When things aren’t going right, cue the blame game! It’s time to search for an out, lay fault at the feet of others, and absolve ourselves of responsibility for missteps, mistakes, or misunderstandings.
We place blame when our relationships disintegrate. We place blame when projects at school or work don’t go our way. In the civic and political arena, we place blame on the other leadership, the other party, the rigged system.
The blame game is so much a part of the fabric of American culture, many of us don’t even think about it.
Is Blame Helpful?
Yes, I said blame — not cause or reasons, which might require that we acknowledge and grapple with the reality of complex situations, not to mention our role in their making. It’s so much simpler to point at the other guy — their words, their silence; their actions, their inaction; their waffling, their intransigence.
The exact definition of blame? Blame is a reproach, the assignment of fault, culpability, condemnation, censure. We can feel the bristling energy — negative energy — in each of these terms.
Personally, I think of blame as a shield, a way to protect ourselves from facing tough realities, a means to deny and forestall admissions that complicated issues exist, and that we need an assist in resolving them — assuming they can be resolved. I also think of blame as a way of deflecting personal or institutional accountability, a diversion, an obfuscation.
Shall I state that again? More clearly? The blame game is a distraction. And blaming individuals or select groups for problems that have far more complex economic, political, social, and cultural factors at work is, in my book, disgraceful.
While playing the blame game may provide momentary relief, it does little to improve a situation that needs addressing. This is true in politics; this is certainly the case in relationships.
Blaming Others Is Toxic
In the context of relationships, at its most toxic, blaming others for all that is wrong in our lives is a virtual guarantee that we will never achieve emotional intimacy with another human being, much less a modicum of happiness. How could we, with so little aptitude for vulnerability or for admitting our failings?
I had a parent who was an expert at the blame game, and thus she painted herself into the corner of victimhood, making loving her a challenge, and leaving her in a state of resentment and bitterness.
I’ve had relationships wherein nothing was ever “his fault” or his doing; any problem was the making of someone else — at the office, or with me.
Describing the psychology of blaming others, Psychology Today points out
The blame game consists of blaming another person for an event or state of affairs thought to be undesirable, and persisting in it instead of proactively making changes that ameliorate the situation.
Sure, there are circumstances and situations in which culpability must be identified, we determine who is at fault, and likewise, appropriate consequences. The legal system is a clear example of this. And, I am not proposing that we stifle all emotional response — as if we could! — when we feel ourselves unjustly or unduly “accused” in terms of acts or intentions.
But so often, we cycle and recycle our desperate finger-wagging ways without wishing to examine further. And it is that deeper dive that allows us to actually learn, and take those lessons forward in making better choices and decisions.
Self-Blame Is a Bad Game
Some of us tend to lay blame on ourselves, taking on the lion’s share of responsibility for unwanted outcomes, when an objective bystander might view those results as the consequence of many people, many actions, many interactions — in addition to our own involvement.
All too frequently, I’ve turned the finger of fault on myself to an extreme; that, too, becomes a destructive, knee-jerk response, and not necessarily one that leads to exploration, to helpful introspection, to real change.
If my marriage was falling apart, “it must be my fault.” I must not have been understanding enough, kind enough, loving enough, attentive enough, sweet enough, sexy enough… and the list goes on.
If I butted heads with a manager at work, I must not have been articulate enough in my dealings, or thinking strategically enough, tactically enough, politically enough.
Isn’t self-blame, unchecked, a form of self-sabotage? Isn’t it also a counterproductive distraction?
Give Emotions Their Airing, Then…
In most of the conflicts we experience with people in our lives, blame may be used as a diversionary tactic. Setting aside those who knowingly point fingers to slither out of accountability, can we agree that it is pointless to perpetuate blame, which only serves to weigh us down and prevent us from moving forward?
The reality in all of these situations — there are many causes and many factors for what goes wrong — some our own, some “the other guy’s,” some utterly unpredictable and without “fault” to be found.
And given that we are in the midst of a contentious and crucial election battlefield, I can’t help but mention this: I would love for us to stop pointing fingers, to stop obscuring issues, to be adults. Better to zoom out and regain perspective; to drill down into priorities, possibilities, and realistic solutions; to extricate ourselves from the political blame game, which need not obliterate our ideals.
My bottom line?
Fault-finding beyond a reasonable emotional shelf life just doesn’t pay off. On the contrary; it is a smokescreen, a deflection of necessary accountability, or an unreasonable indulgence in self-hatred. Too often the blame game becomes a pain game, and never leads to the improved situation you seek.
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