The shame and blame game

All conscientious people, when there’s a problem in a relationship, take a look inside eventually to see where their fault or responsibility lies. In a good couple relationship, you might have a fight  over something, but then at some point, you talk about it and get a different understanding of where your partner was coming from, which can change your perspective. You might realize you reacted because it pushed some sort of button in you, perhaps some experience from your past, or you misinterpreted something. In this interchange, both people in a mutually caring relationship should eventually take responsibility for their part of the conflict. Through resolving the conflict you should end up growing closer, and this ultimately can lead to healing whatever old wounds or misperceptions you are over-reacting from.

Could it have been my fault?

Of course, this never happens with sociopaths. They are incapable of taking responsibility for their part in a conflict, or understanding you if it differs from their perspective. So, we who are responsible look to ourselves to figure out what’s not working. It’s what we’ve been taught.

If you’re still involved with one, you might be wracking your brain to think of some way, some approach, to get through to him/her. You might be feeling so frustrated because you can never make your partner understand you, or how their behavior affects you. And so you probably take on the responsibility, because it really has come down to you. You’re backed into a corner. You have committed your love to this person, made a life, a family. Somewhere inside a voice, perhaps a panicky voice, says, “This is not going well!” You may ask yourself, how can I make this better? How can I be better? How can I get through to him/her? 

Maybe you have already decided to leave or have left the sociopath. Even then, when it’s clear how this person you loved violated your trust, tricked and betrayed you, you somehow keep bringing fault back to yourself. What was I doing there in the first place? How could I have been so weak? Why did I stay so long? How could I have not protected our children and just left? From beginning to end, we could be torturing ourselves with these questions, and be consumed with feelings of shame and guilt.

Who’s to blame?

My question is, why do we find it so easy to blame ourselves? It may be partly a conflict between an empathetic nature and assigning blame. Blaming others goes against the grain. Our consciences have us take responsibility for our behavior when things are going wrong. Some of us were raised to take too much responsibility in our families, which just makes it familiar to do. And, if you had children with the sociopath, a parental guilt of a particularly hellish sort can make it nearly impossible to let go of the regret of not having protected them from the sociopath.

Let’s not forget that sociopaths, by their destructive victimizing behaviors toward us, are transferring their own shame (which they are not consciously aware of) onto us, and therefore blame onto us. We are left feeling stunned, confused and immobilized. We do not know what to do after we’ve experienced the manipulations, the anger, the control, the dismissing, the shaming and blaming and what I call, “Jedi mind tricks” from the sociopath. Our selves get repressed and get lost.

It’s a bit like being in a one-person cult. You’re initially love-bombed and subtly, methodically, brain-washed and broken down over time. It literally is that insidious. The healthiest individual would not have defenses against that, once taken in. It’s like a trap that you find yourself in, that you didn’t see coming, but now you’re hanging upside down in a net and it’s going to take time to figure out how to break free.

Accepting my vulnerability

What if we assigned blame where blame is due? What if we accepted our naivety that made us fall for someone who was devilishly artful at presenting him/herself as a wonderful person? What if we accepted our “vulnerability”? People in intimate relationships are supposed to be vulnerable! What if we accepted our own “weakness”? If we consider loneliness or the longing for a partner a weakness, then the whole world is weak. To be loyal and committed, to fight to make a relationship work is the only thing a loving partner would do. Love trusts, love is open and vulnerable. Love never gives up. You did all that love should do, and can feel good about that. How dare your partner discard that love or use it to his own advantage! A normal caring person would have treasured that love.

What if we even accepted that some harm may have come to our children as a result of living with a sociopath? We can’t always protect our children from harm like we think we should. So many things are out of our control, including the behavior of another person. But we can focus on the love we gave our child, and the good intention of trying to keep the family together while we still had hope.

I did the best I knew how to at the time

What if we accepted that we made a choice we thought was fine at the time but turned out to be wrong? We are fallible humans who make mistakes, and hopefully grow from them. What we can and perhaps have done, which is very good, is to recognize we don’t want to live this way anymore. If you’ve gotten out, it is very good you have gathered the strength and resources to have done it. This obsession with blaming ourselves, going round with, “I should have done it sooner, I shouldn’t have been a fool, etc.”, is only an exercise in beating ourselves up. Let’s not carry on what the sociopath has been doing all this time! Let’s stop the beatings!

Maybe you did it at exactly the right time, the only time you could have, considering your circumstances and where you had to get psychologically to recognize who you were with. Now you do know what a sociopath is, and now it is appropriate for holding yourself responsible for not falling in with one again. And, now you can support others who have fallen prey to their carefully constructed webs.

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101 Comments on "The shame and blame game"

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I’ve been a member for quite some time, but rarely comment. This article was so helpful…my 24-year-old son, who has some tendencies of his father, shared how much his life has been ruined by our divorce. He was 18 when we divorced and hasn’t really recovered.

I have done a lot of healing from more than 30 years with my ex, and am in a new relationship. I wonder, now, that I am past my own pain, whether I can think about both my sons’ pain. My older son seems stable and happy, but I’m not as close with him as I had hoped.

I’m realizing so many things now…my ex and I rarely ever fought or said cross things in front of our boys, and they had no clue how bad things were. The divorce, I realize, came as a complete shock to them. I was the one who filed, but they don’t really want to know anything negative about their dad…I can’t say the least little thing or my younger one points it out. He feels like he’s lost his family – his dad lives out of state. He talks about the humiliation of having divorced parents and the loss he feels is huge.

Sometimes I look back and try to picture if I COULD have stayed just for the sake of keeping the family. I simply don’t think it was possible.

My ex remarried very shortly after our divorce, and now I am finally found someone wonderful. So my son pointed out that his dad and I both have new lives but he is left with a broken family.

I’m left feeling a bit guilty for rebuilding my life and being happy again knowing my son is still suffering.

But your article helped me remember I did the best I could do (and then some!).

Dear 1day,

Throw that guilt out the door. You DID do the best you could with what you had to deal with and your son having a “broken” family is right in there with 50% or more of the other kids and adults.

Build your life up, be happy. You deserve it. If your kids are not happy it is not your “fault”–when they grow up, their life is their own. Help your younger one if you can, but don’t guilt trip about it.

Welcome, BTW. Glad you posted.

Glad to have been of some help.

We’re all in a “Catch 22” about the right things to say to our kids. When the father is a predator, it’s very difficult to carry-on a normal relationship with them both before and after the separation.

Kids can become very good at the “poor me” game to try to elicit the outpour of love. A parent on a guilt trip can be more prone to salve their wounds with possessions or permissions that otherwise would not come their way, and it sounds like yours have mastered pouring on the guilt.

It might be helpful to make it clear that you are entitled to a relationship whether that was with their father or anyone else of your chosing. Their job, as children, is to grow and become independent, well adjusted, happy, healthy human beings. For you to have been miserable would not serve that goal, therefore, you will not be made to feel guilty about leaving a relationship that made you unhappy.

I would also express to them that you hope as they age, they will find a mate with whom they can have a fullfilling life. But if they don’t, you will support their efforts to free themselves from an unhappy situation, just like you expect them, out of love, respect and concern for you, to do the same.

I would let them know that they can whine about the destruction of their family, or they can relish the concept that they have two families. The choice is theirs. And then do everything possible to make them feel welcomed and cherished in your new relationship.

Thanks to both of you for your comments. As the article stated, we tend to look at ourselves first when there is trouble in the relationship. My son learned a lot of disrespectful behavior from his dad, and we have come a long way in remedying that.

In our talk the other day I did tell my son that if he were ever in a situation like I was, that I wouldn’t want him to stay in it for the sake of anyone else. I told both my sons that I did not think I would have survived had I stayed — and I do believe that. Our relationship was so toxic by the time I finally left, which was far longer than most would have stayed!

Reading your words is a big comfort!

Thank you!

Did I get another one of those? I started seeing a guy. We had about 3 dates. I thought we were getting along really good in person…but on the phone he was getting cold and distant. He was bitching at me (on phone) about how I raise my son, and about my dog, and how I keep my house and he even bitched about the flying squirrel in my house! I have no idea how that squirrel got in! And, I won’t harm it if that is his meaning!

Then his phone calls stopped.

I got an email from him. He said I hung up on him. I didn’t understand cause I didn’t hang up. He said it was a ‘hang up’ cause I didn’t say I love you and miss you. (yes we got on the I love you thing wayyyyy too soon) I said goodbye but didn’t sweeten it cause he was bitching at me!!! and I hung up phone, and he says this is hanging up on him. Crazy. (imagine the Patsy Cline song as you read this)

He stopped calling.

Yet, he continued email. He told me (in email) that he didn’t like anything about me. It was a big waste of money taking me out.

Then he asked if I would like to be together full-time. (asked in email) He said he has to be married to live together cause he can’t be out with nothing.


I sent him a picture of me and another date. This other date had his money laying out and food and drinks in front of us in this picture. I haven’t heard from crazy guy since.

This is what I have found. The children are aware that their father lies, but they cover for him. If a lie or some evidence of his irresponsibility surfaces, they are made to feel responsible for exposing him in any way. This effects the 16 year old son most of all. He’s been taken under his father’s wing as a means of keeping “in contact” with me. I have heard his father shouting at him for “telling Mom”. This has caused further distance between my son and myself. He believes that his first and foremost loyalty must be in protecting his father.
I read all your posts. 1day and Mincheff Joyce, your comments are especially appreciated.

I felt like there were trolls among us when I checked in yesterday. I would like to suggest that you go to the upper right corner where it says “Howdy” and choose “Edit Your Profile” and completely change your Name as seen on the site to something he could never guess and make your posts less specific for a while. He will stop looking if he can’t find anything about himself.

Thanks jeannie the trolling was seen and reported to Donna.

Thank you to the reporter and to Donna for keeping us safe!

I like this article very much. I got a lot of “How dare you accuse me!” or “You are psycho!” when I was in relationships with sociopaths. But it was just a game.

In the end I found out my feelings and many suspicions were correct.

They want to make us feel terrible for doubting them when they are lying and manipulating. This throws us off the path that leads to the truth. They figure if they badger us enough, we’ll stop talking, stop trying to get to the fact. It’s bullying behavior.

We don’t have to buy into it.

The ones I’ve gotten the most are, “So, I guess you’re perfect?” or “You think you’re perfect, don’t you.” Then, there I am trying to tell a grown man that I understand that no one is perfect….and the original subject of lying, cheating, verbal, and emotional abuse are gone….and after two years of buying into this nonsense, I now immediately say that it’s time for him to go to his part of the duplex now….OK. Byeeeee. Maybe we can watch a movie when I feel better….OK. See you on rent day…..Byeeeee.

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