To an outside observer, it doesn't make sense that a woman would stay with a boyfriend and blame herself, rather than him, for emotional and physical abuse that's clearly unacceptable and dangerous. But there are common patterns and motivations shared by some women that makes them blame themselves for their boyfriends' behavior.
An abuser may tell his victim that his behavior is her fault rather than taking responsibility for his actions. This may be a conscious form of manipulation, but it also can genuinely be what he believes. Blaming of this kind is known as “false attribution,” where a person believes that his bad or angry feelings are totally caused by an external source rather than by his own internal, emotional makeup. This blaming may be easier for the girlfriend to internalize or accept because her abuser displays how justified he honestly feels about his behavior.
Isolation From Loved Ones
Whether a girlfriend is physically cut off from friends and family or simply starts to regard their opinions as less important or valid, emotional dependency on her boyfriend will make it harder for her to question him or his abusive behaviors.
Women who are raised in dysfunctional and abusive homes are more likely to feel that abuse is normal or that they deserve it or cause it. According to Kathleen Kendall-Tackett of the University of New Hampshire's Family Research Laboratory, abused children receive messages from their caretakers that blame the victims for the abuse. “Women in currently abusive relationships may have internalized these messages to such an extent, that they stay (in abusive relationships) since 'no one else would want them,'” writes Kendall-Tackett in her book "The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Coping With Mothering Stress, Depression and Burnout." .
Safety and Fear
Internalizing abuse and self-blaming can give a victim a sense of short-term safety if she feels trapped in the relationship. Since an abuser may use the threat of violence to control a victim, she may feel that standing up for herself can bring about more severe violent outbursts from the abusive boyfriend. Internalizing abuse, however, will make it easier for her to remain compliant with his demands and expectations. For example, if her boyfriend slaps her once, she might accept that he won't hit her a second time if she immediately apologizes rather than fighting back or protesting.
- Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images