One of the fundamental parts of supporting survivors is not to engage in victim blaming. But sometimes, even amongst our loved ones, and even if we don’t see necessarily see it or intend it, victim blaming happens.
Due to a number of complications and trauma in her life, one of my close family members (I’ll refer to her as SD) faces a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. At a young age, she had to flee from her home in Hong Kong to get away from the Japanese soldiers who had taken over during the Second World War. She had witnessed and heard about numerous brutal war crimes, and was separated from several family members, which she explains as being a highly traumatic time for her and many others as well. Also, later periods of her life had been difficult as well: she faced domestic abuse, both physical and emotional, for a long time. SD is always willing to share these stories with me and other family members as well, though these stories have not really received the kind of compassionate response that they deserve.
There is no doubt that I love SD and that I am grateful for all that she has done for me. She helped raise me, fed me, cared for me and has given me so much of her love. However, the truth is that sometimes it can be quite difficult to be around her. As a result of her mental health issues, she often has unpredictable outbursts and becomes irritable quite easily. My family and I knew about her stories, but we would often become emotionally exhausted from facing the symptoms of her mental health issues and dismiss them during her unpredictable angry reactions. At least for me, I would forget about all the pain that she had went through and only see the irritated person in front of me. Especially when I was younger, every time she had an angry outburst, I would go through a process: I would think I did something wrong, and if I felt that I really hadn’t done anything to make her upset, I would shift the blame to her, as many of my other family members had done. I would always feel that it was unfair for her to treat me and the rest of my family like this. Aren’t you supposed to treat others how you want to be treated?
Recently, she had gotten some sad news about her close friend back in Hong Kong, and that was the saddest I had ever seen her. I always knew that she could be very emotional, but this was something else, and it made me feel the need to be more compassionate towards her than I ever had before. It stopped me in my tracks and really made me reflect on the ways that I had been treating SD, and how I had heard her stories but never really listened and wholeheartedly believed most of them. Unfortunately it has taken me this long to remember all the stories she had told me about her past, and to truly understand why she sometimes reacts so negatively to a lot of things. SD, I am deeply, deeply sorry for blaming you when the pain you felt in your life was not your fault at all.
Victim blaming can occur anywhere, even where it is least expected. When mental illness is involved with trauma and domestic abuse, it can be difficult to listen and also believe in survivors’ stories. Even though it’s difficult, that is no excuse – everyone deserves compassion and all survivors should never be blamed for the things that happen to them. All survivors deserve to have their stories wholeheartedly believed, if they choose to share them. Victim blaming needs to stop, and for me, that starts at home.