"It's all your fault!," the woman screamed at her husband. "If I hadn't quit school to marry you, I would have had my college degree by now. I wouldn't have to depend on you!"
This woman is engaged in blaming, that common yet destructive tactic of assigning guilt to other people for the wrongs we perceive in our lives. She's readily heaping blame onto her mate. But she's unwilling to recognize her participation in her plight or to take steps to improve her situation.
The word blame is derived from the Late Latin word blasphemare, meaning to utter blasphemy, to curse or to revile. Players involved in the blame game like to find fault in the actions of others, then berate those same folks for their behavior.
Of course, sometimes we have been wronged, and others clearly are at fault. If I grew up in a household where my mother fed me excessive amounts of fatty foods, I wouldn't be responsible for being overweight as a child.
If, on the other hand, I continued to overeat as an adult, did nothing to change my dietary habits and pointed the finger at my mother for overfeeding me, then I would be blaming her for my actions and not accepting any responsibility for myself.
Blame has devastating consequences for both ourselves and our relationships. First, we feel constant anger and unhappiness. We feel dissatisfied with our lives. Nothing seems to go right. We may direct our emotions outward by becoming sarcastic or hypercritical. Or we may absorb them and be chronically morose or depressed.
We become obsessed about others' wrongdoings. Nothing that they say or do diminishes their culpability for the misdeed.
We feel and act in a powerless manner. We wholeheartedly embrace the role of victim and fling our martyrdom toward the perpetrator every chance we get.
Loved ones are frequently at a loss about how to make things any better. A husband may try in vain to please his wife but be met by a cold shoulder and retort, "If you hadn't made me move and leave my friends, I wouldn't be so unhappy."
Finally, we do nothing to effect any changes. No steps are taken to remediate the problem. Blamers relish making accusations but are noticeably absent when it's time to take action.
What these fault finders overlook is that their blaming behavior keeps them embroiled in the very situation that they claim to want to escape. Yes, they may have been wronged, perhaps even grievously so. But their focus on the other's sins prevents them from taking any measures to make things right. Their blaming and subsequent lack of action makes them as complicit in their misery as the initial perpetrator of the crime.
If, however, blamers examined their own behavior and asked themselves, "What can I do to make this situation better?," they would misdirect less energy toward hatred, resentment and misery and start developing a plan that would vastly improve their lives.
Steps to consider
Recognize your own blaming behavior.
Listen to your words. Do you frequently make accusations, such as "You did this to me"? Are you often angry, resentful or bitter? Do you feel powerless to make any changes? Then you're probably doing lots of blaming, and it's time to reclaim personal control.
Identify behaviors you'd like to change.
Take a close look at your job and your family. Decide on specific areas that cause you the most emotional pain. Then use this personal inventory to serve as a guide for further change.
Focus your attention inward.
You can't control what another person says or does, so direct your energies toward yourself. Make sure that you are behaving in a way that addresses the identified problem. Then let go of further worry about things you cannot change.
Create a plan of action.
Stop behaving like a victim and instead, face life head-on. You may not be able to fix a specific problem, but you can make a choice about how you'll handle it. For example, if your husband drinks too much alcohol, you can decide to attend Al-Anon and stop buying him beer.
Make tough choices.
Just because you stop blaming doesn't mean everything will instantly improve. In fact, deciding to reclaim your personal power often means you're face-to-face with issues you've avoided for years. Use this as a time to take out the emotional garbage and create a clean slate for yourself. Whether this means ending a disastrous relationship or finding a new set of friends, you'll be glad you took the steps to get your life back on track.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, go to lindalewisgriffith.com.