Ever watch children fight and then get in trouble by a parent for it? What is the common thing that happens? Blame. One child will say something like “She started it.” Or, “I didn’t do it.” And, “It’s all his fault.” Then they proceed to fight some more over whose fault it is for causing the trouble. Ever notice we do the same thing as adults? Why is it that we don’t want to accept responsibility for our own actions, our own contributions to the situation, or our own faults that lead to it in the first place? As immature children, it’s natural that we don’t have perspective on this and we default into survival mode. After all, stepping up and saying “I did it,” or “It was my bad,” is the type of thing that usually gets you a punishment of some kind. So it’s an avoidance tactic wrapped in a survival blanket. Trouble is threatening and anything threatening sparks our survival instincts to kick-in.
The problem with blame is that we never take accountability or responsibility for our actions. We don’t own our shit. I’ve found that actually owning it is a big relief. When we get into survival mode, we are actually in fight mode. And, fighting is exhausting work. The more we resist and push to blame someone else for what is happening in our life, the more energy we expand pushing it on someone else. And, the more we push it on someone else, it never gets resolved. Because guess what? The other person is deflecting the blame either back on you or elsewhere. And nothing gets resolved. The easiest way to dissolve a situation, is simply to own up. Have you ever noticed that when you’re in an argument with someone how quickly it can get diffused if you just say “You’re right,” or “I’m sorry”? Then, there is nothing to really argue about so much anymore. You can visibly see the other person’s shoulders come down and the hackles on their fur settle down.
The easiest thing to do is actually accept the blame. And really it is not blame. It is just responsibility and accountability for what happened and your part in it. Taking responsibility will set you free. Why? Because the burden of pushing that blame Boulder up a mountain and forcing it upon someone else who is resistant and fighting you all the way will be lifted. Once you take responsibility, the door opens for resolution. It may be as simple as saying “I was wrong,” or “I made a mistake,” and acknowledging that. Often times that is all that is needed.
Recently I was visiting my daughter in Seattle and found myself doing the blame game. I had a limited time window while in town and wanted to also see one of my girlfriends, so I invited her to the dinner get together I had with my daughter. Later I found out my daughter was upset as I was talking to my friend more than her! I guess I did a bad job of juggling the two and, in retrospect, should have prioritized just connecting with my daughter. While in a heated discussion about it, I kept saying things like “well, you brought your boyfriend,” or “I only had so much time.” I was blaming other things for my behavior. Finally, she says “Mom, I just want you to acknowledge it was a bad idea and you shouldn’t have invited your friend too.” Once I acknowledged this, suddenly our angry bickering ceased and it wasn’t even something to discuss anymore. I made a mistake, I fessed up to it, and that was that. Everyone makes mistakes. Most of the time people will allow us good graces or second chances if we just admit it.
It’s the admitting part that is so hard and what we need to practice getting over. Why are we so fearful of admitting our transgressions? Fear. Fear we will be rejected. Getting back to the survivor mode discussion we were having earlier, it’s because the brain relates rejection to the possibility of being kicked out of the tribe. This could, quite literally, mean death. So it’s the old instinctual survivor programmed brain that is responding to the situation and looking for anyway to put the blame elsewhere so as to stay “safe.” Once you understand where the resistance is coming from, you can move past it. Baby steps are important here. Take a small action to use a single simple comment in these scenarios for starters. A good one I like to use is “I understand your point.” Say this and only this. Don’t follow up with a “But…” and start going into blame mode again. Practice using this one liner – pay attention to the shift in the conversation and the aggression being displayed by the other person. Once you say this, the other person will feel validated that you acknowledge their pain and that you value them as a person. This will go a long way. Over time, you will get better at saying this more readily versus as first where it might feel like choking down a very dry cracker! That’s okay. Movement and progress in this takes time and practice. Soon you’ll be able to add other responses to your repertoire like “I made a mistake.” “That didn’t work out like I expected.” “I didn’t think that one through.” “I was wrong.” Even perhaps “I’m sorry.”
Check out my exercise worksheet called the Blame Game <link to Blame Game exercise> to help you uncover some unresolved blame barriers in your life.
Blame Game Worksheet Exercise
What’s the blame game? What’s a blame barrier?
List the things you blame for the way your life is
- I blame my mom for drinking
- I blame my ex-husband for the divorce
- I blame my boss for being unhappy in my job
Now take each one and ask: What is my role in this?
- I make the choice to drink even if my mom stresses me out
- I had some things to do with the divorce
- I am unhappy in my job because it isn’t what I want to be doing
Now list what is your responsibility in the situation
- I can ignore my mother and not let her issues get me stressed out. I can chose not to drink.
- I can accept that keeping a marriage together takes my contributions too. Or, I can acknowledge that I made mistakes in the marriage.
- I can choose to find another job that is a better fit for me.
Now list an action you may decide to take as an outcome of going through this exercise
- When my mom stresses me out I am going to choose to do something else, like go for a walk, than drink.
- I am going to stop blaming my ex-husband for the divorce and focus on healing
- I am going to go apply for other jobs
Now that you’ve made your acknowledgements you can see how you have actually gotten your power back. When you blame someone else they own the power over you. When you acknowledge yourself and what you did and accept responsibility you take the power back into your own hands. From there it up to you what you do with it, but the possibilities are endless.