But what about self-blame? Is it ever adaptive to cope with a bad situation by blaming oneself? According to Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, it depends on whether you blame your behavior or yourself as a person. People can change their own behavior, she notes, so behavioral self-blame paves the way for control in an effort to reduce current stresses or avoid future ones. But it is not similarly adaptive, she warns, to blame your own enduring personal characteristics, which are harder to change.

Janoff-Bulman later amended this hypothesis, noting that it may take time to realize the mental health benefits of behavioral self-blame. This predic- tion was tested in studies of how female rape victims adjust to the trauma. Con- sistently, both behavioral and characterological self-blame were associated with an increase in distress. Contrary to prediction, rape victims who blame their own behavior for what happened do not cope better than those who blame their char- acter.

In light of past research, Patricia Frazier offers a somewhat more com- plex perspective on blame, control, and coping. Clearly, she notes, it can be adap- tive for the victims of rape and other traumas to own a sense of future control. But noting that behavioral self-blame for a past trauma does not guarantee the prevention of future trauma, she dis- tinguishes past, present, and future control—and what each implies about the dreaded possibility of a future recurrence.

In a longitudinal study of female rape victims appearing in an emergency room, Frazier assessed attributions of blame and responsibility, perceptions of control, and feelings of distress periodically from two weeks up to one year later. Overall, women blamed the rapist more than they blamed themselves, a tendency that strengthened over time. As in other studies, however, those who assigned more blame either to the rapist or to themselves were more distressed. Appar- ently, the problem with behavioral self-blame, once thought to be adaptive, is that it did not engender feelings of future safety. In this regard, the most use- ful sense of control was over the present: Women who believed that they could help themselves get better and facilitate their own recovery were more optimistic about the future and the least distressed.

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