“What did you do to make “him” do that? What did you do to cause that reaction?” This is such a lame thing to ask someone because it immediately places blame on the victim.
I am guilty of saying similar things to my own kids when they were small. I cringe with horror at the memory of it today. I know exactly what I communicated… that the bully was only defending themselves. I was inferring that the one who was complaining or reporting an offence must have done something to deserve it in the first place. (This is psychological abuse)
I can comfort myself that usually I said this to two of my kids who were fighting with each other at the time and that I was trying to get to the bottom of it. I was trying to find out what really happened from the beginning. Although it is bad enough to say this to a child who is having some sort of sibling rivalry crisis; “he stole my tractor” ~ “she hit me with her toy duck” and the adult is really just trying to get to the bottom of who really started it, it is a whole other story and a whole other accusation when you say this to a child who comes home from school with a black eye. This statement implies that the victim is really to blame for the abuse.
And this is only the beginning of the damage that statement causes.
I can’t begin to tell you how many grown women have told me that when they told their mothers that their husbands were hitting them, that this same expression was the mother’s response! “What did you do to provoke that reaction from him? What DID YOU DO to deserve it?” (this is psychological abuse)
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Like I could have done something to deserve getting hit? Like there is really something a person could do to deserve getting beaten? There is NOTHING that someone can DO that would deserve to be given a beating from another person.
Think about what happens in the belief system over time. Think about how these questions posed to a child could have a long term effect. What started off as a process of determining the truth, (in the case of myself with my kids although in many cases this is purely about placing the blame in the wrong place in order to confuse and undermine emotional health) becomes the process of training the victim to question what they did to cause bad things to happen to them and contributes to the destruction of self esteem.
When I was about 19, I worked with a woman who was getting knocked around by her boyfriend. We were all trying to convince her to leave him. Domestic violence is a chargeable offence! One day she came into work with a swollen eye. We were all saying “Okay that’s it ~ you have to get out!” and she said that this time it really was her fault. She explained that she hadn’t put all the dirty dishes in the dishwasher before running it. I was dumbfounded. But my point in telling you this story is that she believed that she deserved it. She believed that she had provoked the physical abuse. And here is what I have learned; she didn’t get to that point of believing that she deserved to be beaten by her boyfriend by having been treated properly her whole entire life. She may not have come from a home where there was domestic violence or physical abuse, but somewhere along the way she HAD learned that her value was less than it really was. Somehow, she learned to accept less then acceptable treatment and somehow or somewhere along the way, she thought she even deserved it. She justified someone hitting her for forgetting to put a few dishes in the dishwasher. Somehow she was brainwashed to think that this was part of a loving relationship and that this was “normal” ~ that her action caused his reaction.
People at work said some strange stuff about this situation. They were angry with her. No one understood her reasons for not leaving. No one realized that her acceptance of this kind of domestic violence and physical abuse was part of her damaged self esteem. And her self esteem didn’t end up that low when she met that guy. It happened way before that.
People said things like “and they are not even married” as if being married would have somehow made the domestic violence and the beatings less offensive or more acceptable. People told her that if she wasn’t going to leave him, that they didn’t want to hear her whine about it anymore. And to my way of understanding now, that was just one more rejection that she had to accept. That if she didn’t do what they said, she would lose the tiny bit of support that she had with her co-workers. As though really, ultimately, the situation that she was living in was really her own fault. And what these people are saying is another aspect of psychological abuse.
When adults ask children “what did you do first that “caused that reaction” they communicate that no one gets bullied unless the receiver of the mistreatment (the child) did something to cause it. When a child is held accountable for everything that happens to them that child will begin to accept that they are doing “something” to deserve the treatment. After a while, we become so accustomed to looking for what we might have done to “cause” the abusive treatment that we take over the questioning and ask ourselves those questions. “What did I do to cause that reaction? What did I do that made him so angry? What did I do (or not do) that put him in such a bad mood? What did I do (or not do) that caused him to cheat on me? ” And without realizing it, as children we try harder to please, and we accept the blame because we have no choice and at the same time we get “brainwashed” into believing that we really are the cause of all our own problems. When you grow up being treated that way, and learning to try harder and harder, after a while it isn’t so hard to find the answer to the question “what did I do to cause that”.
The answer was that “I didn’t put all the dirty dishes in the dishwasher before I ran it”. The answer for me was that I had a crush on the man who came in my room and I must have somehow giving him permission to come into my room. The answer was that I was not enough of a woman to keep my boyfriend from sleeping with other woman. The answer was that my mother didn’t love me because I was such a disappointment and that I just didn’t deserve anything better. The answer was that my husband was angry because I didn’t realize what he really wanted for supper. And those answers are no less of a lie then my co-workers answer about the dishwasher.
I realize today that my co-worker really was powerless because her belief system was so cemented in self blame. (And so was I) That because of whatever her belief system was at the time, she really didn’t know she had a choice. (And neither did I) She really didn’t realize that he didn’t love her, that beating someone does not come from love. (And I didn’t know what love was either) That living in the chaos and unpredictability of domestic violence (or emotional abuse) has nothing to do with love.
We live in a world where statements and questions like this one are readily accepted, but think about why that is. (Because we are so used to them from such a young age) That doesn’t mean that they are fair questions though. That doesn’t mean that they any less damaging or manipulative. It doesn’t mean that there is an actual ANSWER to questions like that or that I did actually do something to cause the reaction! I spent half my life trying to answer these kinds of questions. WHAT did I do to cause……? I found so much freedom in realizing that I didn’t “CAUSE” or deserve any of it.
Please share your thoughts;