Blame is different from holding someone responsible. Blame has a punitive quality, designed to do more than identify and hold someone responsible. Blame looks to inflict pain.
BLAME vs. RESPONSIBILITY: Blaming someone very often carries with it the wish to make them feel bad. As I wrote above, this added component distinguishes blame from simply holding someone responsible, where the objective is generally to correct a wrong, to honor a community-wide understanding about morality and justice, and in some cases, to compensate the victim. Because blame includes the often unstated wish to make the other feel bad, we want to understand what lies beneath this paradigm.
WHY BLAME? Why do people blame one another so often? Why is it easier to blame and more difficult to accept? Couples or marriages in crisis often include highly critical and blaming behavior. What is the appeal of pointing the finger at one another?
BLAMING YOUR SPOUSE AND THE NEED FOR POWER: Placing blame underscores the power framework in a relationship. If you’re blaming your spouse for spilling the milk, you may be using the opportunity bolster your diminished sense of power and control triggered by your spouse’s mistake. In other words, when an event takes place outside of your control, it can create some anxiety that leads you to need to blame the other in an attempt to restore your equilibrium. Blaming your spouse for spilling the milk can be an attempt to reclaim power and control through criticism.
BLAMING YOURSELF AND THE NEED FOR POWER: Leveling blame at yourself can also work to reduce anxiety and restore a sense of balance or equilibrium. Here’s how it works. When you spill the milk and blame yourself with criticism, you’re assuming the role of the blamer. It’s as if you’ve internalized the critical, blaming other, and now, you can do it on your own! Why? To let yourself go “unpunished” would be to defy a particular immutable power arrangement. It would be defying an unstated rule that you remain powerless and the other holds the power. Ask yourself: with whom are you having this inequitable relationship? Who is the silent but powerful partner? Who is the other?
BLAME AND SELF-PROTECTION: Blaming behavior also serves to protect the blamer from fault or the injury to the self where fault is found. This is the work of a very fragile or insecure self that needs to deflect blame in order to keep safe.
BLAME AND RAGE: Blaming behavior also serves to discharge some rage that can be generated when something goes wrong. If your partner is blaming you for spilling the milk, is he or she enraged at the mishap, the mess, the ‘thing gone wrong’? Has he or she become destabilized to the point of anger? Does blaming you help to discharge some of that pent up rage? We can see that blaming helps to bind, organize and express anger or rage that might otherwise be a strain to tolerate.
PARTICIPATING IN THE BLAME CYCLE: We can see that blaming behavior has its origins in various dysfunctions. Are you a blamer? Are you involved with a blamer? Blaming and being the recipient of blame often go hand-in-hand. Do you invite blame? Sometimes we see this odd sort of “cooperation” between partners. In my next blog, I’ll discuss this in more detail.