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Playing a Game with No Winners: Blame

Steven Topper, LCPC

Try a little game in the morning and see if you can go one whole day without blaming anyone, for anything. It may be harder than we’d think. Often in life we find ourselves wronged. It may be random strangers, friends, family, or significant others that have brought pain and wrongdoing. These experiences often lead to anger, frustration, disappointment, among many other uncomfortable emotions. It can be a painful and sobering experience, though our brains often ask us to do something else as well – they want us to plan ahead. Don’t let this happen again, it’s horrible, our brains tell us. As usual, the brain is working extra hard to protect us, and that (once again!) can have unintended consequences. One potential strategy for avoiding future wronging is in placing blame somewhere. If we can place blame on something or someone, it can potentially increase our likelihood of avoiding the wronging in the future, as we’ll know what to look for. In fact, many of us have found ourselves blaming inanimate objects (Stupid TV! Stupid pitching wedge!), surely in the last week you’ve found yourself blaming some household object for not working properly.

We also tend to place a lot of blame upon ourselves. At times it’s for things within our control: showed up late to work, pushed a friend away instead of opening up, snapped at the kid because we were tired. Other times, it may be for things outside of our control: other people’s actions (I shouldn’t have put myself in that position), outcomes (I’m wasn’t smart enough to be offered that promotion), or the past (I never should have gone to that school). Where we’ve started by trying to prepare for the future, we quickly get wrapped up in rumination spirals. Blame can quickly become an avalanche, spiraling us toward shame, guilt, regret, anger, and frustration.

If we look underneath blame, we can often see helpful tools to move us toward health and wellbeing. Maybe I want more support from my partner, and that comes out as blaming them for never taking my side. Or I want to go to the gym more often, so I blame myself for not being more disciplined. We can see how at the core we are looking for some kind of change to occur. The question then becomes, does blame work?

The answer, it turns out, is that it works very infrequently. This is because blame pulls us into a battle of assigning it to the exact right places. Instead of focusing on how to change, we focus on what went wrong and why. I can blame my parents for almost all of my wrongdoings, though it doesn’t typically amount to much change in my life. And when placing blame within a relationship, we often find ourselves arguing with our partners about who is at fault. This all ultimately serves as a distraction from our goals – change!

One way we can reintroduce agents of change is to recognize that Blame is accountability without compassion. What if I brought compassion and empathy toward this perceived wrong, instead of anger and resentment? What if I forgave myself for being imperfect while wanting to hold myself accountable for making positive change in my life? Blame asks us to look backward, where accountability asks us to look in the here-and-now. If blame was less important, what would it free us up to change right now? It becomes both tiring and more challenging to move with wisdom toward change without bringing compassion along too, for the reality of the situation. Instead of blaming, challenge yourself to hold yourself and others accountable for the sake of moving toward growth.

If you’ve found yourself feeling stuck frequently blaming yourself or others, it may be useful to try counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!

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