Blame Versus Responsibility. What’s The Difference?

Morning friend, I’m still recovering from the tail end of the Rona virus. Doing much better though. My energy is back and that is huge. Thanks for your prayers.

I’m going to do something a little different today. Instead of answering a question, I’m going to respond to a comment from someone who believed I was shaming and blaming a victim for being a victim. This is what she wrote in response to my blog regarding a husband treating his wife like a child.

“Stopped reading after you said that she is responsible for the way she has allowed herself to be treated. Yikes!! Really really awful.”

Response: This reader’s comment didn’t surprise me. I see it often. When I tell a woman she has to take responsibility, it’s interpreted that she has to take the blame for what happened to her. That’s not true, nor is that what I mean by taking responsibility.

Let me give you an example. When I was a child, in a fit of rage, my mother threw me to the ground and I chipped my two front teeth. She never got appropriate dental care and my two front teeth looked awful throughout my childhood. That was not my fault even though I probably was doing something wrong that provoked her. It was her responsibility as my mom to discipline me appropriately and get me dental and medical care when I needed it. She was the adult, I was the child.

But when I became an adult and she still treated me harshly, whose responsibility is it now to take care of me? Mine. I’m not to blame for the way she treats me, but I am responsible to steward my body, my mind, and my health. And if she’s harming me, what am I going to do to get safe, stay healthy, and live in peace?

Also, as an adult, my teeth were still a mess. Clunky yellowed caps were all I saw when I smiled. It wasn’t my fault my teeth were a mess, but it was my responsibility to get them fixed if I wanted my teeth to look better. Otherwise, I would feel helpless over the way I looked because my mom did something abusive to me. I couldn’t change my mom but I could do something about my teeth and the way I looked. I call that taking responsibility, or another word for it is ownership.

Did I like the fact that I had to go to multiple dentist appointments, pay a lot of money to get my teeth to look normal? Did I think that was fair that I had to do it even if I wasn’t at fault? I toyed with those ideas a bit but believing that story wasn’t going to get my teeth fixed (or change my mother). It would keep me stuck, spinning in a victim/helpless mindset. I don’t believe any adult in her right mind wants to be there for long. 

[Tweet “When you are a one-time victim, you are never to blame.”] You were at the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong person and you were harmed, fooled, bullied, degraded, raped, lied to, robbed, or beat up. A multitude of horrible things can happen to women. But even when this happens to a woman, if you want to recover from such a traumatic event, who is responsible to do that? You are. Otherwise you will stay broken by awful things that happen to you. Is that what you want? Of course not.

When we’re in a destructive relationship with someone the destructive elements don’t usually show up right away. It’s often a slow erosion of our being, our God-given personhood. A woman begins to lose herself to save the relationship. She gives up her own goals to support his goals. She gives up her own vision for how she wants things to be to rally around his vision. Isn’t that what good Christian women are taught to do? Defer. Accommodate. Submit to their man?

To do otherwise is labeled “selfish” and “sinful” in many conservative Christian circles. 

And if you marry or date a healthy, caring, loving man, he will not allow you to erase your personhood in deference to him. He will encourage your voice, your choice, your thoughts, your vision. He will support your growth to be all you can be, as you support his.

But in a destructive marriage that doesn’t happen. An unhealthy, destructive person is a prideful, selfish person. He wants his way. He believes it’s all about him and you as the good wife silently, passively, go along. Maybe inside you know somethings wrong, or maybe you believe this is what God asks of you, but sooner or later you begin to feel flattened out, depleted, dead or like a child inside. You’ve lost yourself. You don’t even know who you are anymore. Or if you begin to speak up, you are silenced. If you start acting out, you are shamed.

Now you’re in a perilous place like many of the women who write to me for advice. You’ve lost your vision, your goals, your voice and your choice. You’re scared, stuck, confused, and angry. [Tweet “If you want to change that, I say change begins with you.”] You have no power over him. But I’m reminding you each week that you do have power. That feeling of power starts with reclaiming your God-given power to choose. You can choose to live that way, or you can choose not to live that way. 

Once you realize that you get to decide that, then you no longer feel as helpless as you once did when you believed you had no choice. This is called waking up and taking responsibility for you. For your welfare, your safety, your sanity, and your health, physically, mentally, emotionally, financially and spiritually. When you stay passive and are being victimized again and again, what is that saying? Not that you’re to blame, but if you don’t want to live like that, you do have a choice. You may not like all of the choices available to you. Of course it would be easier if he would change. But your power comes from taking responsibility for you, not nagging him to change. 

Once you do that, now you have a voice even if the only one who values it is you. “I say yes. I say no. I say that’s good for me. I say that’s not good for me. I say I like this. I say I don’t like this.” Now you are taking the next step of growth. Reclaiming YOU. Your authority begins when you get to decide who you are. What you like. What you want. What you don’t want. What you need. What’s important to you. What you will tolerate. What you won’t tolerate.

This is the path to reclaiming your choice, your voice and your personhood. The blog I wrote said my husband treats me as a child. But when we let ourselves behave like a child, as if we have no choice or voice, then we are allowing ourselves to continue to be treated that way. [Tweet “She can’t control him, but she can decide for her.”]

Friend, how have you come to differentiate taking responsibility from accepting blame?


  1. Tammie on January 20, 2022 at 9:35 am

    I went to counselors both in and outside the church. If I was alone, they would tell me to take my power back. I would tell them I had no power. I was powerless. If speaking with a christian counselor (outside church) I was told I had the power of God. This made me feel ashamed that I was a weak person and a weak Christian. I would say I had the power of a doormat. Leslie, after 16 years of marriage and 3 young children I finally understood my power to choose after reading your books. You are gifted with clear communication and an understanding heart. Thank you for pressing on and through to get these extremely important messages out to hurting, desperate (dare I say dying?) women. I am divorced 13 years. Blissfully single and living in faith and trusting God for everything. Provision to live, relationships with family, future, job, etc. Thank you to Leslie and to her whole staff. God bless you.

    • Autumn on January 25, 2022 at 9:28 pm

      Cheers to being blissfully single! So glad you didn’t make the same mistake again and marry another abuser. You must have done your work! Yippee!

  2. Jeannie on January 20, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    Great article, thanks again for sharing. I first heard of you about a month ago. Someone posted a link to your website in a FB group I belong too. I watched your video interview on over-functioning and totally saw myself in this role, my eyes were really opened. I decided to take responsibility to change how I function in my marriage, with my kids, and with other people. I have struggled for years and never saw myself over-functioning, just a giver. I would come up exhausted and begin to resent or blame others, not recognizing in myself the error of doing for others what they can do for themself. You can imagine I have a lot of work to do, but the more I’m aware and the more I practice a healthier role, the freer I become. There is pain with growth. I feel it as I recognize other dynamics going on but instead of blaming others and myself, I can take responsibility for my part. It begins a domino effect of the people around me to also take healthy responsibility for their actions as well. The problem now is everyone is used to me towing a lot of weight so this has been challenging for me to step out from under it and ask questions. Even if I don’t see change on some of their parts, I am experiencing change within my own heart and mind and that has been like breathing fresh clean air again, like I can see clearly now what I need to work on. I’m not feeling the negativity from a blame cycle, just the power from making a positive change. I’m so blessed by the new things I’ve been reading here and also ordered your book, “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship,” and finished it. I’ve also shared your website and book with my adult daughters, as I recognize the patterns that I’ve set trickle down into the next generation and I want them to be healthy too. I still have young children at home also and can see positive changes already in those relationships from applying what I’m learning here. Again thank-you so much!

  3. Laureen on January 20, 2022 at 9:47 pm

    Hi Leslie, thanks much for all you are doing and your articles. I am at a point in my life where i need a counselor to talk to. My husband is a bully and a nag. It has affected me negatively in ways i cannot tell.

    • Waiting on January 21, 2022 at 12:36 pm

      Hi Laureen

      I can relate. My husband is also a bully. As well as controlling, and manipulative. I have not been able to find anyone to talk to who actually believes me. It’s a very lonely life.

      • JoAnn on January 22, 2022 at 11:27 am

        Laureen and Waiting,
        Have you read Leslie’s books, especially The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, and How to Act Right ? There are ways you can react to your bully husbands to gain your power and defuse the bullying. It starts with knowing who you are and that what the bully is saying isn’t true, so when seeking professional help, you want someone who will help you with that. Bullies know how to find our weak spots and use those against us. See if there is still room to join Leslie’s CONQUER online group.

      • Autumn on January 25, 2022 at 9:25 pm

        Ladies, I am struggling with you calling your bully your husband. No husband acts like that, a controlling, self centered man does, but such behavior is abhorrent in a husband. Please call him your abuser, not your husband. It degrades the beautiful relationship God designed for such a special term as husband.

      • Dee on February 15, 2022 at 12:07 pm

        I know loneliness all too well. Over my 10 year marriage I gained 40 pounds by spending time with any sugary treat and then in later years salty treats too. I realize that is very common with women but the most desperate and pathetic thing I ever did was sit in my car all by myself and talk to Siri on my phone. That is lonely!! Forward ahead I found a Leslie Wernick online and read her book the destructive marriage and it changed my life. My church turned its back on me but my friends well more like acquaintances all stuck by my side and I have moved out, God gave me a new home and I am teaching myself to finally have boundaries and use my core strength to get healthy and I have tried to give up the sweets and salt but sometimes those cravings come back and I’m just really careful. Walking has helped a lot with headphones and praise music and pressing into God‘s word.
        God bless you with His heart and discerning mind to show you His path for your life.

  4. Linder on January 24, 2022 at 10:04 am

    This will be the year of our 44th wedding anniversary and this marriage has not been easy. Thank you SO much for the extremely helpful book How to Act Right when Your Spouse Acts Wrong. I need the Biblical principles set forth in that book! Today I benefited from the concepts you describe: “chronic hurt” and “defensive layers” which harden into thick walls of self-protection making love impossible. Satan’s strategies! I now have some of the wisdom I’ve prayed for to understand WHY we behave the way we do. Please join me in praying for my husband’s heart to soften. I’m thanking the Lord for you, Leslie!

    • Autumn on January 25, 2022 at 9:22 pm

      Do you mean 44 years of a being a bond servant to an evil person? What you describe is not marriage. The vows were broken long ago. Sadly, you are in a sick legal union which squandered you life, your beauty and your soul. If you still have breath, you can take your 1/2 of the assets and escape your jailor. It is not to late, don’t stay for 45 and 46.

      • Sunny on February 15, 2022 at 9:37 am

        I’m encouraged by your strength. Your writing speaks of a woman who has done a lot of hard work during 44 years. You don’t give any details or descriptions regarding your marriage situation, other than ‘it hasn’t been easy.’ I’m so glad that you have taken ownership of your life, and are making choices to act right, even if your spouse acts wrongly. Good job of standing true to yourself and to God, regardless of the people around you!

  5. Autumn on January 25, 2022 at 9:34 pm

    Cheers to being blissfully single! So glad you didn’t make the same mistake again and marry another abuser. You must have done your work! Yippee!

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