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Understanding & Responding to Blame

At a most basic level, blame is a form of self-criticism.

I recently had my five-year old niece over night. When she makes a mistake, she sometimes blames. She has said things like, "You did it wrong! You were supposed to . . .!" Not having either of the fundamentals in place she moves to protect herself by directing attention away from herself.

After she calms a bit, I let her know that it is okay to make mistakes and that when she does, instead of blaming, she can just say, "I made a mistake. That's okay." She readily takes in this feedback and uses it within the same day. My hope in offering her this is to help her stay connected to her self-worth regardless of circumstance and to give her tools to do that verbally.

My niece is pretty transparent in her intention to protect herself through blame. It is not always so obvious in adult relationships. A verbally skilled adult can begin blaming through analysis before you even know what's happening.

You hear things like; how you were wrong to do what you did (with a list of convincing reasons) and how it relates to your relationship with your mother (with a detailed description of that relationship) and when are you going to take responsibility for your fears (with a list of your fears) and can't you see a pattern here (with a recounting of past incidents), etc.

If you are being blamed in this way, you may start to feel confused and foggy. You may have difficulty articulating your thoughts and staying connected to your needs. You may have difficulty making decisions that really work for you.

Analysis is a useful concept in science and the world of academia, but can be  harmful when applied to human beings.

Here are some basic things to remember when blame / analysis is directed toward you:

  1. Responding to blame with a rebuttal of any sort, "I did not! That's not true! It's actually like this. .." will most likely escalate disconnect.
  2. Blame is a symptom of the speaker's pain and unmet needs. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.
  3. You can redirect with empathy or some basic requests:

-"Are you feeling hurt and wanting understanding?" (or other guesses at feelings and needs).

-"Can you tell me what you are wanting instead of saying what I am doing or not doing?"

- "Can you make that about you?"

-"Can we talk about what we want to do differently now?"

-"Hearing an analysis of me I feel foggy and disconnected and want understanding. Would you be willing to tell me what you are unhappy about rather than talking about me?

-"Stop! What you are saying is not okay with me! I am scared and I want connection! Can you tell me what you are hearing me say?!"

This week notice when blame or analysis comes your way. Feel and resist your impulse to submit, defend, withdraw, or offer a counter argument. Put on your giraffe ears and remember it is not about you and then engage one of the redirects offered above.

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Pause & Resource
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Taking Responsibility for Your Healing


11 Responses

  1. Mar 15, 2011

    This was so helpful! I walked right into a ton of blame yesterday, and although I could see what was happening, I was baffled as to how to respond. I love the suggestions you gave. Thank you!

  2. Mar 15, 2011
    Jere

    I have been dealing with this unsuccessfully for more than 30 years, now. What I do now is withdraw to protect myself, because everything else I've tried has lead to excalation. He is very skilled at analyzing what everyone else is doing wrong, articulating what he needs and turning any defense into "So it's all my fault! You can't just appologize and stop doing that. You always blame me!"

    I oould take the request, if it wasn't so hurtfull and basically a tantrum.

  3. Mar 15, 2011

    Jere, that seriously sounds like emotional abuse to me. My dad was emotionally abusive (still is) and that's the exact kind of thing that goes on. Is this someone you can avoid? I love my dad, but I keep my times with him short and limited (mostly holidays, and thankfully I live in the area so I can go home at the end of the day) because he can be so toxic.

  4. Mar 16, 2011
    ellen

    I hate to admit it, but I think I do this analysis/blame thing to my partner! I'm trying to be more conscious of the fact that "analysis can be harmful when applied to human beings". I find it hard to "figure out" what the problem is, so I try to think/talk about it and I think it just makes him feel blamed and foggy. I mistakenly thing that analyzing him or me or the situation will fix it, but it really doesn't seem to work.

  5. Mar 22, 2011

    I appreciate all your reflection here. Thank you for doing this mindful conscious raising work.

  6. Mar 23, 2011
    Dee

    My husband tells me to say what is on my mind, not harbor it. When I do tell him something, the typical scenario is him shouting in steely eyed rage, swearing and telling me how wrong I am (in very venonomous words) and he proceeds to tell me how I feel and how he is right and I am wrong.

    It is like he is trying to create a smoke scrren around his harbored anger and uses me to vent it on and tries to have me in a one down position.

    He blames me if I should dare say anything in the "wrong"tone and tells me how I should speak when I am unhappy with most anything, He and his 17 year okd daughter sceam and vent regukarky and that is okay from his perspective, but I must not even have a frustrated or annoyed tone. He rarely takes responsibility for his anger, his vile words, and his part in any conflict.

    I am on a thin thread.

  7. Mar 24, 2011

    Sounds like a very painful situation with your husband. Do you have any specific requests around sharing this.

  8. Dec 13, 2012
    Anastasia

    This sounds like my dad. He has been eating away at me for years like this and we have a love hate relationship now and seeing him leaves me feeling emotionally exhausted and confused. He always claims to want to change things and always somehow having a shred of hope left I try to believe him and end up taking the first step. But when he doesn't hold up his end of the bargain he feels guilty and suddenly I the one demanding too much and I am telling him how to run his life. I am very confused at this point but I have to see him today. I just want to walk out of his life because I feel as if I have tried my best and have gotten fooled again. This article helps me realize all of this and hopefully will make today easier to deal with.

  9. Dec 14, 2012

    Hi Anastasia,

    Let me know how it goes with your dad. This is a difficult thing to stay clear about and change. I appreciate your commitment to finding a way through.

  10. Dec 14, 2012
    Anastasia

    Update: It went pretty well with my dad. I definitely used some of these tips and found it incredibly helpful and he even noticed a change.

    We've been trying to fix our incredibly broken relationship and have decided to start therapy together soon. Yesterday he admitted that he is 50/50 on determination to fix this after I said I am 100% sticking with this no matter what, if only to become a better person through my struggles. I really don't know what will happen with him. I'm so full of anger and hurt from everything in my life and all the broken promises, and I don't want to be that kind of person. I want to be full of hope and love and happiness so I really hope I can get to that point again.

  11. Dec 14, 2012

    Good for you taking this on in this way. Sounds like you are very clear about the life you want to create.

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