of me wondering if it was my fault that my boyfriend verbally abused me. This, despite the fact that I knew it shouldn’t be happening.
Sometimes the voice was just a whisper in the back of my mind.
Sometimes it was an all-consuming shame melody playing on an endless loop in my tired brain.
Sometimes it was just a simple “you should” sentence that slid its way into my thoughts as the look on someone else’s face reflected back to me what they were thinking when there was an “incident.”
Why Victims Blame Themselves for Verbal Abuse
Victims can internalize the victim-blaming attitudes present in the larger society. Psychologists say that one reason for victim-blaming is what’s called the just-world hypothesis (Lerner & Reynolds,1978).
The just-world hypothesis is a cognitive bias that most of us use without realizing it. If we see bad things happening to someone, we tend to believe that they are happening for a reason that can be attributed to something about that person.
In other words, we trace the incident backward to a characteristic about the person we find negative or choice they made as within their control. Because we then judge the person’s lifestyle, behavior, or choices, we are able to distance ourselves from relating to what happened to them. We find a causal link between that thing we found problematic about them and the thing that happened to them, instead of viewing the outcome as its own separate event that we can empathize with.
We may say to ourselves things like, “Well, I would never have done what they did” or “No wonder that happened to them. They kind of asked for it.” or “What do they expect?” because we have blocked ourselves from putting ourselves in the person’s shoes and imagine the situation from our own perspectives instead.
The purpose of the just-world hypothesis is to protect us psychologically from the horrible and overwhelming idea that random and tragic events can strike without warning. You can find its application generally applied in many situations ranging from natural disasters to violent crime.
It serves a cognitive function in that it keeps us from feeling crippling anxiety over a lack of control over our environment. Yet at an extreme without the balance of rational evidence, it can be a hindrance to how we actually protect ourselves at the individual level.
It also doesn’t help us do much to solve crises at the societal level, much less, support victims of these crises.
Nevertheless, the just-world hypothesis helps to explain where victim-blaming comes from and why even survivors can blame themselves when they have been victims of abuse. We live in a world that grooms people who are being exploited or abused take the fall for it in their own minds.
Read more on my HealthyPlace bi-weekly blog here: 5 Reasons Why Verbal Abuse is Not Your Fault
Please note that this content belongs to HealthyPlace so the full article is published there exclusively. Thank you for taking the time to read it. I look forward to your comments!
Don’t forget to check out these free resources:
- Taking Your Life Back After a Relationship With a Narcissist – Recovery Toolkit
- Comprehensive Narcissistic Abuse Dictionary
- The Best Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery