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Self blame

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 11 months ago

Self blame



There are two main types of self blame: undeserved blame based on character and undeserved blame based on actions. These are called Characterological and Behavioral.


Behavioral self blame

Behavioral self blame refers to victims feeling that they should have done something differently (therefore they feel it is their fault). This type of self blame is a way for the victim to maintain a feeling of control. (Janoff-Bulman, 1978) If the victim can target specific (sometimes random) behaviors they create the illusion that they never lost control over their situation and can thereby avoid future victimization. If it was their own fault, their world was never outside thier own control.


Characterological self blame

Characterological self blame applies when victims feel there is something inherently wrong with them (causing them to deserve to be assaulted). This type of blame occurs when the victim cannot think of anything they did wrong to cause the assault. They turn towards their 'soul' or essential person. This type of blame is associated with more psychological negative effects.


Self blame defined

Self blame is an avoidance coping skill which inhibits the healing process. The type of thought involved in self blame of victims is illogical thinking (known as counterfactual thinking) which can be remedied by a therapeutic technique known as cognitive restructuring. The main problem for victims is that feeling shame (stigma with the self) produces more psychological problems than feeling guilt (actions). It's easier to change an action than the self. Guilt promotes resolving action and shame promotes pulling away or wanting to be invisible. Withdrawing prevents the victim from seeking help and reporting. Feeling that you had control during the assault (past control or behavioral self blame) is associated with more psychological distress while believing you have more control now (present control or control over the recovery process) is associated with less distress, less withdrawal and more cognitive reprocessing. (Frazier et. al., 2005)


Destructive effects of self blame

The leading researcher on shame, Tangney, lists five ways shame can be destructive:

lack of motivation to seek care; lack of empathy; cutting themselves off from other people; anger; and aggression. Tangney says shame has a special link to anger. "In day-to-day life, when people are shamed and angry they tend to be motivated to get back at a person and get revenge,".

In addition shame is connected to psychological problems- such as eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders as well as problematic moral behavior. In one study over several years shame-prone kids were prone to substance abuse, earlier sexual activity, less safe sexual activity, and involvement with the criminal justice system. (Tangney, 2002)



Counseling responses found helpful in reducing self blame are supportive responses, psychoeducational responses (learning about rape trauma syndrome) and those responses addressing the issue of blame. (Matsushita-Arao, 1997 ) A helpful type of therapy for self blame is cognitive restructuring or cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive reprocessing is the process of taking the facts and forming a logical conclusion from them that is less influenced by shame or guilt.

(Branscombe et. al., 2003)




  • Branscombe, Nyla R.; Wohl, Michael J. A.; Owen, Susan; Allison, Julie A.; N'gbala, Ahogni. (2003). Counterfactual Thinking, Blame Assignment, and Well-Being in Rape Victims. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 25 (4). p265, 9p.
  • Frazier, Patricia A.; Mortensen, Heather; Steward, Jason. (2005). Coping Strategies as Mediators of the Relations Among Perceived Control and Distress in Sexual Assault Survivors. Journal of Counseling Psychology, Jul2005, Vol. 52 Issue 3, p267-278
  • Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Self-blame in Rape Victims - A Control-maintenance Strategy. Eric Document Reproduction Service, p.16.
  • Matsushita-Arao, Yoshiko. (1997). Self-blame and depression among forcible rape survivors. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering. 57(9-B). pp. 5925.
  • Tangney, June Price and Dearing, Ronda L., Shame and Guilt, The Guilford Press, 2002





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