How Self-Blame Can Harm You

How Self-Blame Can Harm You

Photo by Aleksandra Sapozhnikova on Unsplash

  Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 7/19/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.

We first learn self-blame as kids. We blame ourselves when our parents are in a bad mood and when our supposed friends ditch us to hang out with cooler kids.

Sometimes, we are taught self-blame when our primary caregivers blame us for certain “mistakes” as children. Other times, we learn self-blame from the messages of the societies we grew up in.

As adults, we take all the blame for someone else’s grief; we believe we caused our breakups somehow and that we made our loved ones unlove us.

It is a strange thing we do, blaming ourselves when people hurt us, but we all do it.
~ Jodi Aman

The self-blaming behavior we learn in childhood doesn’t leave us until we do the hard work of understanding our psychological patterns.

Definition of Self-Blame

Self-blame occurs when “an individual attributes the occurrence of a stressful event to oneself.” Complete liability is assumed by the individual, regardless of the other people involved in the situation and the uncontrollable circumstances. This is a negative adaptive strategy that one adapts as a way of coping with challenges.

What Causes Self-Blame?

Self-blame mostly comes from a place of lack or not being good enough. According to the American Psychological Association, there are two types of self-blame: behavioral and characterological.

Behavioral self-blame involves blaming one’s behavior, while characterological self-blame occurs due to low self-esteem and self-worth. Characterological self-blame may have deeper roots and can take longer to cure.

Examples of Self-Blame

You are displaying self-blaming behavior if you’re doing any of the following:

Blaming yourself for your separation or divorce

Taking responsibility for your parent’s or spouse’s financial struggles

Criticizing decisions you have made in the past

Taking all the blame when your team fails to deliver a project

Automatically assuming you’ve done something wrong when a friend doesn’t return a call

Thinking that people won’t like you even before you give them a chance to get to know you

Beating yourself up because you couldn’t protect your child from an accident or other misfortune

Blaming yourself for not being able to save a loved one from death

Why Self-Blame Is Unhealthy

1. Overall Health

Research shows that self-blaming behavior can cause increased distress connected to chronic physical health conditions. Due to the mind-body connection, this distress can further worsen the physical condition as the brain releases natural painkillers based on your feelings and thoughts.

2. Surgery Outcomes

If you blame yourself for a disease or an accident, you may not be open to getting the proper treatment, including surgery. This is because of a belief that you probably deserve the disease or accident. The lack of openness for treatment can lead to sabotage of postoperative recovery.

3. Mental Health

Studies prove that there is a link between self-blame and major depressive disorder. Those who are depressed tend to ruminate about the past and blame themselves more. In this study, 85% of patients with depression reported self-blaming emotions, and only 10% reported negative feelings towards others.

4. Longevity

When you stop self-blaming and start thinking more positively, your life span can increase. This is because people who think positive thoughts tend to have healthier lifestyles and more effective coping skills.

5. Life Satisfaction

Self-blame is not an empowering emotion. Since it can be a result of low self-worth, your inner critic voice can be strong when you blame yourself. This voice tends to interfere with anything you’re trying to achieve in life, filling you with self-doubt and unnecessary fears.

In addition, when you’re self-blaming, your stress levels can rise. Research shows that those with high levels of perceived stress have low satisfaction with life.


Self-blame is different from taking responsibility for your actions. There is no question about needing to own up to your mistakes and genuinely apologize to anyone you’ve hurt.

But self-blame takes self-responsibility to another level. Self-blame can be a way of hurting yourself, even when you don’t deserve it. You can work with a mental health professional to explore underlying reasons and release your self-blame.