The ways we all blame and how blaming causes massive anxiety.
There’s such relief in knowing who’s to blame. If we are suffering, someone must be responsible. We’re lonely, hurt, or frightened and someone provoked those feelings. Others around us are unhappy, we have to know who to blame, someone must have not done their job right.
A man got angry because his wife suggested he build the fence he’d been meaning to put up. He thinks she ought to have known how tired he was – she was being totally insensitive. The wife familiarly then accepts that it was all her fault, she should have known better and assumes blame her husband is not happy.
The problem was that he expected her to be clairvoyant, to read his mind, when it was his responsibility to inform her of his fatigue and say no. She accepted and blamed herself. At times we all do this.
Blaming can come in two types, the never-ending blaming of others which assumes no responsibility and the never-ending blaming of ourselves.
Blaming others involves making someone else responsible for the choices and decisions that are actually our own responsibility.
A woman blamed the butcher for selling hamburger that was always full of fat. But it was really her problem: she could have paid more for leaner meat or gone to a different butcher.
In blame systems, someone is always doing something to us and we ignore all responsibility for asserting our needs, saying no, or going elsewhere for what we want.
The person placing the blame on others commonly takes up the victim position.
“The teacher sucked that’s why I failed the test”, “My mother didn’t drive me to work so I got fired for missing days”, “The police man was so annoying, I was going to get that light fixed eventually”, “My partner doesn’t love me enough so I feel bad about myself”.
At the centre of this distortion we might find that the person never learned to take responsibility coming into adulthood. This is not their fault and may relate to never being taken care of as a child.
The person might also have had too much care taken of them as a child and expects their every need to be anticipated. There is normally a high-level of emotional reasoning (if I feel bad, something must have happened) and reverse mind reading (they should be able to read my mind) involved here.
The person anticipates that the other should know their needs and respond to them appropriately. There is a complete disavowal of responsibility or communication and often the blamer seeks the moral high ground (Fallacy of Fairness).
However, this is in extreme and obvious cases. Yet, we can all employ this at times to a certain extent. We are the central character in our own story so it is easy to see others as impacting on us more than they actually are.
Why we blame others:
One of the main reasons we blame others is a blindness to our own power to change situations. There may also be a familiarity and laziness in complaining that our uncomfortable emotions must be someone else’s fault.
For some of us “blamers” it may be important to consider the role of transference.
What the hell is that?
It is something that therapists are trained to watch out for but it happens in all human relationships. It is an unconscious phenomenon and every single one of us does it.
Transference is where we take things that happened or didn’t happen in a previous relationship and bring them forward into our current relationships.
We all have needs, for most of us one or more of these needs might never have been met. If we had a need to be loved, for attention, to be cared for and this need was never met by our care givers, we are going to spend our lives looking for others to meet these needs.
We transfer our un-met needs onto others and often when they don’t get it right we get mad, mad as hell. We think that the opposite of love is anger, but as I’ve said before the opposite of love is indifference. Anger, in relationships can often mean unmet love; it’s because we feel they’ve let us down.
But really all the time we go along transferring un-met needs onto others we are just going around in circles. This can be why some women go for men like their fathers, and why boys do the same with mother types. It’s why we keep picking the same type of person to fall for. It’s a dangerous habit and happens in all relationships not just romantic ones!
While we blame or expect others to meet our needs we are powerless, vulnerable and out of control of our own happiness. It makes us unreasonable and brings conflict as a cherry on top, well worth changing.
Seeing ourselves as responsible:
The opposite of blaming others are those that focus blame exclusively on themselves. This can happen because we have made ourselves responsible for everyone/thing.
These people see’s everything as their fault and feel responsible for everyone. When they see others not happy they blame themselves.
Seeing ourselves as responsible for people and things that go wrong comes partially from habit and partially again from our distorted beliefs.
Negative core beliefs and assumptions are like mental virus’ that infect our minds and poison our thoughts. Much of my work in clinic using CBT is in helping clients to first identify and then challenge beliefs that they may have held for their entire lives.
For example: A young man felt so ashamed of dropping out of college, he thought that for his family it would be the worst thing imaginable in life that he had done this.
He assumed he had somehow ruined his family by his actions; in reality they didn’t mind, he was 18. This is tied to the control fallacies where we assume that we are responsible for other peoples’ happiness.
Why do some think this way? Perhaps in our family of origin we became the peace maker or the one who made sure everyone was alright.
In terms of taking on too much responsibility many do this when they are children. It evolves at a time when the child feels responsible or wishes they could change the situation.
Exposure to fighting in the family, death, accidents, trouble between parents or certainly a parent in addiction leads to the beliefs that I am now responsible and it’s my job not to allow anything bad to happen.
This can also happen a lot in older children in the family who felt responsible to protect little siblings even though they were only children themselves.
As I spoke about in the piece on beliefs and anxiety, the foundations of our belief system got laid down by us when we were really small.
Many people carry beliefs like these into adulthood and then place insane pressure on themselves to be the fixer. They blame themselves when it all goes wrong. I think we all know someone like that.
The person who blames themselves thinks that they are the one anointed to do everything. Little do they realise it is not their responsibility!
It is our responsibility to assert our needs, say no, or go elsewhere. Other people are not responsible for knowing or helping us meet our needs.
No one else can really be at fault if we, as a responsible adult, are distressed or unhappy. Focus on the choices we have made or continue to make that created or maintain this situation. Examine what options we have now for coping with it.
How we can drop the victim standpoint is to remember that in every situation we are at least %50 to %100 percent responsible for allowing something to happen or entirely %100 if we are allowing it to continue to happen.
We make a choice to stay in situations where we are not happy. We are also 100% responsible for our own happiness no mater what. No one else can make us happy, asking them to is unfair and only leads to disappointment.
This is hard because every decision we make closes the possibility of other options. For many of us it’s just easier to claim powerlessness rather than take responsibility. Taking responsibility means accepting the consequences of our own choices.
There is a difference between taking responsibility and turning the blame on ourselves. Blaming ourselves because we have negative beliefs about ourselves or take too much responsibility means attacking our self-esteem and labelling ourselves bad for things we can’t control.
Taking responsibility doesn’t imply that we are also responsible for what happens to others.
Blaming ourselves for another person’s problems is a form of self-aggrandizement. It means we think we are having more impact on their lives than they are.
If someone asks us to make them happy, we have a responsibility only to ourselves to make ourselves happy. We can support someone, but we are not responsible, just like they are not responsible for our happiness!
Fortunately the beliefs keep us locked in blaming can be challenged and changed. left unchallenged blaming others or thinking we have responsibility for others is going to cause anxiety!
Therapy is a great way to get to the bottom of these questions and at Anxiety Ireland, we have a team of accredited psychotherapists who work helping thousands of people with anxiety every year.
If curious about anxiety please feel free to visit our website, take our anxiety quiz or get anxiety help. On this page we will continue to write about Anxiety and related topics. We are always happy to answer messages to our page or I am happy to take calls/text to see how I can help: 087 063 0948.
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Team Anxiety Ireland
Anxiety is a merry-go-round, going nowhere fast, it’s ok to step off.