How Self-Blame Impacts Healing from Bullying

Discover what self-blame is and how it can affect victims


When bullying occurs, victims of bullying often have a tendency to believe that they brought the bullying upon themselves. They also may believe that bullying is punishment for being bad or inadequate in some way. They also falsely believe that they are somehow responsible for the bullying that occurred in their lives.

Understanding Self-Blame

Self-blame occurs when people take responsibility for something that is outside of their control.

As a result, self-blame can be divided into two types including character self-blame and behavioral self-blame.

Character self-blame occurs when repeated bullying causes victims to believe there is something inside of them that makes the bullying happen. As a result, a victim believes she was bullied or cyberbullied because of whom she is.

When character self-blame occurs, the victim sees herself as evil and bad to the core. She may even believe she was singled out because she is abnormal, weird or defective in some way. And the bullying was punishment for this defect. This is especially relevant when it comes to weight bullying and slut shaming.

As a result, the victim of bullying struggles with low self-esteem and finds it difficult to be resilient or assertive. At the core, she believes that her situation is hopeless and her actions will not make a difference in how people treat her or view her.

Additionally, she may lapse into victim thinking and other negative behaviors.

Meanwhile, behavioral self-blame occurs when the victim of bullying believes her choices were the reason she was bullied. As a result, victims believe that they have some control in the situation and that by changing their behavior they can prevent being bullied in the future.

Still, behavioral self-blame can lead to anger and hate towards oneself. For instance, the victims believe they can control the bullying with different actions. Eventually, they get angry at themselves for not doing something at the time of the bullying.

Why Self-Blame Occurs

When victims of bullying fails to recognize that bullying is a choice made by the bully, they often reassign the responsibility to themselves, which can lead to feelings of self-blame. From there, these feelings spiral out of control.

Taking on responsibility that is not theirs, and that they have no control over, can be paralyzing for victims of bullying. They are at a loss for what to do about their situation and yet they keep blaming themselves. This can drag them into self-devaluation.

Victims are trying to understand why the bullying occurred to them. They want to reduce the uncontrollability of the world and look for ways to find control. As a result, they start to believe that the defect lies within them and if they change in some way they can control the bully’s actions in the future.

But this almost never works.

How Self-Blame Affects Victims of Bullying

Self-blame is linked to shame. As a result, many victims of bullying who blame themselves are embarrassed by what has happened to them. Likewise, they are less likely to report the bullying to an adult.

Self-blame also is linked with more distress, anxiety, depression, self-criticism, low self-esteem and poorer recovery from bullying. In fact, self-blame is an additional type of trauma that victims of bullying often inflict on themselves.

Victims dwell on the bullying and keep thinking about what they could have said or done differently. They feel responsible for they what did not do and the bullying incident keeps recurring in their thoughts and dreams.

What’s more, feelings of guilt and self-blame can be so overwhelming that they tend to blame themselves excessively and inappropriately, which is a key component in depression. Self-blame also can increase their risk of suicide.

How to Overcome Self-Blame

One way victims of bullying can overcome their tendencies toward self-blame is to get outside counseling. Both talk therapy and cognitive behavior therapy, which teaches the victim to replace destructive thoughts patterns with new more productive ones, can be effective in treating tendencies to engage in self-blame.

Additionally, victims of bullying need to recognize what they can control and what they cannot control. For instance, a victim cannot control the bully’s actions, but they can control their reaction. They are in control of how they respond to and think about bullying.

In fact, learning to reframe their thoughts about bullying is one of the first steps to overcoming the consequences of bullying. Additionally, honing their resiliency skills and their perseverance can go a long way in promoting healing.

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