Overcoming that Nasty Self Blame from Dysfunctional Relationships

self blame in dysfunctional relationship
daggers of self blame

Looking back on my life, it is evermore clear to me how hard I looked for excuses to blame myself for the dysfunction in my life. There is a very good reason that children take on the blame: it was safer to blame themselves. Blaming “them” was fruitless. I could not “make them change” but “I knew” I could always “try harder”.  I believed that if I could “do good enough” that they would finally love me.

It was very hard for me to learn to see things through a new grid because I had been consistently taught things a certain way. The way that I was taught things became my grid of understanding. My grid of understanding was the way that I saw and believed that life worked.  Dysfunction was my normal. I believed things worked in life a certain way, because that is how I was “taught” life worked.  As I got older, outside influences added to those teachings, confirming them and cementing them firmly in my mind. This is what I call my belief system. 

One of the things that I have discovered about my belief system is that although when I got older I was taught that I can change my thinking by practicing a new thought or belief over and over again, (positive affirmations or positive thinking) the truth was that until I found the original false belief and dispelled it, the original belief was there underneath whatever new thought I was trying to implement.  Furthermore the original belief was still my default mode.  So until I found the original belief, where it came from and what was untrue about it so that I could change it to the truth, I could not find the freedom and wholeness that I have now. All the “positive thinking” in the world did not change my “default mode”.

The belief system begins to develop early. Not only are we taught in words but we are taught by the actions of others and the consequences to us if we don’t comply, if we rebel and even if we misunderstand non verbal communication. When it comes to family, it takes real effort to make these changes in our belief systems because of all the fears related to them. Fears that have their roots in our child hood thinking. These fears are connected directly to our survivor mode. 

*Some children react differently to the teachings; in the opposite of compliance, they act out and rebel against all the wishes and rules the parents set out. The results however, are very similar. It is even easier for them to believe that they are to blame for any “lack” of love or nurturing in their lives.

There are a few really important things to consider if the changes in the way we believe life works and changes in the belief system are going to stick. 

~ I had to be willing to face the consequences of drawing my boundaries.  The fear of the ultimate and final rejection from my family was huge. I had to find out where that fear came from and what exactly I was afraid of and when I discovered the truth about that fear it turned out to be another false belief based in more lies that had to be dispelled. The first thing I realized is that when I was a child if my family rejected me that would have meant certain death.  That was the truth then. It is no longer the truth now.

~ Because of this fear and because of how I had been taught to take the blame for whatever happened to me, I had to constantly remind myself that what I was really healing from was the damage. I had to look at the damage by itself and not try to figure out why the person who hurt me had hurt me or what was missing or wrong with them.  I had to stick to the fact that they hurt me and there was damage. Sticking with looking at the damage was the key when it came to looking at the dysfunction in my family. (Mostly because of the fear of the consequences of disloyalty and again that ultimate rejection.) Unravelling the belief system is complicated.

Because I have been doing this work with others for a few years now, I quickly see when people are making excuses to excuse fault for the damage done. This type of thinking kept me stuck for many many years.

There are lots of ways that people avoid placing any blame on family.

This one is popular; “They didn’t mean to do any harm, they just didn’t have the tools they needed to be good parents.” To which I had to remind myself that first of all, they had the same opportunity that I did and I am not a disrespectful careless parent and second, in order to heal from the damage I had to strive not to get caught up in their excuses of why they failed me. (you may want to read one of my all time most popular blog posts at this point “My Parents Did the Best they could According to Who?”)

I hear this one a lot; “it is my own fault that my life was so messed up. I made the mistake of trying to do everything that my parents wanted instead of turning to God and seeking his guidance. I sought my parents for every decision instead of seeking God and that is why I got so messed up.”

In my case my parents WERE God. It was up to my parents if I lived or died. They represented God in my life and when I understood that, things became a tiny bit clearer.  I was a child when the dysfunction began. When kids are raised in a dysfunctional home, they are not ever taught to depend on anything outside their parents. Words about faith and a loving God are not comprehended even when taught by someone else when the child is living in chaos because there is NO example of how faith or love works.  I believed that my parents held my life in their hands and rejection meant death.  This childhood teaching is not easily undone. I didn’t just “grow out of it.” For one thing, I had to realize it was even there before I corrected that false belief!

Children are taught things through actions and reactions.  The difficulty in recognizing only the damage is in the fact that we are so brainwashed to submit to this ‘loyalty’ to our parent “gods.” This system did not start with my parent’s generation. My parents repeated the dysfunction in their own lives that they learned from controlling and manipulative people too. They passed on their dysfunctional belief systems to me and taught me the same false teachings that they themselves had been taught.  

~I was quick to take the blame for all the problems. I believed I should have been able to prevent them or that I was exaggerating them. That was my survival mode.  I was willing to take the blame for my mother’s emotional and violent outbursts, because I was taught to. I believed that if I had been “a good girl” she would not “have to” hit me.  I believed that I caused her anxiety or whatever ever her issue was at the time.

~I was willing to never expect any attention from my father, because I believed from all those other events that I was undeserving in the first place. And it doesn’t matter if my mother learned it from her parents and if they learned if from theirs.  That makes no difference when it comes time to face that it happened and that it was wrong.

My willingness to take the blame resulted in low self esteem, depression, dissociation, addictions and all sorts of other things. The results of blaming myself for the lack of interest my father showed, the carelessness and emotional neglect that had become “normal” for me was that I put myself beneath almost everyone because that treatment had defined me as unworthy. My needs, in my eyes and through the grid of my belief system, ALL of my needs were LESS important than the needs of others. 

I overcame the labels of unworthy, unlovable, invalid, less important and not enough. I overcame the manifestations of all these types of abuse when I looked past that learned behaviour of self blame and did the work to face the truth about where those thoughts began and the lies that were connected to them. When I knew how self blame got there in the first place, it naturally fell away.

Please share your thoughts. Emerging from Broken has a facebook page but this website and the comments here are NOT connected to that page. Your comments will not show up on facebook. I do not have this blog connected to that feature. Your identity is safe as long as you don’t use your full name in the comment form.

Another snap-shot of Truth;

Darlene Ouimet

The Emerging from Broken book is ready for download! If you find that the subject matter I am writing about resonates with you, get this book today! This 197 page, downloadable, printable, live linked e-book will put you on the fast track to healing.  Get yours here through the upper right side bar or click this link~ Emerging from Broken The Beginning of Hope for Emotional Healing


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68 response to "Overcoming that Nasty Self Blame from Dysfunctional Relationships"

  1. By: Epiphany Posted: 6th September

    Dear Doren,

    All that you are writing expresses so well exactly what I experienced and felt about my life. Two things you need to know. Firstly you are not alone and what you wrote is a common experience for many. All the insights expressed here are bang on.

    There is nothing wrong with you – you are competent, good and whole. It was their problem and their issues that played out.

    No – true love is never conditional.

    Yes – they were trying to deflect from their own pain/inadequacies.

    You are on the path to self love, self belief, self acceptance and healing.

    Sending you light and love and the path to future happiness.

  2. By: Doren Posted: 5th September

    Thank you for this Darlene…

    A fundamental belief that I learned is that I somehow have to “prove” myself to be (hopefully) loved. That in my family I had to go through a hoop, be a certain way, act a certain way, look a certain way to be accepted and loved. I had to fill in a blank somehow—but that love was never there, or not for long. It was like a goal post that kept moving. I got the message early something was wrong with me and I was shameful and unlovable. But now I can see that that wasn’t love. No child should have to prove themselves for love. In a loving, healthy family a child is loved just because they exist. That love is automatic and there are no rules or conditions attached.

    That’s a basic belief I’m picking apart by looking at it from another perspective. I’ve deeply believed they were right about me, I was and am “sick”, “weak”, broken, damaged defective, the trouble in the family, and especially the one who hurt everyone else—but now I’m thinking, “Wait, why did I have to prove myself as a small child??” What was wrong with THEM? What was wrong with this family? It’s taken me to my 50s to turn it around and look at it that way cause I’ve just gone through life believing this: “I was treated that way because they knew me better than anyone and saw my badness”. Well I had to believe that to survive and to have a hope for their love; and they obviously wanted me to believe that, which again raises a question, “What the hell kind of parents try to get their child to believe they’re not lovable?” I’m not captive anymore, I have an adult mind now. I can see why they wanted me to believe it was me deserving of abuse because that’s the way it always is with abusive people. And they were traumatized themselves but I didn’t know any of this as a child and the damage was done and their trauma does not lessen or take away the deep damage done to me.
    I have to allow myself my feelings about that without rationalizing their behaviour too.

    Aside from the belief that I had to prove myself, I’m also looking at all their negative labels of me in a different way. Since they thought I was so “sick”, why didn’t they get me help or do anything for me? My Dad said I was sick but I “had to solve my own problems”. I was 15 and told I was to blame for and responsible for my issues, specifically drinking. That says a lot about them but was turned around to be about my defectiveness.
    Really looking at their behaviour and asking myself “Is this love?” is helping me realize there wasn’t anything wrong with me, that the intent was to break me so that the focus would be off the damage they were causing.

  3. By: Summer Breeze Posted: 22nd December

    Epiphany, your last week was my one year ago. “As always…” was the straw that broke the camels back.

    It’s been a year of pain, torment, sadness, grief, anger, understanding, acceptance and strength building… coming out of the fog.

    Go through the motions and emotions. Feel them, acknowledge them, then continue moving forward. With this, you will find the strength to believe in yourself, to put a lot of self blame to rest, and to have a much clearer view of what YOU expect for YOUR life.

    Best wishes for continued healing!

  4. By: Epiphany Posted: 21st December

    This article so resonates with me I don’t even know where to begin. I have a totally manipulative and narcissistic mother and absent father ( exactly the same as Darlene). Maybe these types attract.

    I hit my epiphany or moment of truth about why at 47 years old I could not find peace and happiness and was still struggling only last week. I went to a family Christmas gathering and after the third put down in a row ( by my mother) I suddenly got it. I literally had to go and could not stop crying. I just was wanted to leave and never come back. I had to hide upstairs. The truth is I wanted to go but had no bag, coat or phone or money. I was desperately trying to recover so I could make some excuse to leave when my mother found me and harangued me for going off and spoiling things for everyone. I tried to explain but everything I said was invalidated and when I said that my dad at least attempts to understand and talk with me she went ballistic. I suddenly got that everything was all about her, her pain, her suffering her terrible life. Note : my parents divorced 30 years ago and she had been happily and comfortably remarried for 26 years. Yet she screamed and abused me for daring to suggest my dad was any good, the revelation I got dried my tears. My dad did leave but he has not stopped apologising, he talks to me, he cares about my happiness even if it means his pain. He at least tried to make amends. My mum does not and never has. She doesn’t do the unconditional love. I have been depressed on any off all my life. I have been bullied and abused and she has never been there for me or resolved these issues or supported me emotionally and psychologically. I thought I was somehow fatally flawed or something was wrong with me that this happened. I totally blamed myself. I suddenly realised in that moment that is what she has taught me and she has not ever helped me beyond what was needed for superficial public appearances. She told me last week that I was deluded, I hurt her and she was not going to allow me to do it again. I was not her daughter and that was it.

    I left and I am now being ostracised for destroying her Christmas party. I have cried all week.however strangely I do not think my tears are about being ostracised. I am grieving for my lost childhood, for the years of struggling and not understanding why I couldn’t fix it whatever I did. Like Darlene I have done every course, treatment, read every self help book I could find. Nothing worked – not really. I did this all on my own with no parental support, they were so self absorbed and now I think just did not care. Mainly my mum though my dad is only marginally better. I know I have to sort this on my own.

    Last week I think I was just so exhausted with it all I couldn’t do it anymore. I could not pretend or go along with playing happy families when it was not real. something had to change and events over took me.

    I think I agree with those that have said to recover you have to get away from the abusers and do the healing in isolation from them. For some reason I have no qualms about doing just that. It feels right.

    Finding this site and Darlenes book had given me the support and guide I needed at just the right moment. It all feels a lot to process and I am not sure how I am going to get there. It has given me some hope.

    What I would say is that until now I had not realised that I had been falling through life without even touching the sides until I hit the bottom with a resounding thump last week. I am all pain and sadness right now and all I want is to heal and recover and to find my feet and the real me, my life and my happiness. I deserve no less.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 3rd April

      Hi Talent
      Welcome to Emerging from Broken ~ Although the ‘self forgiveness’ issue is not a good one to start off with for most people that were abused as children because it suggests that (like we all have feared) that we may have actually done something ‘wrong’ I appreciate what this guy has to say so thanks for sharing that link ~ I have been reading some of the articles on that site and appreciate what this man has to say. I will be sharing some quotes from his articles on the EFB facebook page.
      I hope you will share your thoughts often.

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