The Art and Science of Change
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The Costs of Blame
Then are our parents’ admonitions to take responsibility for our behavior and feelings just empty rhetoric? Are they misguided and antiquated notions that are no match for this powerful biologically driven urge? Not quite.
Many of us recognize that blame can be toxic to our intimate relationships, close friendships and long-term happiness. Relationship therapists the world over disagree on many things regarding healthy relationships and what is needed to maintain them, but if there's one area of consensus in the field, it’s that blame of a partner is a relationship albatross, if not destroyer.
Since we all at a deep level want to avoid blame, blaming and being blamed creates a wedge of disconnection, a severing of a sense of partnership and good will. Blame often and strongly enough, and soon you may find yourself with few and tenuous relationships, a condition shown by loads of research to be correlated with very negative effects on long-term health and well-being.
Fortunately, giving up blame has a number of other advantages besides relationship enhancement, despite it’s short-term costs and psychic pain to our egos. Personal growth and change is much more possible. Conflicts can resolve rather than eat away at us. Energy and anger is spared from a reduction in arguing. Others will often ultimately respect us far more. We’ll have a greater ability to steer our emotional lives.
But that short-term ego-protecting payoff of blame is so tempting. We’re like a gambler at the slot machines, ignoring that our money is dwindling, hoping for those occasional payoffs that keep the fantasy alive that we're winning. We want that payoff of relief that successfully blaming others can bring when we convince others to see us as infallible and blameless, and/or to do what we want them to do to make us happier. All the while we ignore that our intimacy and good will with our partner is dwindling from our shared relationship bank account, soon to be so exhausted that we’re broke and declaring our relationship bankrupt because our partner just couldn’t see the truth like we could and behave accordingly.
Giving up blame is the price we have to pay for a great relationship. Often we win far more by acknowledging and dealing with small losses of ego by taking responsibility along the way. We can learn, grow, and deepen our connections to others by acknowledging our flaws and fallible thinking and perceptions.
Acknowledging our part in our negative feelings and interactions is very challenging, as the risks to our ego can seem high and the payoff of greater intimacy is never assured. And we will never perfectly be able to give up blame. It’s a part of our makeup and can do some good in limited circumstances. But so too is, as our wise elders knew, the ability to take responsibility for our feelings and life circumstances. The choice is always present. Is the price worth it to you?
Are you ready to put your relationship on the right track? Book a free, 20-minute phone consultation or an individual appointment at my Midtown Sacramento office. Call today at (916) 549-5772 or email me here to schedule an appointment or discuss how I can help you make the changes you seek. If your ready to get started right away, click here to schedule an appointment.
I look forward to supporting your success.
Steve is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a practice in Midtown Sacramento. He specializes in helping individuals discover their resistance to relationship and personal happiness, implement tools to become the person they want to be in order to attract and keep the person they really want to be with, and create a life of greater confidence and satisfaction.
Steve Mackey is a cognitive-behavioral, exposure based, and motivational coherence-based mental health counselor and psychotherapist who offers individual counseling and psychotherapy services for issues related to anxiety, depression, fear, mood problems, low self-esteem, anger, habits, and relationship struggles for adults at 2020 Capitol Ave., Suite 5, Sacramento, CA 95811, serving the Sacramento, Elk Grove, Folsom, Roseville, Citrus Heights, Orangevale, Carmichael, Davis, and Galt communities. For more information contact 916 549-5772.
The information provided on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Visiting this website does not constitute a therapist-client relationship. Information found on the internet is not a substitute for individualized evaluation and treatment by a mental health professional. All written and visual materials are the exclusive copyright of Steve Mackey, © 2011-2016.
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Advantages of Blame
All of us have to wrestle with the idea of personal responsibility repeatedly throughout our lives, Who is responsible for the way I feel and how I behave, especially for my bad feelings and negative behaviors? If it’s someone else - you, in fact - then you’ve done something wrong, had better change, and I better make that pretty clear to you, and maybe others, as well (through criticism, nagging, whining, passive aggression, withdrawal, contempt, hostility, gossip - you have watched those Real Housewives shows, haven’t you? Or maybe you’ve caught a post-game interview where the referees were the real culprits for a bad performance).
In blaming others, I will be able to avoid doing something very hard, looking at my own flaws and fallible behaviors and working to change them. I won’t have to face the fear of acknowledging my flaws to myself, admitting them to others, and risk losing their respect and approval. If I deny my responsibility, I won’t have to berate myself for my failures, something I may be especially prone to doing.
I may also get to feel morally superior, powerful, vengeful, right and true, a crusader for justice, or a victim of injustice who deserves support. I can convince others that it’s not me they should find fault with, but rather someone or something else. My fragile ego will stay intact and I can continue to present my image to the world as one who does not have notable flaws and sees truth so perceptively. Blame others skillfully enough and you just might get elected president.
And it’s so hard to see our role in this blame game. We truly believe that we’re not to blame. Because if we’re going to convince others we’re not to blame, we had better convince ourselves first. We don’t want to be like that used car salesperson who knows he’s selling a lemon and is more likely to give away small clues that he doesn't believe in the product, and thus lose the sale. We want to be like the salesperson who gives no clues as to her product’s flaws because she's convinced herself the product is fantastic. We’ve been selling our product, ourselves as an infallible person and/or blameless victim for whom others should change, since we were too little to remember when and how it all started.
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The Price of a Great Relationship
“Mom, he hit me.” “I didn’t do anything.” “Yes you did.” “Well you started it.” “Did not.” “You called me a jerk” “That’s because you used my skateboard and wouldn’t give it back.” And on it goes. Those are kids for you. We were all like that once. So nice that we’ve grown up and left those days behind.
Or have we? “You’re never on time.” “I’m not that late.” “That’s not the point. You’re inconsiderate of my time.” “It’s not like you’ve never been late.” “But you’re always late.” “No, I”m usually on time.” “There you go again, defending yourself when I bring up a valid point.” “Well you’re always criticizing me. Lay off me just for once. I’ve had a bad day.” “It’s always about you, isn’t it?” And on it goes.
Maybe we’re not so grown up after all.
What to make of this compulsion to blame others for how we’re feeling and what happens to us in life? We weren’t taught to do it. Nobody told us, “Hey, I’ve got this great strategy you can use to get your way and come off smelling like a rose. You’ve just got to practice all the time.” Maybe it was role modeled for us by others, but where did they “learn” it? It seems to come so naturally and at such an early age. As soon as a toddler realizes that others have minds separate from his own that she can influence/manipulate, blaming others (as well as lying, among many new behaviors), begins.
Is blame then a biologically driven mental construct that has advantages to all of us who employ it, and so survives in each subsequent generation? Is it a sort of instinctual knee jerk reaction that serves to protect us in some way?
Given the huge amount of propaganda we’re subjected to from an early age to give up blame and to start taking responsibility for ourselves and admit our wrongdoings, one could very well conclude so. These marginally successful, at best, parental and societal efforts to get us to give up blame as children tell us just how tenaciously this mental state and strategy has a hold over us. There must be some pretty good reasons for this blame impulse to be so strong.