THE BLAME-GAME: why and how it happens, its impact on our self-esteem and how to disengage.

When things go wrong at work, with someone in the service industry, socially or at home, we engage in a blame-game to defend our shaken self-esteem. As our instinctual reaction to defend ourselves kicks in, we remain locked in a battle to regain our power and position. So are we afraid of making mistakes and resort to blaming in order to defend ourselves?

There are four main reasons why we engage in blame:

  1. Our dualistic social system of right or wrong leads us to develop an unconscious fear of rejection, based on social exclusion.
  2. From an early age we learn to lie and blame rather than take responsibility. Later in life we are not always clear in our communication: we make assumptions, have expectations and guilt and don’t always divulge all the facts for fear of disappointing, incriminating ourselves, or even to win. Each of these gives rise to blame and resentment.
  3. We base our self-esteem on ‘getting it right’ and seek to regain our equality through power games.
  4. We have suffered an “Amygdala Hijack”. In times of strong emotions or stress, the sensory part of our brain bypasses the thinking part and sends a message to the Amygdala, which governs our emotional response, and tells it we are under threat. This then triggers a fight, flight, freeze response; we are not thinking straight, we have exaggerated the situation and we say things we don’t mean.

So how do we react to all this? We instinctually attack, deny and deflect, or absorb all the blame. Before we know it we have entered into a familiar game of “you started it” and act like children in adult’s clothing!

Here are some examples:

  • Attack:   “If it hadn’t been for you, this wouldn’t have happened!”  (a.k.a. “You started it!”)
  • Deny:     “I didn’t see the memo / get your SMS / email / call, it must have got lost in cyberspace!”  (a.k.a. “I was mugged on the way to school, Miss, and they stole my homework!”)
  • Deflect:
    •  “It’s not my fault; I told Bob you were waiting for a reply.”    Or
    • “Why is it always my fault?”
    • Absorb:   “I am sorry, it’s all my fault; it won’t happen again.”

Whatever our chosen response we have entered into a power-game. We judge one another, or go into victim role; or we rescue one another and so on. As we do so, we move through each role fluidly without risking showing our underlying emotions. All of this keeps us stuck in a competition to ‘belong’ and removes compassion from the equation.

So how do we stop this?

By recognizing a common need for inclusion, we allow each other (and ourselves) the possibility of making mistakes. We also consider that two opposing aspects can both be true at once and that two (or more) of us have contributed to a situation through our reactions.  We can accept that we have made a mistake and that that doesn’t make us a bad person and that Bob contributed to the situation by not responding and that we could have chased it up and that our accuser could have done the same. In so doing we have included all contributions and reduced the fear of rejection.

We therefore reframe the situation with compassion and look for similarities by:

  • We treat the situation and the not the person (or ourselves) as the ‘problem’
  • We consider how we jointly contributed to the situation and explore each other’s perspectives of the issue
  • We problem-solve together to see how we can avoid this from happening in the future

The reasons for blame are not irreversible and even our hijacked Amygdala can be retrained to steer us out of knee-jerk reactions and say things we don’t mean!

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