The blame game
Pointing the finger at others prevents us from learning from our mistakes
There has been a lot written about the death of personal accountability. According to the experts, the escalation of the Nanny State, coupled with the rise of compensation culture, has created a climate where you can sue McDonald's for making you fat, or sue your husband's mistress for ending your marriage.
Blame your boss. Blame your ex-partner. Blame your doctor. If all else fails, blame your parents.
In a culture where there is no personal accountability, there is a predisposition to point the finger. Political scandal? We want to see the shamed politician stand down more than we want to know that systemic corruption is being investigated.
Corporate misconduct? We target individual culpability rather than structural malfeasance. And while we're on the subject, wouldn't it be refreshing if a call centre operative could just say 'my mistake' rather than 'system error'?
As author and Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön writes: "[Blame is] a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better… "Blaming is a way to protect your heart," she adds, "trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground."
It doesn't help that our propensity to point the finger outwards is hardwired. The 'self-serving bias', as it is known, is our tendency to perceive ourselves in an overly favourable manner. When good outcomes occur, we ascribe them to intrinsic factors: 'all my own doing'. When bad outcomes occur, we ascribe them to extrinsic factors: 'somebody else's doing'.
This has echoes of what is known as psychological projection - when people deny the existence of their own characteristics by attributing them to someone else. Or in simpler terms: if you spot it, you've probably got it.
Additionally, blame-shifting is a tactic that narcissists habitually employ. Because they believe that they are fundamentally infallible, they often find a scapegoat to shoulder the blame.
Writing in Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, Sam Vaknin says narcissists "blame the world - circumstances, other people - for their defeats, misfortune, misconduct and failures" and believe that their lives are "swayed by currents and persons" over which they have no influence whatsoever.
When we consider the cognitive biases and various disorders at play, it becomes clear that blame is, for the most part, a defence mechanism that helps us avoid uncomfortable feelings and resist change.
Or as author Byron Katie points out: "Placing the blame or judgement on someone else leaves you powerless to change your experience" whereas "taking responsibility for your beliefs and judgements gives you the power to change them".
This makes sense. Just think of all of the times you were 'wronged': The friend who betrayed you; the partner who left you; the boss who fired you. In most cases, these become touchy, hot-button subjects that friends and family know not to broach.
But what if you avoid discussing these issues because you don't want to accept responsibility for your part in them? Perhaps you know - consciously or unconsciously - that if you delve too deep, you'll have to own up to your own mistakes.
Remember those with a victim complex have an external locus of control. They blame the world for their problems without considering the part they have to play. What's more, they never overcome hurdles because they're too busy bemoaning the person who put the hurdle there in the first place. "We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who's right and who's wrong," adds Chödrön.
Yet blame doesn't only inhibit communication with others. It inhibits communication with ourselves. If you're always playing the blame game, it's worth remembering that every time you point the finger outwards, you miss an opportunity to go inwards and explore your shortcomings.
Or as the Dalai Lama says: "When you think everything is someone else's fault, you suffer a lot. When you realise that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy."
Fault-finding is a difficult habit to break but the benefits are immense. Sometimes it's as simple as learning how to accept responsibility within a certain scenario. For example, people who habitually point the finger generally haven't mastered the language they need to use when owning up to a mistake.
In this case, try practising a few statements in your head: 'That was my mistake and I'm going to try my best to fix it' / 'I shouldn't have said that and I apologise'.
Habitual finger-pointers also have to learn how to accept responsibility for their own healing. They can blame their parents and their bosses and their spouses all they like, but it is only when they transcend the blame game that they finally move on.
Health & Living