The dismissal of trauma is profoundly more impacted than the original trauma.
It’s the incredulous tone given by friend when they tell him to “get over it” or “put your big boy pants on“. And it’s the look of accusation in his parent’s eyes when they outright say “This is your fault“. These are the things that shatter me to pieces inside. And this is when he struggles to pick up those pieces and put himself back together again.
Second Wave of Trauma : Confusing and Detrimental
While the #MeToo movement and online platforms have given a voice to victims of sexual crimes as well as other form of harassment and trauma, the culture of victim-blaming persists. Although their experience is deeply painful, victims still get questioned, doubted and blamed for their ordeal with the exposure. Their traumatic experiences, more often than not, is misbelieved, mistrusted, and maligned.
WHY IT HAPPENS
So what is behind this tendency to blame the victim?
One psychological phenomenon that contributes to this tendency to lay blame on the victim is known as the fundamental attribution error. In social psychology, attribution is the process of inferring the causes of events or behaviors. In real life, attribution is something we all do every day, usually without any awareness of the underlying processes and biases that lead to our inferences. For example, When you get a poor grade on a quiz, you might blame the teacher for not adequately explaining the material, completely dismissing the fact that you didn’t study. When a classmate gets a great grade on the same quiz, you might attribute his good performance to luck, neglecting the fact that he has excellent study habits
Another element that contributes to our tendency to blame the victim is known as a “belief in a just world” (Bohner et al., 2009). The Just World theory (Kleinke & Meyer, 1990; Lerner & Mathews, 1967) is a social and cultural concept, which states that individuals perceive the world to be a rational place (Lambert & Raichle, 2000; Fetchenhauer et al., 2005), where events are “deserved, so the world cannot be unjust” (Faccenda & Pantaleon, 2011). Rooted within Protestant Ethic ideology, which states that good actions and hard-work are praised with good affluence, with this responsibility lying with the individual (Lerner, 1980; Montada & Lerner, 1998), Just World beliefs (JWBs) permit individuals to maintain a feeling of security and to ensure the control over their own behaviour and future outcomes, making the world around them a safer, manageable and predictable place (Lodewijx, Wildschut, Nijstadm Savenije, & Smit, 2001).
Simply put, there are people who believe that “bad things cannot happen to good people” or to those who have done “everything right”. In other words, if something bad happens to you, it must be because you did something wrong. It is a form of protective mechanism that allows people to believe that they have control over atrocities that happen.
Furthermore, victim-blaming occurs when people try to rationalise away the behaviour of the culprit by attributing part or all of the blame on the victim. While victim-blaming can occur in other situations such as theft, robbery and other crimes, a 2010 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that more blame appears to be assigned to victims of sexual violence such as rape.
What effect It Can Leave On A Victim
Victim-blaming attitudes marginalize the victim/survivor and make it harder to come forward and report the abuse. If the survivor knows that you or society blames them for the abuse, s/he will not feel safe or comfortable coming forward and talking to you.
Furthermore, victim blaming also reinforces predator-like attitudes. It allows perpetrators to avoid being held accountable for their actions.
Victim blaming can lead to increased and unnecessary suffering for the victims. They may experience ridicule – while at the same time watching their predators avoid punishments instead of getting the justice they deserve. This may cause them to feel emotions like shame and guilt that only delays their healing and adds to their toxic self-blame.
WHAT CAN BE DONE
At a most basic level, a person needs to be free to feel the way they do, and affirmed by those who love them, so they can process those feelings. We all need to be validated. Likewise, survivors deserve validation. On a societal level, much more needs to be done not only to prevent abuse, but to better support those who have been abused in their recovery.
For those of you who have victim-blamed anyone in your life, go and make amends. Help them to pick up the pieces. Be there. Be present. Hold space.
Prioritise them. They have carried enough.
Their healing will take root when you believe their story and its many truths.
Your non-judgmental support will make space for their pain.
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