In my opinion we have a very blaming culture—we blame others for our problems, our behavior, and what we feel. Blame is the act of refusing to take responsibility for yourself.
Blame leaves both you and your partner—or kids, parents, or friends—feeling helpless. Blaming also sends a direct message to your loved one that you are not going to take responsibility for your emotional state or your behavior. Blaming says, “I am not in control of how I behave or feel. You are!” If this were true, we would have little or no control over changing what we feel.
Fortunately, we do have the ability to change how we feel, but only if we stop wasting our precious psychic energy blaming others. When somebody blames, everybody feels helpless, defensive, frustrated, and probably angry. The experience of helplessness frequently leads to fear. When fear takes over, the conflict is no longer about understanding each other, but about reducing the fear. When you’re blaming or operating in fear-reduction mode, understanding is practically impossible. Feeling helpless, afraid, and angry all lead to distance and disconnection. This dynamic undercuts trust, thereby damaging the relationship.
My guess is that there isn’t a parent out there who wants to teach their kids how to be emotionally helpless by exhibiting parental helplessness when managing conflict. Instead, parents should communicate their experiences and emotions, and own them.
Speaking for Yourself
In order to describe an experience without blaming someone for it, acknowledge that you have a feeling, express the feeling, and own the feeling. Instead of saying, “You make me feel terrible!” or, “How do you think that makes your dad and me feel?”, you might say, “When I hear you tell me I’m stupid, I feel hurt and angry. If you disagree with me, just say so, and we can talk about where we differ. But please don’t call me stupid.” Or, “When you throw your toys at your sister, it’s scary. Instead of throwing your toys, just tell me your angry so we can talk about it.”
Think of the following: When you go to the doctor, who do you talk about? Yourself! Do the same thing when you’re talking to your partner, spouse, or children. It is a simple rule: you cannot and will not be understood if you are talking about someone else. The odds of being understood and trusted go way up, and the odds of feeling helpless and distrusted go way down when you eliminate blame, and talk about yourself.
Practice incorporating this language into your relationships. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.
© Copyright 2010 by Jim Hutt, PhD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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