By Dr. Archie L. Bost
In my years of counseling, one issues stands out more than any other. That is the issue of blaming another person for things that go wrong or that are perceived to have gone wrong. I could give you hundreds of examples, but you the reader, know exactly what I am talking about. I hope to share with you some reasons that we blame others and how we can move out of the blame game and move toward healthy relationships. I believe that it is important to realize that blaming others and being blamed tends to erode hope.
Many couples get themselves in an endless cycle of blame, anger, and resentment. Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Blamers look for others to blame for the things they do not want to accept responsibility for. Another aspect of the blame game is to blame yourself for everything that goes wrong, even when you have nothing to do with the unfortunate outcome. This type of blamer see himself as inept, foolish, and irresponsible or even a failure.
Do you immediately look for others to blame when misfortunes happen? Do you look to place fault with someone, anyone other than yourself. Do you accept responsibility for common mishaps that are under your control? Or do you blame yourself for everything that goes wrong, even when it is not in your control or your responsibility? A blamer tends to be one extreme or the other and if they can’t find something or someone else to blame, they blame God. You can’t blame your partner for a tree falling on your roof in a storm, but you can blame God.
There are fundamental errors in blame. People who blame will excuse themselves for the same negative behavior they blame others for, and this is sometimes because of perspective. There is a strong desire to protect self, therefore, blame becomes a strong defense mechanism. Whether you call it projection, denial, or displacement—blame helps you preserve your sense of self-esteem by avoiding awareness of your own flaws or failings. This is an unhealthy protection of self and this type of self-protection leads us to attack another person and end up hurting them whether intentionally or not.
Most people fail to try to understand the causes of other people’s behavior or even their own behavior for that matter. There’s less effort involved in pointing out another’s contribution to a bad situation than in accepting the fact that we are actually at fault and determining to change so we don’t do it again. It is much easier to blame someone else than to accept responsibility for our actions and choices and make correction. We need to take the log out of our own eye before trying to take the speck out of the other person’s eye.
Sometimes we blame others because we choose to lie. It’s pretty easy to lie and blame someone else even when you know you’re at fault. You may figure that no one will know it was really you who committed the offense, so you blame someone else. The real issue is our heart… our heart needs an attitude change, it needs to be conformed to the very image of Christ. We must be transformed by the Word of God and develop an attitude where we really want to please God.
Although most parents try to parent the best they can, none of us were raised in a perfect environment and we reach adulthood with an assortment of emotions, thoughts and a mixed up belief system. Many are angry, full of resentment and they blame someone in their past for their current situation. This person may have been, or perceives they have been, treated very badly—maybe by a parent or some other significant person in their life. That other person is then blamed for the bad things that happen in the blamer’s life. I have found that if we take the time to understand the other person’s story we would blame less or maybe not at all. One example was a client that was raised in a home where yelling was the norm and the more my client cried, the more her mom yelled. Nothing she did was good enough for her mom, and she never measured up. She could not understand why her mom would treat her that way. This really came to the surface when my client had her first child. She was filled with anger and resentment toward her own mom. I asked my client about her mom’s childhood and my client knew nothing of her mom’s upbringing. One day my client got the courage to ask her mom why she yelled so much and why nothing was ever good enough for her. Her mom said “that is the only way I knew to parent”. My client’s mom then began to tell about how she was raised and about her own mom. After hearing the story, my client asked for more information about how her grandmother was raised. It turned out her grandmother had been an even stronger product of her environment, and each previous generation was worse as they looked back. After getting that new perspective and having more understanding, my client began to have much more compassion for her mother and their relationship began to heal. In fact, my client said that she was flooded with compassion for her mom, grandmother and the others before her and that compassion released her from the anger and resentment. She was free and blame was no longer part of her life.
As long as we blame others, we give up our power to change. Before I can make any significant changes in my life, I need to have a high level of awareness of my own heart. I can’t change without first knowing what change I need to make. The big alarm that tells me when something isn’t working is when I feel pain. Emotional pain always tells us that something is wrong and there is need to make an adjustment. This pain can be sadness, anger, unhappiness… basically any emotion that feels bad is a warning sign that something is wrong and adjustment is needed. Therefore, I view pain as a gift. It is through this pain that we can be brought to an awareness of the need to change and that is empowering. We are then able to make the adjustment needed.
I read somewhere that most successful people take 100% responsibility for their lives. In a good marriage, both husband and wife take 100% responsibility for where the marriage is and where it will go...it is 100/100% not 50/50%. When we each take responsibility for our own behaviors, attitudes and words, we become more aware of our tendency to blame as well as other unhealthy traits. As I have been working on this in my own life, I discovered that I would catch myself merely thinking a thought that was placing blame on another and I knew that had to change. Letting go of the blame meant I would take full responsibility even for my thoughts. Now don’t get me wrong—I haven’t arrived fully at this yet, but I desire to grow.
We learn early in life to blame either other people or things. A child might spill their milk and say, “It spilled”, thus not taking responsibility and owning that they accidentally spilled the milk. That child does not want to get in trouble and blames the spill on the milk rather than on their self. As parents, we are to train our children to take responsibility by pointing out what really happened in a kind, loving, gentle way. We should let them know that they are not in trouble, because children really do want to please their parents. The parent who jumps on the child at that point will raise a child, who in adulthood, will naturally blame others for what happened to avoid getting in trouble.
In marriage, when a conflict arises it is easy to fuel the fire with all kinds of “proof” of our partner’s character flaws. We build a case against them to protect ourselves. We start interpreting innocent comments as critical or hurtful because we have built that case against them. We will not see the comment as it was intended, but through the lenses of blame. The problem with blame in marriage is once an argument starts, blame tends to go back and forth getting more and more heated with both husband and wife getting hurt. We must learn to not let it get started. When our thoughts start moving in that direction, we must stop them quickly for the health of the marriage. We must calm ourselves and realize how blessed we are to be married to our spouse and the treasure they are to us.
It does not take long when we are the recipient of blame for it to begin to erode self-confidence. As self-confidence erodes so does hope. Therefore, a married couple must determine that they will eliminate blame from their relationship. We must break the pattern of blame and accept responsibility. We must grow to understand our spouse and their perspective, grow in our compassion for them and break that old patterns/habits of blame. When this happens, we will be filled with hope.
Ultimately Christ must be our hope—not people, and as we grow in Him we will take responsibility for ourselves and grow to become who the Lord wants us to be. We must continually ask ourselves, “Does this please the Lord” or “Does this glorify the Lord”. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. Life is not about me. Remembering this allows me to turn loose of blame and frees me to love others and grow in hope.