Blame is a series of actions and reactions having at least three discrete parts, but with each part seamlessly connected to the other. They all work together to generate the Blame Syndrome. The three parts are:
1. The Blame Attack (the initial criticism — no matter how minor)
2. The Emotional Impact (negative feelings caused by being blamed)
3. The Reactive Response (blame is fired back)
Typically, the time span between these three parts is only a few seconds.
Defining The Blame Attack
A Blame Attack is any statement or message (spoken or unspoken) that criticizes, condemns, accuses, punishes or humiliates — to any degree.
There's virtually no such thing as a trivial Blame Attack, because when you're on the receiving end of criticism, you'll always feel a negative emotion. Even a minor amount of these emotions — anxiety, anger, resentment, pain or fear — can be damaging to your well-being, or to a relationship.
For instance, Mickey brings home a drawing from school. His father barely glances at it and says, "Is this how you waste your time? No wonder you're behind."
Mickey's father is directly critical of his son's creativity. Mickey feels humiliated. He loves to draw but is told by the person he's supposed to trust, his father, that his efforts are a waste of time. If similar criticisms continue, their relationship will suffer and Mickey might suffer lifelong negative consequences to his self-esteem.
The husband who sits down to dinner and picks at his food, barely suppressing a frown, is expressing criticism of his wife's cooking. Or he might be overtly critical. "Why did you make this? You know I hate it!"
Her Emotional Impact would be resentment. Later that evening, the husband tries to be amorous and she rejects him. That would be her Reactive Response. But then he launches another Blame Attack and accuses her of being cold and unloving. His attack provokes another Reactive Response from her. And on and on and on.
We Always Have a Reason to Launch a Blame Attack
In our own minds we always have a reason for using blame. Our motives seem practical: something wrong needs to be corrected; an emotion needs to be expressed. But just because a behavior seems reasonable at the time, or you don't know what else to do, blame is no less destructive to relationships.
Each person always feels he or she has a good reason to launch the Blame Attack. But once the communication turns into a criticism, accusation, punishment or humiliation, the negative emotions always take over. Maybe the intention is not to create anxiety, anger, pain and fear, but it does!
The Ultimate Blame Attack: To Accuse Destiny
A couple named Walter and Suzanne were very successful, in their early fifties, and had recently divorced their respective spouses in order to marry each other. Both had children by those previous marriages and were seeking my assistance in dealing with the vindictiveness triggered by their surreptitious love affair and the abruptness of their subsequent divorces.
Walter and Suzanne cited a series of external reasons for their problems. "The moment I met Walter I knew he was my soul mate. I waited all my life to meet him. I'd make any sacrifice just to be with him."
Walter tried to muster the same enthusiasm. "Fate wanted us to be together. It's corny, but I believe it."
Neither Suzanne nor Walter wanted to accept responsibility for throwing their families into chaos. From their point of view, they had no choice but to act immediately on their passion because a Greater Power compelled them to follow their heart.
Blaming our behavior on destiny or a Greater Power
denies personal responsibility
and avoids resolving an issue.
Smaller Instances of Blame Attacks
There are, however, smaller instances of Blame Attacks that shift responsibility onto a hidden purpose, destiny, or an isolated event. Here are some examples:
"Nothing I do to lose weight works, so I might as well enjoy myself." .
"My vote doesn't mean a thing; everything is decided by the banks and politicians."
"My dad smoked cigarettes and drank all his life, and it never hurt him."
These typical justifications are part of the wider problem of how blame has seeped into so many of our attitudes and behaviors. Some of them may sound trivial, but because we use them over and over again, they eventually build an extensive web of blame that always pushes us away from resolving a problem in our relationships, or assuming full responsibility for our behaviors.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA).
©2011 by Carl Alasko. www.us.PenguinGroup.com.
Beyond Blame: Freeing Yourself from the Most Toxic Form of Emotional Bullsh*t
by Carl Alasko, Ph.D.
The path to eliminating blame is not a quick or easy one but, as Carl Alasko demonstrates, it is a road that must be traveled if we hope to achieve true peace in our lives.
About the Author
Carl Alasko, Ph.D. has been a practicing psychotherapist specializing in couples and families for over twenty years. For the past thirteen years he has written a weekly advice column, "On Relationships", for the Monterey County Herald, which has consistently been one of the Herald's most popular columns. He has also given numerous lectures on the topic of healthy relationships and has hosted a popular advice radio show. Visit his website at www.carlalasko.com