Decades ago, researchers discovered that people tend to take credit for themselves when things go well in life but lay blame on circumstances when things go poorly. This phenomenon is called “self-serving bias,” and nearly everyone is a culprit.
For example, consider past job interviews. If a company hired you following an interview, how often did you credit it to your qualifications, achievement, or excellent interviewing skills? Likewise, how often did you discredit the interviewer or company when you didn’t receive a callback?
When our favorite team wins, it’s due to their dedication and hard work. When they lose, it’s usually }the referee’s fault.
Blaming circumstances is one thing, but it’s entirely different when you blame others for your problems. Blaming those closest to us, especially for our anger or poor actions, can negatively affect our careers, families, and relationships.
What is Blame?
Blame occurs when we assign responsibility to someone else for a fault or wrong. It can lead to unhelpful emotions like hatred and resentment.
People blame others for the negative behaviors, thoughts, or feelings experienced by the blamer. We may blame someone for “pressuring” us into a decision, “causing” us to explode in anger, or “making” us late.
Like other adult habits, the blaming tendency traces back to early childhood development. Most people blame others because they never developed self-soothing skills to deal with powerful feelings, especially shame.
Some learned the strategy after observing parents who modeled it. Others experienced humiliation or punishment if they made mistakes or admitted responsibility for something wrong.
Why Do We Blame Others?
Blaming others is, essentially, “blame avoidance.” Like all defense mechanisms used to evade uncomfortable feelings, blame is considered a form of emotional avoidance. Blaming others for how we express inappropriate actions enhances our sense of being justified for those actions.
People typically blame others because:
It feeds a need for control
It fuels a desire for perfectionism
It keeps them from having to be vulnerable
It protects their ego
It unloads backed-up feelings
Blame offers a quick escape from guilt and is effortless when feeling defensive. After all, if you never hold yourself accountable for adverse consequences or contributions to a problem, you can continue believing you have no flaws or areas needing improvement. It’s a major cognitive error for many.
When Someone Blames You for Their Anger
Blame is commonly associated with anger. For many people with chronic anger, blame helps “save face” while justifying the unhealthy expression of anger. It keeps the person from acknowledging perceived weaknesses, flaws, or mistakes.
It’s one thing to suggest that an event contributed to or triggered our anger. It is an entirely different issue to indicate that others are responsible for the intensity of our feelings and how we manage them.
Consider some of these situations:
Many domestic violence situations fall somewhere within the blame game because aggression tends to hide feelings of powerlessness, hurt, and anticipated loss. The aggressor tends to blame the victim, the victim may blame themselves, and onlookers tend to revert to victim blaming. But why?
The human brain craves patterns and prefers to think of the world as “fair.” Because of this, we tend to subconsciously believe that someone receiving punishment must have done something to deserve it. After all, if cruelty could happen to anyone, the world suddenly becomes a scary place.
Statements like the ones below are all examples of victim blaming made to justify an aggressive expression of rage:
“I wouldn’t have hit her if she hadn’t said that horrible thing.”
“S/he wanted it.”
“It’s his fault I yelled at him. He made me angry.”
“My father is the cause of my anger problems.”
This comment is one of many used to blame parents for adult anger management problems. They may model the behavior they observed or experienced first-hand. Other times, they may suggest that their poor anger management or quickness towards rage is an inherited trait.
There is indeed an anger-causing gene, HTR2B, that is responsible for impulsive and violent behavior. The gene affects the production and detection of serotonin in the brain, making it more difficult to regulate emotions. Genetically, people with the HTR2B gene are more prone to anger disorders than others.
Most individuals deny responsibility for poor behavior, regardless of if their anger is inherited or learned. They portray themselves as incapable of change or powerless in their actions. In these situations, they fail to recognize that blaming others strengthens the perception of powerlessness.
A person experiencing road rage might share that they “wouldn’t have chased after the other driver if he hadn’t cut me off.” The blamer views the event as a personal attack, which triggers intense feelings of insult.
However, it was likely that these feelings were already in place long before the driver cut them off. The blamer likely already feels devalued, disrespected, less than, or invisible.
How Does Blaming Others Affect Me?
Blaming others for our mistakes does not come without consequences. Blaming someone else may make you feel like you’re winning. However, an inability to take responsibility for your actions does not benefit you in the long run.
Eventually, blaming others will backfire on you. If it wasn’t obvious, those you blame realize you’re still in the wrong. Long-term consequences on your life, career, relationships, and personality can stem from blaming.
Blaming actually leads to more blaming. The more frequently we entertain thoughts and behaviors, the more they become embedded in our brain’s neural pathways. The more we respond aggressively, the more it becomes our “go-to” reaction.
Adult anger, especially in men, has been recognized as a sign of depression. Blaming others exacerbates feelings of helplessness associated with depression.
Lack of Empathy
Sidestepping the vulnerable communication processes leaves you unable to be truthful or empathetic. Narcissists are more likely to blame than others.
Blame is contagious. Blaming others spreads the tendency to avoid responsibility at work and home. Consider the implications if you are in a leadership position or have young children who will adapt your behaviors.
Whenever we blame others, we make it harder to examine our needs. Denial pushes us away from the satisfaction and resiliency of articulating our needs.
By making everything the fault of someone else, you make yourself powerless to change the outcome.
Stunted Personal Growth
Constantly defending yourself blocks you from what others may offer regarding life lessons and self-growth.
Relationships thrive on healthy communication. Blaming pushes people away and creates a dangerous environment of mistrust and judgment.
How Does Blaming Affect Others?
When a person has been a victim of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, they tend to experience shame. Shame is internalized emotional and mental injury. Children, in particular, always blame themselves as a response to what’s happened.
Adults self-blame too, and others may blame them for the hurt they endured. Victim blaming can have debilitating psychological effects on a person struggling to recover from abuse. It worsens anxiety symptoms, increases feelings of shame, and leaves a person disconnected from themselves and others.
Being on the receiving end of blame is exasperating, exhausting, and painful. It can make you feel small and powerless, like nothing you do will ever be good enough. Receiving blame breaks down your trust in the blamer, replacing it with growing resentment and anger. If it persists for a long time, constant blame in a relationship increases the risk of self-harm and suicide.
How to Stop the Blame Game
Blame often creates a fog that makes it hard, if not impossible, to see a situation from another perspective. Thankfully, most blaming behavior is learned and therefore can be unlearned!
1. Work on Your Self-Esteem.
We know this can be hard, but the more self-worth you have, the more likely you’ll be able to take self-responsibility. The more you accept your humanness, the more you’ll likely accept and understand the capacity for error in others.
2. Stop Reinforcing Unhelpful Thinking Patterns.
The next time a situation arises where you feel the need to blame someone, you’ll likely want to vent to your friend or coworkers. Follow our advice: Don’t.
When we repeatedly recount a blaming story to others, we reinforce the blame and emotions that stem from it. The next time you blame someone, don’t share it with anyone. Then, check in with yourself to see how it affects your mental reasoning and energy levels around the situation.
3. Change How You View Mistakes.
Try to shift your view of errors as failures intoto opportunities for self-improvement. By acknowledging responsibility, you’re more likely to learn from your mistakes and have greater control over your happiness and life.
4. See a Professional Counselor.
Those who blame tend to have a fragile sense of self-worth. Often adapted in childhood, many blamers believe they can’t make a mistake or that accepting responsibility for something negative will make them flawed.
Seeing a professional counselor or therapist helps to identify the causes of blaming behavior in a safe environment. A professional can help you work towards accepting yourself and the role you play in blameable situations in a way that’s non-degrading.
Schedule an online therapy session or book an appointment at our comfortable Mesa and Tempe offices. Our professional mental health counselors offer safe and nurturing spaces where you can learn to take responsibility and develop the skills to avoid blaming others.