Blame is the game nobody wins.
The Blame Game
When something goes wrong, we want to know why. It's disconcerting to sit with uncertainty. Often, the quickest way to make sense of why something has gone sideways is to cast blame. We find fault in ourselves or pass the buck to someone else.
Turning blame inward lets us manufacture a false sense of control over situations we don't like. If we are the cause, perhaps we can change the future outcome to what we want or need. For some people, self-blame is a well-worn neural groove. It's an automatic response that is congruent with their negative self-concept. Self-blame often leads to shame, which does little to inspire change. Instead, it tends to send people into a state of discouraged despair.
Blaming someone else doesn't take much mental effort. Accusation is more comfortable than radical ownership and taking responsibility. Blame doesn't have the cognitive cost that self-reflection requires, but it comes at high price. It degrades our relationships and perpetuates problems. Blaming people doesn't motivate them to improve–it triggers defensive responses. When people are defensive, they're less likely to listen to you or change.
When blame dominates your headspace, it distracts you from hearing important things someone else has to share. Get curious and opt for empathy instead. Consider what may have been driving a person’s choices. Don’t erroneously assign malicious intent to someone’s behavior. Telling yourself this kind of story without sufficient evidence will only add undue suffering to your life.
Blaming others can reduce how much influence you think you have in situations. Don’t let it take your power away. Asserting that you are right and someone else is wrong may help you feel morally superior, but when you think their behavior needs to change for you to feel better, you've narrowed your options for improvement.
Move Out of a Blame Mindset
Change Your Language
Often people proclaim, "You made me feel…" Remember, no one can "make" you feel anything. Your emotional reactions may be a natural reaction to a stimulus someone else sets in motion, but at the end of the day, your feelings are your own. Don’t confuse cause and influence. When you say, "She made me upset when…" self edit to, "I felt upset when… " It may seem subtle, but changing the habitual use of certain words and phrases can profoundly shift how you see yourself, others, and the world around you.
Account for Multiple Factors
Something someone else says or does is rarely the single cause of your reaction. Human behavior is complex, and we are all operating in a multifaceted context. There can be myriad reasons to explain a person's behavior. It also means your reaction to them is likely fueled by more than one thing, too. Consider alternative explanations for another person's choices. As you reflect on your feelings, ask, "What else could be contributing to my response right now?" This line of self-reflection is particularly important when your reaction is not commensurate with the situation at hand. If the intensity of your response doesn't match the context, it's a clue you're probably reacting to more than meets the eye.
An important reality principle of relationships is that we can't change other people. If you want to change a situation, step back and consider how you may be contributing to it. Often we are complicit in creating conditions that we complain about. If you're unhappy or upset and want a change, start by looking in the mirror. Ask, "How am I participating in what is happening here?" Instead of casting blame, take ownership. Use agency and pursue actions that will improve your situation.
The times we choose blame are when we need nuance the most. Blame is easy, but it won’t get you where you want to go. Exert the cognitive effort to practice self-awareness and take a fuller perspective. It's much more likely to pay off. Pointing fingers rarely leads to productive outcomes.
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