Ending the Blame Game

Blaming – the skill of assigning responsibility for your pain and discomfort to someone or something else.

It’s a natural human reaction that has affected everyone at one point or another. In fact, you have likely been both the blamer as well as the person being blamed. The problem with blaming, however, lies in what happens when you absolve yourself of responsibility and pass it along to someone (or something) else. When you blame, you give away your power. Did you catch that? When you blame, you give away your power. It may seem harmless, but if someone asked you if you want to maintain power over your actions, you would probably say, “yes.” How about wanting to stay in control of your relationships or your job? Another probable “yes.” So, why is blaming so easy to do, and how exactly does it lead to a loss of power and control?

The Self-Serving Bias

Blaming is easy because humans tend to avoid uncomfortable or negative experiences. People are pre-wired to distance themselves from situations that cause them to feel guilt or shame. Let’s face it, we all prefer to think of ourselves as caring human beings that would avoid hurting the people we love.  When we hurt others, inadvertently or not it causes us to feel guilt or shame.  In order to avoid these negative emotions we project blame to the other person.  The rationale goes like this, “since I am a kind person that would not hurt a fly, then it must be something the other person did to cause our poor behavior.” Research has shown that people have a “self-serving bias” which is where individuals tend to attribute negative outcomes to external factors, and positive outcomes with internal factors. Here are some examples of both negative/external attribution and positive/internal attribution: Example A: Lucy scored an A on her challenging Chemistry test. She feels great about it and states that although she studied very hard for the test, she feels that her aptitude for science definitely played a key role in her success. (Positive outcome/Internal attribution) Example B: Justin scored an F on the same challenging test. He feels terrible about it and states that he didn’t have time to study properly because his mom was out of town all week, and he had to care for his three younger siblings. (Negative outcome/External attribution). In Example A, Lucy attributed her high score to her intelligence (an internal characteristic), and in Example B, Justin attributed the low score to his mom being out of town and additional caretaking at home (external reasons). In Justin’s case, he absolved himself of responsibility by blaming his mom and siblings instead of taking any responsibility of his own for the grade he received. By giving away this responsibility, he also gives away his power to change the circumstances himself. His success (or failure) now lies in the hands of other people, over whom he has no control.

Blame in Relationships

When blame takes hold between two people, a dysfunctional pattern emerges which causes a breakdown in communication, understanding and empathy for each other. There is a tendency to assign responsibility to the other person for the problems in the relationship. This causes further alienation because the person being blamed may shut down and begins to distance his/her self from further interactions. The misattribution of blame is one reason we repeatedly make the same mistakes.  We learn little from experience because we blame the wrong cause. Knowing what happened alters our perception of why it happened."  Here are some of the ways to step out of the blame game and regain your personal power and control:
  1. Take responsibility for your actions which may have negatively impacted the other person. When you acknowledge your faults, you take control over those actions and can choose to change them.
  2. Be vulnerable and extend an apology to your partner for your part of the problem. This opens lines of communication and displays your ability and willingness to see the problem from your partner’s perspective.
  3. Take some time to self-reflect and objectively evaluate situations which trigger your personal blame response. Consider alternate ways to handle those situations, and practice new ways of responding.
  4. Ask questions, often times we think we know why someone acted the way they did without checking the facts.
  5. Making assumptions about others behavior without checking the facts is unfair and contribute to further blame and distance.
It may be uncomfortable in the beginning, but learning to work with and reduce your blame response can positively impact many areas of your life!

If you would like help with this problem, contact NewPoint of View Counseling today to get started on the path of hope and healing! As a professional therapist, I look forward to helping you to live your most authentic life, filled with love, trust, and relationship satisfaction.