The Deadly Side of Accountability

growing up in dysfunction
Contemplating Freedom

There are several really HOT topics when it comes to recovery. One of them is “accountability” I’m talking about the destructive practice of “self blame” that is disguised as the virtue of accountability. This week I posted the following update on the Emerging from Broken facebook page:

“Recovery started with me. That alone was a hard truth to swallow. I had to face the pain. I had to do the work. It didn’t seem fair ~ none of this was my fault in the first place which was ALSO a hard truth to swallow because for some reason I thought it WAS my fault.  These were the stick points; the road blocks. The bottom line is that I am the only one that can “take my life back”.

When I posted this in EFB facebook, I was thinking the discussion would be about my statement “I am the only one that can take my life back”.

An awesome discussion started which quickly turned into a discussion about accountability.  This happens frequently. I am talking about when people say “although I didn’t know better as a child I certainly knew better as an adult”.  Accountability can be a nice way of saying “it was my own fault”.  This is a topic I seem to be running into a lot this week and it is one that is very close to my heart because that kind of accountability almost killed me. Continued…

Through my work in mental health support and through this blog I have noticed a significant pattern when it comes to this issue of self blame. People can describe an abusive event in their childhoods and sometimes they can agree that it was not their fault. BUT when it comes to making mistakes after a certain age, so many of us believe that we were “old enough” to know better, therefore, accountability fits. In my process of recovery, I learned that “age” has nothing to do with it.

 There were a few key things missing in my growing up process. Where, when and how was I supposed to learn to stand up for myself? I accepted mistreatment as a child because I had no choice.  I had never learned that I deserved any better. I was a powerless child.  The bridge between childhood and adulthood however, was somehow absent. This can happen many ways; it doesn’t mean that my parents were evil failures. (although sometimes that is what it means). I look at it this way; if my parents were, for whatever reason, “unable” to raise me to be a strong individual who knew my true value with an identity that was not dependant on them, then I also had to give myself permission to say that they failed me instead of taking the blame for my own stunted growth. I was able to stop saying “well it wasn’t their fault because they didn’t know any better”. Because the fact is that it doesn’t matter if they knew better or not, I had to find a way to take my life back. I had to stop thinking that I should have grown myself up somewhere between the ages of 13 and twenty something.

Once I viewed this a little differently, THEN I was able to get on with completing the process of growing up that I missed.   

I was so filled with shame about some of the things that happened to me when I was what I considered to be “fighting age”. I was so willing to be accountable because I was told that accountability was freedom. But I missed the truth and tried to jump straight to freedom. I had self blame thoughts that I didn’t even know I had! And one of the biggest deep down beliefs that I had was that I didn’t deserve better and that alone was enough for me to take the blame for the way that I was treated.

My “self talk” went like this:

~ “But I didn’t fight him off. But I didn’t tell. I should have called the cops. But I didn’t say no. I just froze. I shoud have screamed. I knew that he was bad news. I shouldn’t have believed that he would never do it again. I knew I deserved better. If I had not made him angry. If I had just made him understand how much I loved him. But I was old enough to know better.” And because of those thoughts, I took the responsibility for making bad choices, without ever examining why I actually made the choices.

So  when I grew up, I also found a way to accept blame for being abused as a child. It was easy; it was one of the ways that I coped as a child. Blaming the adults was out of the question. I needed them. I thought I could earn love and fair treatment. It was habitual for me to blame myself.

And although that self talk is really loud, I learned to tell those “voices” to shut up when in actuality it was in listening to them that I was able to drill down to where they came from. I was able to see and repair that missing bridge between childhood and adulthood.

I had also come to believe that accountability only applied to me. I had become so used to being mistreated that I didn’t think about the accountability of the person who mistreated me. This is not about blame or about blaming them; it is about undoing self blame. This is a huge stick point in the recovery process. Getting past it was also huge in the process towards freedom.  

This year, be your own Valentine. Treat yourself the way that you dream of being treated by others. Regard yourself the way that you delight in a small child. Think about what you think love is and love yourself.

Darlene Ouimet

related posts ~ Understanding Victim Mentality

I really wasn’t old enough to know better

Self Validation for Emotional Healing from Abuse

92 response to "The Deadly Side of Accountability"

  1. By: Karen R Posted: 16th February

    Wow Elizabeth I can sure relate to eturnal personal less thans! Ive always felt that way. Less than. Particularly less than my golden child brother.
    I was always held responsible by my abusive parents for several bad choices made as a teenager. I should have known better. How I ask? I was never taught
    anything about life. boundries. Keeping safe. Rights.
    Personal choice..oh I had none. They decided everything but I was held accountable. To their thinking they were perfect parents and I was just a bad unruly emotionally unstable child. How I got that way was never considered.

  2. By: Heather Posted: 15th February

    Why do I keep doing that?

  3. By: Elizabeth Posted: 15th February

    Well…I too can relate to almost every word here. I suppose in the end my story is no “better” or “worse” than any other second of abusive pain suffered here or anywhere else for that matter. It just “feels” worse because its mine. It’s the curse of eternal personal less thans, the unremitting fears of life and the ever elusive if onlys.
    Ill sum it up this way….mom and dad had 3 boys, mom didn’t want me. Tried to abort me twice. I was born “normal” in spite of attempts. (I was aDaddy’s girl) She hated me, abused me and rejected me. Mom got sick when I was 7, dad was out of town a lot, 4 kids left with sick mom and nanny. Golden boy brother (moms fav) starts molesting me. I had nobody to go to. No accountability for him Blah blah blah….been to numerous therapists, loads of bad choices and not caring about me I finally did some work. Hard work. Then, mom died. I was 28 and the only one there with her. Still continued to work on me. Life goes on….now I’m 50. Dad died this past July. :0( I am so damn angry at my brother I want to tear him apart. Grief is a very difficult thing. It brings out so many emotions. Ones I don’t know how to deal with. I feel like he (my brother) still holds my power and I WANT IT BACK! I want my voice to be heard. I don’t want to be afraid of anyone ever again.
    I don’t know how to get unstuck. I just want him to be accountable.
    Anyway, thanks for your blog. I know I can always relate.

  4. By: Shelley Posted: 16th February

    When I became a Christian it was customary to have an accountability partner….for me it became a way of focusing on my failings and self-hatred. When, I continued to enter into sexual relationships the action was condemned. My partner said she couldn’t understand why I couldn’t simply choose to be pure….No one really understood, not even me, at the time that I had been sexually abused as a child. Nevertheless, the responses I received weren’t at all helpful. I loved God and I wanted to be a better person….but only He knew, only He really understood why I was doing what I was doing. I wished I could stop, but something was driving me to men that were unavailable to me…basically to other “untouched” Christians, I was rebellious. I should know what the Bible said about immorality and simply not go there…..the Church needs to understand brokenness better: that our hearts and bodies have been invaded without our consent and the results of that are played out in our lives…it is a process a journey toward healing and wholeness. It wasn’t our fault and being told to ‘straighten up, forgive and forget, let it go’ among some of the lame comments out there, doesn’t work.
    The pull toward men and trying to be ‘saintly’ was so bad that I think it caused my depression. I became suicidal and my mind was a mess. I was really, really, sick. I don’t think that God has failed me, not for a second. But I do think there are some dangerous holes and a LOT of shame in the church that shouldn’t be there. It needs to be a safe place where we can talk about our brokenness, our pain and our shame without judgement – a place where no one is holier than thou but continue to point UP to the only One who can truly heal us and restore us into who we were truly meant to be.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th February

      Hi Shelley
      Welcome to EFB ~ I am very familiar with the ‘accountability partner’ and how the purpose and concept of having one get so messed up! So many things about ‘spirituality’ for me were used against me and as you say, became another way that I ‘whipped myslef’ with more guilt and shame.
      Looking at the roots of the why is what helped me more than anything else and this is not encouraged much in our society. Something else that helped me a lot was in realizing how mis taught the bible is. I studied the teachings of christ and they are extreemly manipulated for the purpose of control and most controllers use guilt and shame as control tactics. I don’t think God ever failed me either! But the church and its people did over and over again.
      Hugs, Darlene

  5. By: Christine Posted: 15th February

    Carla Logan’s comment (#6), word-for-word, could have been my own. As I read of her thoughts, feelings, and observations, I connected with what she wrote on such a deep level that I felt strong enough, for the first time, to leave a comment. I have visited EFB many times, but up until now, have not been emotionally able to comment.

    When I think about expressing my thoughts, feelings, and observations about my childhood abuse and accountability issues, my throat actually feels like it is closing and I feel so panicky that I have to quickly stop thinking about doing so. I tell myself that it was all so long ago that talking or writing about it now would serve no purpose. But, that could just be me still following the abuser’s directive that what he did was not wrong, but should always be kept a secret.

    When I was a child accountability was only expected of me, not of my various emotional and physical abusers.

  6. By: Naomi Posted: 15th February

    Darlene this is so what I needed! I had gotten manipulated into helping a “friend” have an affair. But because I was 18 I always put most of the blame on myself. I should have said no, I should have gotten out of there, I should have realized what was going on. For years I’ve felt like a homewrecker and wore because some guy that was 7 years older than me took advantage of my various weaknesses.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th February

      Hi Naomi
      This is the kind of thing I am talking about. Thanks for sharing your example!
      Hugs, Darlene

      Hi Christine,
      Welcome to Emerging from broken and to commenting!
      This site talks a lot about the reasons behind our fears such as the one you shared. I talk a lot about re-wireing my brain by looking at the truth about those fears and the truth about where the originated. That was a huge part of how I found my freedom. I am so happy that you shared and hope you will feel comfortable sharing more. Getting some of this stuff out in a safe environment makes a big difference!
      Hugs, Darlene

  7. By: Brenda H Posted: 15th February

    My recovery tells me that I am accountable for my behavior TODAY. This means if I am rebellious because of my past (and I am), I can change that behavior today. I was not accountable back then. This is something I had to understand. I AM accountable, TODAY. The past is over. If there are bad patterns in my own behavior, I need to own them, and stop doing them. Children are NEVER responsible for the bad behavior of their parents. And this includes our own children, as well. We don’t get a free ride to make the same mistakes our parents did.

    I found freedom in taking responsibility for my own behavior. I can control that. I can’t control the behavior of others, and I am never accountable for their choices.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th February

      Hi Brenda
      Exactly! No free ride to make the same mistakes. and yes anyone can change.
      ~One of the things that really helped me as for some of the ‘shameful’ things (like sleeping with men esp) I did as a adult was understanding how my belief system formed because of the childhood abuse and why my self-esteem was so shattered in the first place.
      Hugs Darlene

  8. By: Margie Posted: 16th February

    Regarding comment 79 – very well said! I’m sorry I didn’t read it earlier (had a lot of things to do today). At 56 I still feel that inner child struggling as well. I thought I was doing good, but now reading the book “Growing Up Again”, I don’t think I worked through it as much as I thought I had. I so easily take guilt and blame; in fact, I joke (possibly discounting myself) that even WWII was my fault, even though I wasn’t born yet when it occurred! I have to review my childhood memories and pick out the healthy vs the unhealthy situations and responses. What a lot of work! So, back to reading and working through my book and to my therapist for additional EMDR to work through things further!

  9. By: SMD Posted: 16th February

    Well said Libby!…You articulate your feelings & thoughts very well. I too feel the same way about my abusers- ex-bosses, co-workers & family. They are the ones to be Accountable. I also know in my heart, not just my mind, that I’m NOT RESPONSIBLE for their behavior. I will protect my inner child by being supportive & kind to her. I deserve better than I had!….I’m coming into my own & i’m not holding back to appease or please nasty, controlling people! I will speak my mind and say, I’m offended, when someone puts me down, whether they are my boss or a family member. I wish I could of called more people out in my past but that was then, this is now! Lets cheer each other to stand up & be counted!…..Sincerely, SMD

  10. By: Libby Posted: 16th February

    Just had another look……
    When I think about my abusers – ultimately THEY were accountable to ME.
    I was a kid, they were adults, they had responsibility to me/for me. They had a duty of care towards me – so they had a duty to protect me, to keep me safe from harm. And they let me down badly. My parents failed to step up to the plate – they failed to see I was in trouble emotionally and psychologically, they failed to understand the physical symptoms I showed for the truth that they spoke. My parents failed to engage with me as parents, to nurture and love me. They were the only ones responsible for their actions – and they were accountable to ME for their lack of care.
    My teachers were similarly in a position of care and duty towards me. They utterly failed to keep their professed vocational duty of care towards me. They actively hurt me, messed up my body, messed up my mind – messed up my life. The individuals who did this could and should have been held to account for what they did, it was against the law. They were not. The school authorities similarly had duties and responsibilities towards me, to safeguard my best interests – and they failed.The school authorities totally ducked the issue and made it My fault, MY problem – and I have spent the last 40 odd years trying to get my head around that one. To date, they have not been made to account (to me, to anyone) for their actions. They colluded with my abusers, actively.
    As an adult, I was abused by colleagues – I was not responsible for their behaviour – when I complained I was made to feel at fault. I was blamed – for not screaming, for not running, for not fighting back. But I was a 6yrs old child in those situations. My colleagues were not called to account for their behaviour, I was called to account for mine – and I couldn’t, because my earlier trauma had been suppressed in my memory. And so I was blamed and stigmatised again.
    I understand this NOW. I now KNOW in my heart of hearts that I was not responsible, not to blame, not at fault. Even though I have an adults’ body, at those moments, I was a child again.
    My child is now beginning to grow up – she is fragile and needs a lot of support, but me, the adult, will not allow her to be treated like that again. Me and my little girl now know clearly who is to blame, who is at fault – who is accountable – for what happened back then. But now – I am in charge of me. I take responsibility for my recovery – for my relationships. Watch out anyone who wants to mess with me – cuz I won’t have it!

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th February

      This is excellent! I read your comments twice! These are the connections that I made which went SO far in towards setting me free. To understand this is huge! Thank you so much for posting,
      I hope everyone reads your comment!!!
      Hugs, Darlene

  11. By: Margie Posted: 16th February

    I didn’t read all the posts above, but your article struck me about loving myself this Valentine’s Day. I went into Shop Rite and looked at the peach colored roses several times and almost bought them. I went in a day or two later and the peach ones were gone. Next time I see them I am going to buy them for myself! They would be healthier and last longer than the marshmallow hearts I did buy and gobble up!
    Happy Belated Valentines to all!

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 16th February

      Hi Margie!
      What a lovely idea! Thanks for sharing!
      Hugs, Darlene

  12. By: Libby Posted: 6th February

    The problem is that the damage that is done holds us at that age when it first happened – now I know that it makes the rest of my life make sense. Starting to heal at chronological age of 55, historical age of 6 (or so) I now know I was not old enough to know better. I was too young to understand that my feelings were right. I was too young to understand that my life should not be like that, that I was indeed worth much more, that I deserved to be appropriately nurtured and loved. I was not big enough to fight them off. I was not fast enough to be able to run away. Not loud enough to be heard – even if someone was actually listening. I did not have the life experience to understand that they were to blame, that they were perverted, that they were truly bad/sick.

    It really helps to understand my life as being like a time warp – part here and now, part there and then. Integrating those two parts of me is a work in progress.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 7th February

      Hi Libby
      Yes, this is so true. The good news is that it goes much faster once we start. Not like having to grow up from age five year by year. I love your comments!
      Hugs, Darlene

  13. By: Krissy Posted: 18th May

    Pam, I so know what you mean. I’m right with you there. People fail to recognize that THAT is the abuse – the defining. If you remember what Patricia Evans says in her book The Verbally Abusive Man, verbal abuse is anything that defines you. So people can stop name-calling, yelling, being sarcastic, etc. but if they still define you, eg “You think you are…”, “Some of us would rather…”, “I don’t expect anything different from you…” etc. then they are defining you and that is ABUSIVE.

    Pam, what you said about not knowing how to move without direction is exactly why it is so hard for abused women to leave. They tell you to use your mind and do what you feel is right. But you only know to do what you are told is the right thing to do! So for many years, people said it was wrong to leave, so I didn’t. Then I found out you could leave. So I started to make plans. Then some said you couldn’t. So I didn’t. Etc. I didn’t know the meaning of “follow your gut” because I didn’t know I had one, or that I was allowed to use it.

  14. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 18th May

    (I am excited, I am not yelling at you!)
    I had this same problem.. it inspires many posts in efb. (esp. earlier ones) I thought I needed someone to define me, becasue I had always been defined. I kept searching, looking at the truth and I emerged! Just keep going.
    Hugs, Darlene

  15. By: Pam Posted: 18th May


    Again, the worst thing my parents did was to objectify me. I was emotionally disabled by it. I was so manipulated by them and the men who abused and exploited me later that I lost my self-motivation. I pulled my self out of the sexual abuse and drugs by taking responsibility for it all. No one else was going to take responsibility for it. Thirty some years later there is still no culpirt holding themselves accountable. I know though that the same hyper-accountability that saved my life made me a controling mother. Even in that controling state, I was not motivated by self but was still just serving others. I still don’t know who I am apart from my husband, children, and grandchildren. I have grown a lot in the last few years and I am no longer controling (hyper-accountable) but I’m still lost. I don’t know who I am without some other to direct my day.
    I’m stuck.

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