Victim blaming can be as traumatic as the initial abuse, especially when all of your friends leave—blaming you for what happened and shaming you for sharing your story.
This shame, right after we make the courageous move to leave our abusers, can be extremely detrimental to our healing. In some cases the victim blaming can be so severe it convinces the victim to return to their abuser.
In this blog, I’ll debunk the mystery of why people victim blame and show you how to cope with losing friends after you share your story of abuse.
Why Do People (Even Close Friends) Blame the Victim?
Victim blaming happens because of fear. People feel that, if the victim is at fault for what happened, they can avoid acting like that victim and abuse will never happen to them.
In reality, abuse can happen to anyone, no matter how strong or protected or “good” of a person they are. It doesn’t happen because of an outfit or the choice to go to a party or the decision to get married to someone.
Abuse happens because the abuser chose to do it. They chose to hurt you and it was never your fault.
But, that’s tough for other people to wrap their heads around. After all, if it wasn’t because you did something wrong…that means they could also end up a victim, right?
Well, yes. Anyone can. And that creates a lot of fear. It’s easier for people to blame the victim and deny the fact abuse can happen to anyone at any time.
So, to cope with this fear, people victim blame. Sometimes to the point of alienating friendships or causing a survivor to end up in crisis.
(Heads up, I’m going to share some of my story in the next section—so here’s a trigger warning for mentions of abuse and manipulation. I won’t go into graphic detail.)
What It’s Like Losing Friends to Victim Blaming
I was so excited when my high school best friend started attending the same college as me…until I told her about my recently uncovered history of child abuse.
I expected her to be there to support me. Or maybe, at the worst, she’d victim blame and misunderstand a bit, but I knew she loved me so I trusted that she’d be there for me while I figured out the horrific things that happened to me as a child.
Instead, she turned around and abused me too. For 13 months, I was sexually assaulted almost every night by her.
By the time I finally had the courage and ability to walk away, we had a whole group of mutual friends. They expressed upset at the idea I’d been hurt, so I felt they were going to ally themselves with me as I went forward with a Title IX investigation against my abuser. (That’s basically a college court case.)
Well, as soon as I spoke to college authorities, everything changed. These “friends” started yelling at me, sending threats, and treating me horribly. They took the side of my abuser, saying I was ruining her life by turning to the college about this. Even though they’d seen parts of the abuse happen to me—and they acknowledged seeing it.
I was utterly confused. And traumatized! I was suddenly fighting this battle alone.
Even when my abuser was expelled, these friends never apologized to me. They continued to tell me I was the manipulator. That I was disgusting for ruining someone’s life like that (despite my abuser having almost taken my life several times).
How You Can Handle the Most Intense Victim Blaming
I was distraught and depressed after this. This college case not only had me reliving my trauma, but I was also alone during it. I had no close friends in the entire city, no shoulder to cry on. No one to take me out for an ice cream and show me some love when I needed it the most.
I couldn’t suddenly create new friends, either. So, in the midst of everything, here’s how I survived it:
First, I accepted the grief and loneliness. There was no use tiring myself out by resisting the fact I had no friends at the time. If I’d fought that reality, I would have just exhausted myself. Instead, I made space for the grief to be felt (like this blog teaches) and found some healing this way.
I showed up for myself—and that helped me feel far less alone. It’s a skill I still use today, anytime something tough happens in my life.
After accepting the grief, I started to love myself through the victim blaming. I repeated to myself that it was not my fault these friends were spreading rumors. Not my fault they’d left. Not my fault they treated me this way or believed such horrible things about me.
They were afraid of abuse happening to them too, so they hid themselves from that fear by convincing themselves the abuse was all my fault—that I was the bad person, not my abuser. To keep that lie alive, they had to down talk me to others and assault me with their own cruel words.
Their actions weren’t my fault either. They were acting from their own fear and emotional limits—and it wasn’t my responsibility to fix that. All I needed to do was walk away and find new friends, ones strong enough to handle the reality that trauma could happen to anyone. People who would really support me.
How to Find New Friends After Victim Blaming:
New friends, ones able to support you, can come into your life in so many ways. Here are the methods I found the most helpful.
Connect with acquaintances who show they are allies:
Look for people in your life who leaves supportive comments on your Facebook posts or who validate what you’re saying on a break at work. People who have expressed even a little support, when you’re just acquaintances, are likely going to be comfortable with you sharing your whole story. Spend more time with these people.
Go to support groups and similar events:
When two people have similar stories, they’re much more likely to be empathetic and supportive of each other. Someone who was also abused and lost their friends is likely not going to victim blame you. So, ask a therapist for survivor group meetings or do a google search. There are amazing souls that come together in these places.
Connect with old friends:
This was the best method I found—as there was already a foundation of friendship. I thought about the people in my life I wanted to catch up with, to see where they were at, because we had once had a great friendship.
So, I reached out to them and we started talking—soon updates about the abuse happened to. I knew this was someone I wanted to deepen a relationship with once they stood by me and were there with their kind words. In fact, this is how I ended up with my fiancée! She was a decade old friend I reconnected with after I lost my college friends to victim blaming.
Lifting Yourself up From the Voices of People Who Blame the Victim
It takes a lot of strength to love yourself through victim blaming. You have that power within you, and remember…as these friends leave, doors are opening for new and better people in your life.
After all, if these old friends victim blamed you, would they have really been there when you needed them about something else you were struggling with? No. It’s good they’re gone, even though it hurts right now.
Show up for yourself with love and you’ll make it through this. Nothing that happened here is your fault.
Also, to create some solidarity between survivors, share your story about victim blaming in the comments below. Be sure to add in how you survived (or are working on surviving) it too!