In his book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, cognitive behavioral therapist David Burns identifies several cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking that are false or inaccurate and have the potential to cause psychological distress. One of the distortions that Burns discussed was personalization – the act of blaming ourselves for something that is not within our control. The flip side of this distortion is blaming other people for what happens in our lives. An example of this would be someone saying, “If the barista had made my coffee faster, I wouldn’t have been late to my meeting.”
Do you find yourself blaming others when events don’t unfold in the ways in which you want them to? Once you blame someone, do you then think they deserve to be treated or thought of poorly? Do you notice this pattern repeating often in your life? If so, it’s probably because you are engaged in the blame game. This post will primarily focus on our choice to blame other people, the reasons we do it, as well as ways to overcome this distortion. If you would like to learn more about how cognitive behavioral therapy can help you overcome the blame game, then contact Citron Hennessey and schedule an appointment at our Manhattan office.
What Is Blame?
Blame is defined as assigning responsibility for a fault or wrong. We blame others for a number of events: so and so made us late, she made me feel guilty, they pressured me to make a decision, he made me explode with rage. Blaming others leads to several unhelpful emotions, such as resentment, anger, and hatred. We blame others for our behaviors, our thoughts, and our feelings that are negative. I have yet to meet anyone who blames people for the good things that happen in our lives.
Why Do We Blame Others?
Blame is an incredibly easy and effortless tactic to use when we feel defensive. If you don’t hold yourself accountable for the consequences of your behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, then you get to continue living life thinking that you don’t have any flaws or areas in need of improvement. Blame is often used by those of us who have a desire or need to be perfect. When discussing blame with clients, I find that clients who blame more usually have the irrational demand “I must/should/ought to be perfect and if I’m not, then I’m unworthy/unloveable/a failure/etc.” Holding ourselves accountable for our actions usually puts us in a vulnerable position, and as a result, it can be difficult to do.
When we blame others, we refuse responsibility for our contributions to the problem. Blaming other people is an easy out, and an easy way for us to continue our behaviors which may be the source of the problem we’re hoping to put on someone else. This denial of responsibility also denies us control of a given situation. Once I blame the MTA employee, the barista who makes my coffee at a snail’s pace, my partner, my upbringing, or my therapist, I can no longer change my circumstances because I’m thinking “Well, I didn’t do anything to cause my problem; This was all her fault.” Blaming others keeps us from seeing ways we can alter our behavior to achieve a desired outcome, it leaves us powerless, and it stunts our personal growth.
How to Avoid the Habit of Blaming
1. Stop reinforcing your unhelpful thinking patterns. After a scenario arises in which you find yourself blaming someone, it is likely that you’ll want to pick up the phone and tell a friend about how stupidly this person behaved, complain to your coworkers about this person, or vent to anyone who wants to listen. However, when we blame others and repeatedly recount the story to others, we reinforce the blame and our emotions that result from it. The next time you blame someone, try to not recount the story at all to anyone, and see how it affects you emotionally, mentally, or physically.
2. Change the ways in which you view mistakes. Instead of viewing errors as failures to be blamed on others, try to see them as opportunities for self-improvement. By acknowledging your responsibility, you are more able to learn from your mistakes and gain greater control of your life.
3. See a therapist. As stated earlier in this blog, people who blame often have a fragile sense of self-worth. They believe they can’t make a mistake, as doing so would mean they are flawed. Seeing a therapist will help you work towards accepting your human fallibility and capacity for error without degrading yourself or avoiding holding yourself accountable.
If you would like to take action now, then give Citron Hennessey a call. Schedule an appointment at our comfortable Manhattan offices and our mental health counselors can help you avoid blaming others and begin to take responsibility.