What Are Victims Responsible for in an Abusive Relationship?

June 13, 2011 Kellie Jo Holly

Victims are responsible for their reactions to abuse and can choose ways of reacting that do not cause them guilt. Without guilt, a sense of power returns.

It takes two to tango. I despise that phrase because it implies equal responsibility for the abuse inherent in an abusive relationship. It is true that for every abuser, there is a victim of abuse. If the victim refused to stay, there would be no abuse at all. While that is true, it puts equal responsibility for the abuse onto the victim, and that isn't right (Things Victims Say and Do To Cause Abuse).


The abuse victim reacts to abuse, but is not the controller, not the manipulator, not the abuser (Domestic Abuse Victims Think They're the Abuser). The abuser chooses to abuse, yet she is not the only one with a choice, nor the only one with the power. The victim is also able to choose his reaction to abuse and to retain his power.

Responsibility for the abuse belongs to the abuser; responsibility for the reaction to domestic abuse belongs to the victim.

Are Victims Responsible for the Abuse They Suffer?

No. Victims cannot control when an abuser lashes out. Victims do not control an abuser's thoughts, feelings, or actions. When an abuser abuses, she is responsible for her own words and actions.

Abusers tell their victims "You make me do this!" and "This is all your fault! If you had/hadn't ___________, then I wouldn't act this way!" The abuser wants to make you feel responsible for her actions. Much of the time, the victim does accept responsibility for the abuser's actions and, in the future, tries very hard to do (or not do) whatever it was that set off the abuser's rage.

The dirty little secret is that the abuser changes the story for the victim at will. When victims do what the abuser asks, more often than not the abuser will say the victim did NOT do as asked or say that they asked for exactly the opposite and claim the victim has such a poor memory he didn't realize his mistake.

So, since victims cannot accept responsibility for the abuser's twisted actions, what are victims responsible for in the cycle of abuse?

Victims Are Responsible for Their Reactions to Abuse

The environment created by abuse creates several illusions:

  • you think you are powerless and have no control,
  • you fear leaving the abuser as much as you fear staying with her,
  • you think the abuser's opinion of you is at least partially right,
  • you think you are as "bad" as the abuser and deserve some punishment because you abuse her, too.

These illusions are powerful ideas that your abuser wants you to adopt whole-heartedly. But there is one idea that cuts through the crap and shines bright as day. The truth is that *every person including victims of abuse are in control of his own thoughts, feelings and actions.

This means that your abuser cannot make you think, feel, or do anything. You can't control the abuser, and she does not have the power to control you, either. You must take responsibility for your own words and actions, even if you said or did them in an act of self-preservation, out of fear, or in an effort to stand up for yourself.

  • take-me-backWhen you retaliate with hateful words, those words are your responsibility.
  • When you lie about small things to prevent arguments, those lies are your responsibility.
  • When you attempt to redirect her anger elsewhere, the manipulation is your responsibility.

Living in an abusive environment can strongly provoke you to act contrary to your nature. When you act contrary to your nature, you feel guilt. Guilt weakens your ability to see the truth and strengthens your belief in the abusive illusions. Believing the illusions spirals you further into the abusive cycle.

Victims Who Own Their Responsibility Can Break the Cycle of Abuse

The answer to breaking the cycle of abuse lies in your ability to act in ways that cause you no guilt.

  • If you feel guilty for retaliating with verbal abuse, then do not verbally abuse the abuser again.
  • If you feel guilty throwing something at your abuser or slamming a door out of anger, then do not do those physically violent things again.
  • If you feel guilty for lying to the abuser about money, friendships, or work, then do not lie again.
  • If you feel guilty for manipulating the abuser, then do not attempt to control or manipulate again!

You will have to choose healthy behaviors to substitute for your bad habits. Perhaps you can walk away, or maybe you can say, "I can't talk to you right now" and go do something else. If your abuser follows and pesters you, perhaps you could call a friend or drive to the store alone.

In time and with practice, you will react to abuse in ways that do not cause you guilt. Without a guilty conscience, you will soon discern truth from illusion, and your sense of power over yourself will return. At that point, you will be ready to decide what to do about the abuse.

Staying and coping is one alternative, separation or divorce are two others. When you regain your sense of power, more solutions will become visible, and you will choose for yourself the solution that is best for you.

*Battered Woman Syndrome is a defense used in court when an abuse victim murders the abuser. BWS is an explanation for motive that can lighten the sentence of a murderer; it states the victim has diminished responsibility, but it does not remove responsibility. Knowing that abuse can get so bad that you think your only way free is by murdering your abuser may help you understand why it is important to accept responsibility for your reactions to abuse now - before the worst happens.


*Both women and men could be abusers or victims, so do not take my pronoun choices as an implication that one gender abuses and the other is victimized.

APA Reference
Jo, K. (2011, June 13). What Are Victims Responsible for in an Abusive Relationship?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Kellie Jo Holly

February, 19 2023 at 12:29 pm

I know this was written a few years ago but dang it., this article is horrid. How could you victim blame like this? Abuse is ALWAYS the abuses fault and not the victims. Would you tell an abused child that? It’s disgusting how people blame victims and say they are responsible. How about kidnapped and sex trafficked women? How about children being used as slave labor. And then there’s forced marriages and immigrants being bought and sold and used for profit and victimized against their will. This article is way past WRONG, it’s victim blaming and believe me those poor victims are already blaming themselves. We need real help from real abuse, not more blame. We need education and ONLY the educated should help those who have been abused. Let’s talk shame, you the writer should be ashamed for perpetrating further guilt and shame on the victims of abuse. SHAME ON YOU. And I mean that and I take responsibility for texting and sharing that.

December, 17 2021 at 3:39 am

This article is probably the most inaccurate thing I have ever read. It is full of “half truth “ and certainly does NOT depict the whole picture at all. We are responsible for our own actions, yes… however there is literally science that proves how abuse, especially chronic, changes the brain and how we operate. I don’t believe a single word written here and completely disagree. This article is extremely contradictory and It almost seems like the author has not been in this horrible situation before or has not healed from such.

January, 27 2021 at 12:47 am

I don't feel sorry for those that leave and choose to keep going back. I know that sounds terrible but at some point you stop being a victim and become a participant.

July, 11 2021 at 12:40 am

I’m glad you’ve never been in the horrible situation to leave with 2 babies and go through being in a shelter to housing and then struggle with no help and then want to believe so bad the person has “changed” only to be re-victimized. Alcoholics are notorious for being very manipulative and cunning. He had me fooled. And I’m paying every day of my life now for it. The guilt of what my kids have endured is unbearable But when I leave him (in the process now) , I’ll never go back again. 25 hard years and what do I have to show for it? A myriad of health and mental issues and 3 traumatized kids. I’m in hell. But I am not going to be “belittled” by anyone for wanting a normal family life. One I wanted for my kids and never had myself. We were so close.. but it fell apart. Never judge until you’ve walked in my shoes. I’m 45 and been through hell and back, now I have to start over again..I’m terrified but staying with him is unbearable at this point. My advice is to go when kids are young and never look back. That was my mistake. If only I had stayed on my own..They won’t change ever!!!!!

Karen Allen
December, 23 2020 at 5:57 pm

I believe guilt may be a big part of why a victim stays . But I have stayed because a very bad person manipulated me , lied to me , tricked and gaslighted me . I am NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING HE DID. I will never ever be guilty for him being a horrible person. Yet I stayed , because i was good and raised well . I had never known any evil people. I believed ...and i am RESPONSIBLE FOR BEING A GOOD PERSON ....and then because of constant abuse which i am not responsible for , i became ill . I did not know this was happening , the abuser did. You will not succeed in ever trying to make me feel guilty in his abuse of me.

April, 24 2019 at 11:24 pm

I left my avusive husband. He is playing victim saying how i just abandon him. Everything is always about him. Like i dont matter. If i tell him of past things he twists it to make me look like a sex addict. I am done. I dont have time for cruelty and accusations

May, 7 2019 at 8:26 pm

I am proud of you. I have been through similar experiences in a relationship. I hope you stay strong and do not go back. I know that can be hard. All we can do is to keep moving forward.

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