May 19 – Blame

Written by Karyn Hall

May 19, 2020

During times of stress, our ability to cope in positive ways is not at its best. We tend to put on our armor and be defensive. One of the ways we do that is by blaming. It must be someone’s fault that this is happening, whatever this is. Do you blame others when life doesn’t go the way you want it to? Do you blame yourself?  Maybe you see blaming as helping someone take responsibility. Someone needs to take responsibility, right?  Maybe it’s you?

Actually blame is not about taking responsibility. Blame is about feeling upset and focusing that upset on someone else or yourself. It’s about the anger, the frustration and the hurt, not about finding a solution or learning for the future. 

Imagine that your mother is really difficult to shop for. You want to get her a gift she will really love for her birthday. You remember her saying how much she would love to have a certain sweater that she saw at a local store. You decide that’s the perfect gift and you can’t wait to give it to her.

Her birthday finally comes and you hand her your present. Then you notice that she’s wearing the exact same sweater you bought. Your sister gave her the same gift you did. How easily and quickly it becomes your sister’s fault–she should have checked with you! 

Blame is Not About Responsibility

What’s the difference between blame and responsibility? Blame includes a negative judgment. Taking responsibility is a statement of fact. “I forgot to get gas in the car,” is taking responsibility. “I’m such a loser that I can’t even remember to get gas in the car,” is blame. Blaming (“I can’t believe you couldn’t do a simple task to help”) damages relationships. 

Accidents happen and people make all kinds of mistakes. Things happen in life. Oh, and by the way, since none of us are perfect, we will mess things up. But blame doesn’t help. People don’t learn from blame, other than perhaps learning to avoid you or to be afraid of making mistakes. At the same time, sometimes you need to release emotion. In that case, instead of blaming, say “I am so over the top frustrated that I forgot to put gas in the car.”  You can express and release emotion without blaming. Feel the emotion, express the emotion, just not in terms of blame. 

So slow things down. If you respond quickly and out of an emotion that you haven’t named, then you are more likely to express that emotion in unhelpful ways. The STOP skill can help you slow down and be more mindful.

Blame Is About Emotion:  Try the STOP Skill

When you have the urge to blame yourself or others, use the STOP skill.: 1) Stop/freeze, 2) Take a step back, 3) Observe (be curious about the emotion behind that urge), and 4) Proceed mindfully. Remember also to practice opposite action (May 11th). Notice the judgment and then think of what the compassionate response would be. 

Today, be mindful of when you are blaming others. Then try the STOP skill.

Live a skill-full life. By Karyn Hall, Ph.D., May 19, 2020​

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