We all criticize ourselves every once in a while. Being aware of our faults and where we need to improve is a good thing. However, self-blame crosses the line from constructive self-awareness into emotional self-harm.
Self-blame often pops up as a result of trauma, and can really mess with both physical and mental health. And in an unhelpful feedback loop, battling self-blame makes healing trauma, depression, and anxiety significantly more difficult. It’s important to remember that your struggles are not your fault, and that we aren’t always to blame for what happens to us.
Work toward stopping the self-blame cycle so you can start healing, with the perspective and tips below.
Types of self blame
This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some manifestations of self-blame that can cause us to stand in our own way.
1. Toxic self criticism
We’ve already talked about this a bit, but self blame is an unhelpful version of self criticism. Often, we engage in self-blame under the pretense that we’re just trying to improve ourselves and be better people. However, self-blame most often results from double standards against ourselves, and from baseless self-beliefs such as “I’m worthless” or “I’m stupid.”
- Tackling unhelpful thinking styles
- Dismantle perfectionism, “shrink your inner critic“
- Challenge your external locus of control
2. Unfounded self doubt
Constantly doubting oneself in different parts of life can really take a toll. You might find reasons for this doubt, but upon closer inspection, do these reasons really hold true?
Self doubt often stems from chronic feelings of being dismissed. If others haven’t often accepted our influence, or haven’t had much confidence in us, it’s hard to have much confidence in ourselves.
This lack of trust in ourselves drains our hope, and with it, our will to try. Self doubt alienates us from ourselves and from others, but if we don’t take ourselves seriously, how can anyone else?
It is draining, painful, and stifling to constantly question the strength of your relationships, whether you are capable of succeeding in your goals, and your self in general.
3. Shame and guilt
Overthinking and blaming ourselves leads easily to distress, shame, and guilt. This shame can be regarding ourselves, our past actions, things we’ve said, etc. These feelings can be overwhelming and disrupt day to day life.
How to not blame yourself for trauma
We’ve talked about types of self-blame and how to recognize it, but how do we stop blaming ourselves for our trauma?
1. Make the distinction between self-criticism for self-improvement and self-blame.
Like we’ve mentioned before, there is a huge difference between the two! When you find yourself criticizing your past behavior or things you’ve said, try to evaluate whether it is actual constructive criticism or if you’re engaging in toxic overthinking. Taking the time to actively evaluate these thoughts will help you in the process of stopping the self-blame cycle.
2. Respond to your self-blame.
This one might seem like a weird one, but it can really change the way you think and see yourself. Once you’ve learned to recognize when you’re engaging in self-blame, start responding to the negative thoughts. Make a list of positive responses — things you like about yourself, affirmations, etc. — and say them to yourself when you start thinking negative thoughts.
Things like “My trauma was not my fault” or “I did the best I could, and that is enough” or “I am worthy” are examples of good mantras to use. The more you say them to yourself, the more you’ll start to believe them. As you deserve to.
3. Have compassion for yourself like you would for a friend.
We wouldn’t tell the people we love “Yeah, you’re right” if we heard them call themselves worthless. So why would we say it to ourselves? Start working on your relationship with yourself and build up your self-compassion. You deserve to give yourself unconditional love and kindness.
4. It’s okay to get help.
Sometimes, the journey to stopping the self-blame cycle is difficult to start by yourself. Seeking out therapy might seem daunting, but it can be incredibly helpful when trying to heal from your trauma. A professional will provide an outside perspective and guide you through the process. Additionally, if you’re not ready for therapy, you can get that perspective and validation in an anonymous peer support chat. There are tons of resources available for you to get the help you may need, and the end result is worth it.
5. Remember: you are a human.
You are a human being, and human beings are bound to make mistakes! That does not mean that your mistakes make you deserving of bad things, self-blame, and traumatic experiences. Your trauma is not your fault, and you deserve love and care and compassion. Cut yourself some slack and give yourself some love. The path out of the self-blame mindset isn’t easy, but you’ve got support if you need it.