One of the most destructive behaviors in relationships is the persistent blaming of another. Both parties are often diminished and disempowered by this practice and, over a prolonged period, the one suffering blame may incur a variety of mental health problems, including loss of self-esteem, lack of confidence, depression, anxiety, and more.
By William Frank Diedrich
What was your first thought when you woke up this morning? Was it, “Gee, I hope someone blames me for something?” Or maybe your first thought was, “I can’t wait to be blamed for whatever is wrong today.” If you are like most people you probably didn’t have these thoughts when you first woke up.
Almost no one does. Yet, people so often seem eager to give the gift of blaming. It is the gift almost everyone wants to give and no one wants to receive.
Blaming is a futile attempt to make our world right. It seldom works. Often it appears to work, but it has long term ramifications. If I become adept at pinning the blame on others, I will soon find my list of enemies growing. When a leader in any organization blames employees, clients, members, or customers, blaming becomes an accepted practice.
It creates an environment of fear where people are unlikely to take responsibility for problems. In the end, few problems are solved and performance is stifled. People who constantly blame lose the respect of others. Why is it then, that blaming is so common?
First, it can be wonderful to be a victim. I get to be right. I am misunderstood, mistreated, and miserable, but at least I know I’m right. I’m in pain, but my pain is at least a little bit satisfying. The end all and be all for life’s perpetual victims is self-righteousness — being the one who is right, good, or special. I feel a little bit powerful riding on the back end of the pointing finger. I feel clean and in the clear knowing that it’s not my fault.
Second, if I’m really suffering you can’t expect much from me. As the suffering one, I should be appreciated, treated special, or helped. You can’t expect me to put out too much energy for others in this condition. You can’t expect me to do much for myself. Again, I’m in the clear.
Third, it feeds my need for drama. Most dramas have their good guys and bad guys. Of course, I’m usually the good guy in mine. I can tell my story with passion about how I have suffered and how you have caused it. I enjoy telling people how stupid, bad, evil, idiotic, foolish, inconsiderate, lazy, or incompetent you have been. In my drama, I get to be the judge of right and wrong.
Most people in the world blame someone or something for their suffering. The payoff for blaming is self-justification and innocence. This does not mean that suffering isn’t painful. It is. It means that we will not find release by blaming anything or anyone. Blaming others for our pain, even if they have had a direct hand in causing it, is detrimental to our happiness and success. Rather than project our pain on others, we must follow our pain inward to its source.
The source of emotional pain is always within. In order to find happiness or success, we must acknowledge that we create our own experience. Words and actions created by others have no meaning except the meaning we give them. If someone lies about you, you can get upset, blame them, and condemn them for being a liar. Does this help you? Does it help the organization you are both members of? It is not likely this reaction will help.
What if you present what you have heard to the other person and give him/her a chance to respond?
What if you look at what was said and honestly determine if there is any truth to it? If there is any truth, you can own up to it. Who will you be when you talk with this person? Will you be the accuser? Will you be the self-righteous victim? Or, will you be a concerned human being who cares both about himself/herself and the other person?
“Caring” does not mean being nice. It means that you deal with the issues without ever losing sight of the humanity of the other person. You seek first to understand their needs and concerns. “Understanding” is not excusing.
You also need to process your own emotions. In other words, find a way to emotionally let it go, to forgive. Don’t let it become baggage. If appropriate, tell the other person how you felt. Tell a trusted friend or advisor how you felt. Unload it and move on.
Forgiving a behavior doesn’t mean you excuse it. It means that you remove all emotional attachment and meaning to what happened. Once you are free of your negative emotion, you can offer words that will help the other person behave more appropriately.
There is no guarantee, of course, that the other person will respond to you. However, your ability to respond with compassion and courage is an invitation for the other person to do the same. Your ability to be honest and direct will elevate you in the eyes of most people. As the person who refuses to blame, you will be seen as a true leader. True leaders don’t blame others for problems; they resolve problems.
What about when you are on the receiving end of blame? Don’t defend yourself. Examine the situation and honestly hold yourself accountable. Be eager to accept responsibility. Responsibility is not blame. It is the ability to respond. Only say and do that which will help to resolve the issue. Defensiveness, blaming, and attacks on others are wasteful and harmful to the organization as a whole.
Perhaps your first words in the morning could be: “Who can I help today? Who can I serve?” Know that you serve by praising others, assisting others, giving honest, direct feedback, and refusing to blame. Your refusal to blame anyone or anything will increase your effectiveness. It will move you toward your goals more quickly. Somewhere within you are the keys to personal power and success; somewhere that is beyond blaming.
William Frank Diedrich is a speaker, executive coach, and the author of Beyond Blaming: Unleashing Power and Passion in People and Organizations. William offers keynotes and workshops on leadership and moving beyond blaming. William has developed the Leaders’ Edge, an online leadership class. Learn more about William at http://noblaming.com.