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Find It Hard to Heal From Abuse? How to Stop Blaming Yourself

There was a viral post that went around Facebook a few months ago, about how it was harmful to say “Trauma is not your fault, but healing is your responsibility.” 

That phrase had always rubbed me the wrong way, but I didn’t know why until I was a part of that discussion. And boy, did I learn a lot! It helped me understand how I used that sentiment to guilt myself into healing, and how others—like you—might be using it as a way of blaming yourself too.

So, buckle in for a super interesting (and possibly a bit controversial) blog!

Do We Have to Heal from Abuse?

One key part of the conversation was about how it’s technically optional to work on healing from past trauma. I whole-heartedly agree with that. It is a choice—not something anyone should be forced to do. (Encouraged, sure! But forced, nah.) Being forced into it would take away your agency, which is the exact same thing your abuser did. This is a little different, given the situation, but can be harmful too. 

Plus, if you genuinely choose to heal, you’ll feel more motivated to put in the work and really attempt the things you need to in your recovery.

The key here is that, no matter what you choose, you are responsible for the impact of that choice. It’s completely up to you to decide on your path—even if that’s not healing—but that doesn’t excuse your responsibility if you hurt someone.

All our choices, even choosing not to do something, impact people and the world around us. If these consequences cause pain, we’re responsible for that. As long as we acknowledge this and make amends when necessary, we’re good. We can freely choose to heal or not.

You get to decide what your healing journey looks like for you. Just like every other person on this planet, you’re simply responsible for how you impact others—even if it’s unintentional.

This is the sole place responsibility comes into trauma recovery. Any more than that and you might fall into a trap of blaming yourself for not “healing fast enough” or “recovering in the right way.”

Discover how close you are to living a life you love (even after abuse) Click here to take the quiz!

We Have to Acknowledge Trauma Healing can Rarely be Done Alone

Another issue with the idea that healing is your responsibility is that, well, for most of us—we need community support. Depending on how severe the abuse was, we may not be able to heal at all without outside help. A lot of us survivors can’t even escape our abusers without outside intervention. So how can healing be our responsibility alone?

If you internalized this sentiment, you’ll end up blaming yourself for not leaving your abuser sooner. Or for still having PTSD.

Not everyone has the resources to recover from abuse, and this is extremely important to acknowledge. Poverty, disability, location (like living somewhere rural), culture, and other forms of marginalization can put resources completely out of reach. This sentiment also dismisses the influence of culture and societal stigma on escaping abusers and healing from trauma.

(This is one of the reasons I created Uncover Your Joy, a peer support system for survivors of abuse. Most of my work is through free and accessible blogs. I also have a super affordable eCourse for finding joy after abuse too.)

Sometimes even medical professionals are poorly equipped to treat certain trauma disorders. I ran into this a lot when navigating my diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder—as most mental health professionals know little about it and how to treat it. 

What’s the Verdict? Is Healing Your Responsibility, or is Saying that Phrase Blaming Yourself?

Healing from trauma is a choice—and you have a right to choose that or not. You’re responsible for the impacts of those choices, but you can freely decide what choices you make.

Both decisions can positively or negatively impact those around us. Our only responsibility is to make amends when needed. That’s simple human responsibility—something we need to do for all choices, even those unrelated to trauma. 

The idea of personal responsibility is a complicated one, especially when it comes to healing from abuse. So, I’ve actually included a whole module on this (5 videos!) in my Prosperity Path eCourse. You can check out more about this program right here. If you have a tendency to blame yourself, I’d highly recommend joining!

I’m super curious to hear your thoughts on this topic too! Do you agree with this take on responsibility? Do you think that quote creates a mindset that leads to blaming yourself? Comment with your thoughts right below. 💗

Let’s keep the discussions mindful and non-judgmental. This is a supportive and educational place, so respectful debate is encouraged—but cursing, down-talking, and all that blah stuff is not. Friendly reminder that comments like this will be deleted!

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  1. Katrina

    Hi Arien. I didn’t read the above post word for word so my apologies if I say something that has already been said. I have a seizure disorder and right now I’m overstimulated so trying to limit things that overload me (reading is one).

    I feel passionately about this topic though, so I really had to chime in. Most of the abuse I have suffered was at the hands of people who claimed to have been traumatized. I understand that hurt people hurt people, but personally I have suffered serious (violent and sexual) abuse since childhood and yet have never been an abuser and always taken the initiative to be a better person and do my best.

    I do think it is the responsibility of people with trauma to seek out help for healing in order to not hurt others with their pain.

    But then again, maybe the people I have met were pure psychopaths claiming to be traumatized. Who is to say why psychopaths and narcs exist. Trauma can manifest in so many ways.

    I’m just really tired of people attacking me, making bad impulsive decisions, and then using the excuse that they are traumatized. It makes me lose compassion when I see that they are doing little if nothing to develop and heal themselves, when I’m doing all in my power to heal my life. Not only that, it retriggers me and puts my own healing back.

    Anyway, this is raw for me, because of very many recent incidents. I’m angry and fed up of people not having any regard for the feelings of others.

    • Arien Smith

      No worries at all! As someone with a seizure disorder too, I completely understand.

      Trauma does sometimes lead to people hurting others…but the thing is, trauma isn’t what caused it. It was the person’s choice, their desire to lash out as a response to their own pain, rather than seek help.

      My philosophy on this has always been that, well, it’s essentially someone’s choice if they want to heal or not. But no matter what, they’re responsible for the impact of that choice (if they choose to heal or they choose not to and hurt someone). So, just having trauma doesn’t take away their accountability.

      It’s a very nuanced topic, but no matter what, your frustration at people hurting you is totally valid. Using trauma as an excuse is never okay. It can be an explanation…but the person still needs to say “I messed up and I’m responsible for hurting you” alongside that. They can’t just say “I’m traumatized, so I did nothing wrong/you can’t be angry at me.”

      Thank you so much for joining this discussion!

  2. Cara

    I also experienced mixed emotions when I saw that meme circulating. On one hand, it gave me motivation to re-double my efforts to heal. On the other, though, I did feel a bit of guilt that I was not farther long with my process and was still likely unintentionally hurting people with my words and big emotions. Today, after much more work and more realizations of how extensive my abuse was and is, (I cannot fully disengage from my abuser as we share custody of 2 beautiful children) I am more comfortable with the “taking responsibility” bit. As a made co-dependant of mentally ill parents I have issues with being forced to take “too much responsibilty.”

    • Arien Smith

      Responsibility definitely does become easier as we heal, so that message can be helpful (like you said, mixed feelings!). But, for those of us early in healing, it can be way too much pressure and that can set us back. I’m so so glad to hear you’ve found a path towards healing and are learning how to balance self-forgiveness and personal responsibility. Thank you for commenting! I hope my site and resources can continue to help you, Cara. <3


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