Eliminate Blame to Overcome Helplessness

mother-scolding-daughterIn 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’s Consequences

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, therapist in Menlo Park, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • matt

    matt

    February 10th, 2010 at 3:12 AM

    I have always believed that it is better to blame ideas rather than people and it has worked wherever I have observed…If someone puts forth an idea and you blame the person, it is not going to help at all…it is only going to enrage the person. On the other hand, if you choose to blame the idea, more often than not, the person will not be hurt and will try to come up with a better idea…this practice also makes a good leader and a team-player.

  • Jim Hutt, Ph.d

    Jim Hutt, Ph.d

    April 1st, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    Matt,

    Hey, thanks for this idea, as I find it very intriguing. Clarify for me what it looks like when someone blames and idea vs blaming a person.

  • J Sclark

    J Sclark

    December 24th, 2010 at 6:50 AM

    Unemployment (blaming an idea) vs Self Employment (blaming someone like me)

    Unemployment in my state is at 10% currently. It’s a depression LOL when it reaches 15%-25%. Now let’s say I have a disability which is an interesting element in a flooded “applicant for position situation” I have tried to become Self Employed as an artist (passed out 50 flyers around Christmas relating “portrait drawing”) So far, no one has called. I have low self esteem. What is the solution?

    I was unable to log in to “Terms of Service” if it is free I agree to using this blod.

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