The Blame Game
The art of blaming situations, people, and events for the quality of our own lives is a skill we acquire as a child. Children however, do not start out lying and blaming others. In fact, children generally begin by blaming themselves for the poor behavior of others. A child will eventually learn to lie because it eases the pain of what he or she has done, or what he or she is experiencing. (Lying is therefore a mood changing behavior and can become habit forming.)
For example, a child will break something and generally feel bad even though they might not look that way to others when the incident is first discovered. The broken object is now of less value. Even worse, the child may also feel like he or she are of less personal value as well, because he or she had failed to properly care for the object that is now broken.
This experience is painful enough for a child to endure without the hurtful consequences often imposed by adults. The toy is no longer the same and the child feels bad that they were unable to take care of it in the way that he or she had imagined they could. It can get even worse when others who have no knowledge of how the toy has broken discover the losses. If the child who broke the toy is emotionally shut down or fragmented, he or she will fail to take responsibility for the broken object and the blame game will begin. It is most likely that others will want to assign the responsibility to someone.
Assigning responsibility usually comes in form of blame and generally is accompanied by shame. You can see this for yourself in the following case example:
Mom: John, do not run when you are carrying that piggy bank!
John: Thinks to himself – what the heck, I can do it – I can do anything!
Sound: C R A S H
Mom: John!!!! How could you? Your grandmother just brought you that piggy bank. You should be ashamed of yourself. You are going to be the death of me!
John: It dropped. I did not do it. I don’t care about some dumb piggy bank anyway. Where is the candy? I am hungry! There is never any food in this house.
A child says, “It broke” and an adult, provided he or she has become an adult, says, “I broke it.” The child is failing to take responsibility. The adult is accepting responsibility. If however, we as adults continue to shirk responsibility for our own lives, our own feelings, and our own behaviors, we will inevitably need to assign the responsibility to someone. We look outside of ourselves. We blame.
If we are to grow in our romantic relationships we are going to need to avoid blaming, lying, and hurting. While the tendency to look outside ourselves for the cause of our own discomfort is a character defect that many of us acquired as children, unfortunately it has become as ineffective for us as adults as any other addictive behavior or drug of choice.
This is because we blame others when the perceived or real costs for appearing “wrong” are frighteningly high. During these high-stakes moments in childhood, and then in adulthood as well, many of us discovered that lying would ease the pain of what we have done. The “drug like” behavior of deceiving others, and eventually ourselves, became a “first addiction” for those of us who have perfected the art of self-justification. Yes, blaming and diverting responsibility away from ourselves sometimes appears to be an addiction in its own right.
Intimacy is about openness, honesty, and vulnerability. An inadequately treated addiction however, will erode each one of those features of true intimacy. If we are to create and maintain a true lasting relationship with our partner, we will need to be free of our dependence on blaming others – especially our partner – for our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We need to break our habit of lying to ourselves and to others. We must take responsibility for our own lives and decisions so that we can bring our true selves to each other in open and vulnerable honesty.
This article is the first of two Psych Central articles on this topic written by John & Elaine Leadem, senior supervisors of the Leadem Counseling & Consulting offices in Toms River, NJ and East Brunswick, NJ. The sequel to this article is titled: “The Blame Game” – Revisited. The content of these two blog articles are based on their book ”An Ounce of Prevention: A Course in Relapse Prevention.” To learn more about relapse prevention, or for more information on becoming trained as a professional relapse interventionist see our website at www.leademcounseling.com
Leadem, J. (2013). The Blame Game. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 18, 2017, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/couples/2013/05/the-blame-game/