Introduction + resources to check out
After recently reading Pete Walkers book titled ‘The tao of fully feeling: harvesting forgiveness out of blame’ it really triggered my fascination between the dynamics of ‘healthy blame’ & its opposite by definition ‘healthy forgiveness’. Pete Walker is a masterful author in discussing practical & informative knowledge on c-ptsd and in my opinion is the leading authority on the subject. The book discusses the grieving techniques for complex childhood trauma, specific symptoms of c-ptsd, cultivating healthy instincts for ‘healthy blame’ and discusses the whole continuum of different forms of authentic forgiveness (as well discussing inauthentic forgiveness). Highly reccomend the book if you’re interested in recovering from your own symptoms of c-ptsd.
The problem with being stripped of your ‘healthy blame’
Starting out life within a ‘relatively healthy’ family system where a child gets his needs met most of the time, can just be who he / she is without having to adapt excessively to the stress of having emotionally needy / highly dysfunctional parents, where the parents unconditionally love & unconditionally protect their child (especially in the early years on planet Earth) the child will naturally learn to have strong self-esteem and love + protect its self outside the family unit. However, when the family is highly dysfunctional or is a ‘low-nurturance family system’ the child unfortunately will have to excessively adapt to the stress of the family unit and take on an over-functioning role / false self / social mask to help support the equilibrium of the family system to ensure survival & getting their needs met. ‘Healthy blame’ is actually part of ‘healthy assertiveness’. ‘Healthy blame’ basically says “yeh I am responsible for this part of the argument or problem BUTTTTTTTTT I did not do X,Y,Z… Which is in fact your responsibility” etc.
Unfortunately, especially within the toddler years of child development around the years (1-3 years of age) if the child isn’t aloud to separate from their parent by establishing healthy boundaries, saying words / phrases like “NO let me do it!”, “No I didn’t do that”, “I don’t like this”, “I want to do it my way!”, “you said you would play with me!”, “No stop it!” etc the naturally healthy instincts for self-protection / assertiveness will in fact become dormant and temporarily obsolete… Which will also bleed through into the child adult years until a person notices this dynamic… Due to the nature of the child having to hyper-adapt to the stressful family environment they have to obey the wishes of the parent to survive and very much like a soldier, HAS to follow orders…
When the child’s healthy instincts for assertiveness are ‘shamed’ or ‘bullied out of them’ they begin to normalize this behaviour and presume they have no human rights or assume / internalise the mandate of ‘obedience without protest’ even in the most UNFAIR of situations when the child has in fact done NOTHING wrong or behaviour for healthily acting how a child is suppose to act depending on his / hers stage in the life cycle. This dynamic remains undetectable and goes very unconscious and the frighting thing is that this actually reinforces the normalisation of abusive behaviour without a permission to ‘fight back’ or at least oppose / challenge the level of unfairness assertively & fairly.
The child boundaries are demolished from a young age and begins to learn nothing about healthy instincts for self-protection, the child’s self-esteem and social confidence is obliterated and even more frighteningly the child or young adult will not detect when they’re being victimised or being unfairly treated by others because they are so used to having to tolerate high levels of abuse from their parents without protest… For many adult survivors of complex childhood trauma they might not even know what in fact a boundary is (I myself didn’t know what a boundary was until I was 21) or even even acknowledge they have human rights & can in fact healthily ‘deflect’ or ‘counteract’ via honest assertive communication & establishing strong social boundaries to get the respect / needs met he / she or he deserves.
Healthy responsibility versus toxic self-blame
Toxic self-blame is not healthy responsibility for ones life… Healthy responsibility states “I am responsible for my actions, feelings / emotions, decisions and how I choose to respond to good and bad circumstances in my life’. ‘Responsibility’ is really ‘response-ability’. How we choose to respond to life is always more in our control. Now that doesn’t mean we will ALWAYS respond to life perfectly either, especially in the case of others with C-PTSD when you respond to normal situation with heightened levels of stress because of your level of traumatisation. This is where self-forgiveness comes into play to release the self-destructive tendency to be violent with ourselves for not being perfect at all times and under all circumstances (which I will describe more later). Healthy responsibility could be seen as acknowledging an appropriate amount of control for what we ACTUALLY have control over (being mainly ourselves). Realising that we are not always at ‘the cause’ of EVERY issue in our lives but are responsible for more of ‘the effect’ aka our response in the ’cause & effect continuum’. Arguably, striking a healthy balance between cause and effect is most desirable but difficult to see at times.
Terms like “take 100% responsibility for your life” can be very greatly misinterpreted as you are in fact at ‘the cause’ of everything… So if you get assaulted that is implied as ‘your fault’… Which would be toxic self-blame (which is toxically guilting and shaming yourself unnecessarily for the actions of others wrong doings)… In this case, I would suggest I am responsible for how I respond in that moment, and there after the situation but not for the abuse itself… I could be ‘in part’ to blame for certain decisions leading up to the event I made but I could never 100% predict certain misfortunes along the way. This is the power of where self-forgiveness comes in, allowing you to release yourself from being soooooooo angry at yourself (cause of self-hatred) and actually re-directing that anger (healthy blame) towards the abuser who hurt you whilst forgiving yourself in synergy.
This is a highly nuanced concept and needs too be treated with a certain degree of moral intelligence. This isn’t blaming everyone else for your problems… For example you call someone a name and clearly over-step their boundaries and they say “please don’t don’t say that to me. I feel really disrespected when you call me that” and then the name caller feels healthy shame or toxic shame and then responds with blaming them for making them feel bad for telling them off. You’re entitled to feel angry at someones boundaries if you didn’t mean to cross them but healthy blame isn’t the narcissistic tendency to respond with an ‘anti-shame defence’ by blaming them for ‘being too sensitive’ so you can get away with the abuse… This is just reframing and ‘gaslighting’ which I will talk about in a second. Everyone is entitled to their own boundaries even if you disagree with them or you feel you wouldn’t respond in the same way to the same stressor. Everyones boundaries are unique to them based on their history, traumas and personal preferences.
I would imagine you would expect somebody to want to honour your boundaries if they disrespected you yes? Well, you have to honour other’s boundaries too. If you feel it was an unjustified ‘telling off’ you’re welcome to you say something calmly and assertively but isn’t an opportunity to manipulate a person out of their boundaries or minimise them… Or better yet you feel someone else’s boundaries are too rigid or clash with your personality, then I would suggest not hanging around the person who is bothering you too much. Life is too short to spend time with people you don’t like and especially when you have over 7 billion people to choose from to hang out with instead.
The origins of chronic self-blame
Typically within a dysfunctional family system everyone has a role which goes against their true self which is a role they have to embody to keep the peace of the family together. Roles include a hero (or super achiever), rebel (or offender) , caretaker (parentified child) , lost child, jester (or comedian), adapter (embodies all roles and have to hyper-frequently change between to maintain the families psychological balance) and finally the ‘scapegoat’ (typically the oldest child, possibly the most sensitive / intuitive & used for target practice where the whole family ‘blames’ for their problems and takes out their anger on them).
Typically the scapegoat child will take a lot of the rap for the families issues and their boundaries will be infringed upon from a very young age to the point it is so normalised it becomes an automated response for the scapegoat not to set boundaries… Due to the scapegoat child being constantly toxically shamed and emotionally or physically abused and ultimately blamed for the issues for the family they learn to anticipate the unfair blame / abuse and actually come to the conclusion, they must in fact be the problem… In anticipating the abuse they almost instinctually learn to blame themselves for the families problems and when they enter the social arena they carry this scapegoat role into their friendships and intimate relationships…
Narcissists have a field day with scapegoats in the ‘devaluation phase’ of their toxic courtship because they literally can say any problem to them and get a way with it and the scapegoat will take the responsibility for the issue and chronically blames themselves for ALL the issues in the relationship, even though often times the narcissist is self-inventing a lot of the issues and has impossible standards for even a less traumatised person to live by… Scapegoats for this reason end up not setting healthy boundaries & end up toxically shaming themselves through chronic self-blame, thinking they themselves are the problem without question or challenging the abuser…
Due to this poisonous dynamic of chronic self-blame especially with the scapegoat, they actually almost in a nanosecond forgive their abusers as they did within their family system, as fighting back would mean they would get in EVEN MORE trouble and potential danger… Ultimately all dysfunctional family system roles are maladaptive ways of a child getting his or her needs met in the least disruptive way possible based on what the family system requires to keep additional stress at bay. Paradoxically, these roles to be in are SO stressful but the child has to self-abandon their true selves and needs to protect themselves and keep the stress of the parents down…
In attempts to retaliate against the abuse as the true self of the scapegoat diminishes, the child begins to protest the abuse only to then be manipulated out of their boundaries in the form of ‘gaslighting’. Gaslighting is a means of reframing protests or questions to actually make a person doubt their own sanity and essentially ‘blameshift’ to re-direct shame or anger back on the victim to put them into a state of confusion to seem they’re at fault and one to blame… An example of a scapegoat being gaslighted is when the scapegoat says “don’t talk to me like that. You make me feel disrespected when you talk to me like that.” The abuser / parent / narcissist goes “the problem with you is that you’re too sensitive… Which isn’t my fault its yours.” See the re-direction of blame? See the reframe? This is just one of many ways a manipulator can confuse a victim into taking the rap for just simply protesting abuse and actually make it seem its actually the VICTIMS fault where in reality the abuser was being destructive and manipulative…
Overtime this confusing predator-like tactic makes the victim admit defeat and that protesting will cause more pain and because of the ‘destructive conditioning effect’ done overtime with gaslighting it makes the victim think they are in fact, the problem & the one to BLAME… Overtime this is so habitualised the victim will eventually take the rap for many unnecessary problems without a willingness to fight back because it they did they would mean the abuser would find something else wrong with them to ignite even more self-doubt in the victim…
This is classic narcissistic abuse… It could be argued that all narcissistic manipulation tactics are strategies to reinforce chronic self-blame to decoy the victim from blaming the abuser from acknowledging their wrongs. Just in my own experience the longstanding specific sequence of abuse beginning in the family of origin by scapegoating, then moving into the social realm by ‘devaluation’ which is the 2nd stage of narcissistic courtship / ‘friendships’ (continues the scapegoating. Replicating the family of origin dynamics because it feels familiar and normal), then gaslighting is used undetectably to trick the victim out of their trust with themselves, their boundaries and obliterates self-esteem + confidence and all that remains is chronic self-blame, total confusion & more abuse from others…
Chronic self-blame ‘can be’ a large symptom of the codependent personality type. Codependency could be summarised by ‘a disorder of self-assertiveness & compulsive caretaking to gain safety in relationships’. The origins of this survival style stem from the aftermath of attachment trauma in early childhood where the child’s healthy instincts for self-protection were shamed and the only way they could gain love from their narcissistic parent was becoming the perfect source of ‘narcissistic supply’. This shows up as ‘compulsive helpfulness’ to avoid verbal conflict with the parent and emotional caretaking the narcissistic parents needs in order for the child to get his or hers physical / some emotional needs met. This becomes ‘conditional love’ & the child isn’t loved or just taken care of for who he / she is without doing anything to ‘earn it’. In doing so, codependents become servants to the worst of masters… This bleeds into their dysfunctional intimate relationships.
Due to the codependent having to become the ‘over-functioning self-sacrificing helper’ and when they weren’t fully compliant with their narcissistic parent for not helping or for helping themselves and been called ‘selfish’ for prioritising themselves, this leads them to have an aggressive toxically shaming inner-critic anytime they try stand up for themselves, say “no!”, or practice self-love or ‘positive selfishness’. Due to the extent of being so manipulated when they were younger for protesting unfair treatment, they were tricked into thinking they were the CAUSE of the problem (gaslighting)… They are told they are the problem so much they begin to believe its true and THEY are the problem at all times and under all circumstances…
“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” – Adolf Hitler
Done overtime, this causes the codependent to be over-responsible makes them ‘take the rap’ for bad treatment and essentially because the abuse replicates the abuse from their betrayal sources. They blame themselves for the abuse without protest thinking ‘they are the problem once again’…
I also believe that because of the codependents low self-esteem and the hyper-aggressive nature of the inner-critic shaming the codependent so repetitively for never being ‘good enough’ and ‘worthy of love & respect’ etc they begin to become hypnotised by the inner-critic into believing these messages are in fact their true identity… So when a verbally abusive comment is made to the codependent which runs parallel to the inner-critics dialogue it feels to the codependent unquestionable and the abuser is correct and feels like “they clearly see me for who I am… Flawed, unlovable, defective… Its my own fault for not being good enough as a human being.”
Until the codependent does their combative self-talk against the inner-critic, does their angering grieving work, learns about their human rights & learns self-assertiveness social skills, they will tolerate so much abuse & fall victim to chronic self-blame so unnecessarily for things they have a right to protest against…
Chronic self-blame & over-responsibility then gives life to ‘the pretzel dilemma’ as described by the amazing psychotherapist Darlene Lancer who wrote one of my favourite healing books called ‘codependency for dummies’. This is where the codependent victim thinks they are the problem so much and feel SO responsible they excessively adapt to the abuse by attempting to always change themselves & totally self-abandon their personality… Never realising they can just be themselves with maybe small modifications to peoples boundaries if they choose to do so out of choice, NOT responsibility… I call this ‘shapeshifter syndrome’. I will do another blog post on this at some point.
4) Parental idealisation
In the very early stages of child development especially within the sacred years of 0-10 years, the child’s dependency needs must be met by another adult. The child in the early stages of development CAN’T meet their dependency needs by themselves… As a child, the currency a child operates with is in fact love. Kids get it that “whatever you give time to, is what you love.” So when a child is neglected or abused, they see their parents as mirrors, so however they are treated, they will treat themselves. A lack of love from parental or conditional love given in the years stages of development will equal low levels of self-love & conditional self-love where a person thinks they can only love themselves if they do something in order to get it for example “I will only love myself if I get straight A’s” etc.
The idealisation component of the ‘child to parent dynamic’ is a survival tool for the child. They have to by default make their parents seem godlike. The child’s life is totally in the hands of their parents & guardian sources. At all costs the child will try and maintain a stable source of love even if it means embodying some of the dysfunctional roles mentioned above to get it such as: caretaking the parents emotional needs so the child cam meet its physical needs, even if it means the child expresses total self-abandonment in the process of their true selves…
Unfortunately, another very unconscious strategy a child will try and maintain or use to gain more love from their parents and keep the family unit more at peace is self-blame. In relation to the ‘survival styles’ or ‘stress response styles’ aka fight, flight, fawn, freeze. The fight response is somewhat obsolete from the equation because a child is physically powerless compared to an adult and also the child will realise fighting back could potentially trigger more abuse from their parent and hide their needs / boundaries / anger. Inside the home, when a child is so young to live anywhere else or take control of its life they are literally imprisoned in the home and again the child may realise if they move physically or try to escape from a telling off they get MORE in trouble, their flight response becomes obsolete… So the only remaining stress responses a child has is to ‘fawn’ aka caretake / please / beg or ‘freeze’ aka teleport out of the present moment consciousness into fantasy and literally wait until the predator / threat is gone and take a beating verbally or physically…
Due to the nature of the freeze response, though healthy to certain degrees, when it becomes so automated to the point it seems impossible to get out of and a person enters a state of frozenness, rigidity and severer paralysis when a parent is abusing them verbally or physically they can’t fight back and defend themselves effectively and when the parent is abusing them they are forced to ‘take the blame’ because they can’t physically retaliate without the potential withdrawing of love… Which to a child feels death-like… The moment the child acknowledges that their healthy instincts for self-protection cause withdrawals of love from their parent, they self-abandon their human rights & fight response to ensure safety and nurturance. However because of this, they now have installed the toxic habit of blaming themselves for the abuse because if they even dreamed of blaming the parent for their poor behaviour and unfair parenting style, they would lose access to having their dependency needs met, what they must get from an outside adult source. The combination of scapegoating, gaslighting, parental idealisation and overall narcissistic abuse will reinforce overtime the internalised automatic habit of ‘chronic self-blame’. So how do we resolve this dynamic?
Reversing chronic self-blame & automatic forgiveness of abusers dynamic
‘Healthy blame’ of unfair treatment from others and a self-forgiveness paradigm.
Erik Eriksen’s suggested ‘shame is blame turned against the self’. In chronically self-blaming ourselves we keep ourselves in toxic shame… Reversing Eriksens formula is the solution to curing self-blame. Re-directing the healthy blame where it belongs for maltreatment or narcissistic abuse and focusing on self-forgiveness to short circuit the tendency to shame ourselves and alleviate the inner-critics demands to always be socially & emotionally perfect. Self-forgiveness is really an added extension of ‘self-compassion’. By allowing ourselves to honour our human side by practising self-forgiveness we allow ourselves to practice ‘healthy shame’ or ‘humility’ to realise its ok to make a mistake. Self-forgiveness and its healing agents provide a potent form of access to love for self and to realise that being human we can’t always be at maximum effort & peak performance at all times and under all circumstances…
In the event of making a mistake or accidentally doing something foolish etc as opposed to using our mistakes as opportunities for self-hatred, in addition to not setting boundaries at times or forgetting things etc, self-forgiveness provides us with a opportunity to love ourselves even in the presence of our setbacks with a more new & improved healthy response. Ultimately to avoid our tendency to side & join forces with our violent inner-critic & toxically beat ourselves up internally.
The practising of ‘re-directing blame’ technique might only occur until after an abusive occurrence. In this case, the re-redirecting of blame will be done symbolically & therefore done internally with combative self-talk. So for example: narcissist cuts you off talking mid conversation and then tells you off for talking too much even though you have barely talked… You enter into a polarised freeze stress response and unfortunately don’t know what to say back and are confused. Later that same day after thinking about it you realise this narcissist stealthily gaslighted you unknowingly and now you feel angry and rage over this moment in time. Internally you can re-direct the healthy blame back onto the manipulator to externalise the anger & rage. For example saying internally: “how fucking dare you fucking manipulate me like that! You can take back your shame, fear & confusion you gave me because you deserve it for being so disrespectful!”
Additionally, becoming aware of the narcissistic strategies and manipulation tactics to help combat emotional abuse in the social arena is also very important so you can set a verbal boundary (healthy blame) in realtime or at least know internally you’re not in the wrong & someone is attempting to manipulate you. You can find my youtube channel: by searching ‘social magnetic attraction’ and you can find my video series called ‘soul vampires’. I have a specific video called ‘how a narcissist manipulates you’ where you can see all the various manipulation strategies used by a narcissist to gain control over your emotions. Healthy blame is saying “no you are responsible for misbehaving and I am responsible for my boundaries and to tell you if you cross them.”
Premature forgiveness of others
Self-forgiveness & healthy blame can be used to grieve out previous losses or traumas and used within the present moment. I will briefly discusses this thought-provoking quotation / paragraph by amazing psychotherapist Pete Walker:
“There has been a lot of shaming, dangerous and inaccurate “guidance” put out about forgiveness in the last few years, in both the recovery community and in transpersonal circles. Many survivors of dysfunctional families have been injured by the simplistic, black and white advice that decrees that they must embrace a position of being totally and permanently forgiving in order to recover. Unfortunately, those who have taken the advice to forgive abuses that they have not fully grieved, abuses that are still occurring, and/or abuses so heinous they should and could never be forgiven, often find themselves getting nowhere in their recovery process. In fact, the possibility of attaining real feelings of forgiveness is usually lost when there is a premature, cognitive decision to forgive. This is because premature forgiving intentions mimic the defenses of denial and repression. They keep unprocessed feelings of anger and hurt about childhood unfairnesses out of awareness.
Real forgiveness is quite distinct from premature forgiveness. It is almost always a byproduct of effective grieving and no amount of thought, intention or belief can bring it into being without a descension into the feeling realms. Conversely, cognitive and philosophical structures unreceptive to the possibility of forgiveness, sometimes block the access to forging feelings, even when such feelings are present. It might be that the most healthy cognitive position concerning forgiveness is an attitude that allows the possibility of its occurrence on the other side of extensive grieving. This attitude will work best if it includes the condition that feelings of forgiveness will not be forced or falsely invoked to cover up any unresolved feelings of hurt or anger. In this vein, it is also especially important to note that certain types of abuse are so extreme and damaging to the victim that forgiveness may simply not be an option. Examples of this include sociopathy, conscious cruelty, and many forms of scapegoating and parental incest.”
We have to be aware that true forgiveness is more a natural byproduct of effective grieving. Which is a balance between fully emoting & fully feeling. This includes:
- ‘Angering’ / ‘championing’ in a private safe space (verbally shouting, making angry facial expressions, tensing your muscles & expressing your anger whilst re-directing healthy blame to where it belongs).
- Vocally ventilating & speaking to others about our problems / what we are ashamed of. Achieved through others empathically listening to us & vocally externalising our issues honestly and openly. ‘Shame can’t survive exposure’. Shame grows in silence, secrecy.
- Written ventilation / journal therapy. Externalizing our problems through writing. Also, an additional safe way to express our anger is through writing.
- Crying / ‘sorrowing’. Crying being one of the most effective yet hardest to achieve out of the grieving strategies. It is a highly effective tool for reducing shame / fear / worry / obsessive thoughts etc because of the hormones you release when you cry which calm you down & release stress.
- Passively fully feeling: feeling as bad as we feel without needing to self-medicate through sex, food, alcohol or masturbation.
From doing these grieving modalities, organic / authentic feelings of forgiveness for others wrong doings begin to emerge without forgiving an abuser too fast either from our past or present moments of our lives.
I hope you have found this article useful. I understand its a lot to take it so try to read it 3+ times to internalise the principles to memory. Take your time reading it. If you have enjoyed it please share it with someone you know it might help or simply on your facebook or twitter page.
Thanks for reading
From your friendly neighbourhood coach:
Joshua Leo Stuart