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Audio Version of Article: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

Audio Version of Article: Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

Audio Version of Article: Happiness Is An Attitude

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PsychNotes Index

More PsychNotes: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Blaming as a Way of Feeling in Control
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

Have you ever blamed someone for something minor even when the back of your mind was saying “That's ridiculous!”? When something goes wrong we want to assign blame. Why is that? Because we want to feel a greater sense of control over our lives. If there is someone or something to blame then we believe that it can be fixed. We don't what to believe “Stuff happens!”

Watch the news or read the blogs when some major event occurs. Immediately, everyone is looking to assign blame. And if the blame doesn't allow for control, then we look to blame something which we can control. For instance, the Sandy Hook shooting almost immediately focused on gun control because trying to control the genetics of someone who grows up to be a killer isn't possible. Or, trying to identify at-risk individuals and nurture their mental health is too much effort. Yet, a homicidal person will find a way to kill others no matter how much we control access to weapons. Whether gun control is right or wrong, our focus on blaming guns allows us to feel more in control—it provides a sense of comfort because we believe we are doing something.

That is the purpose of blame—to feel more comfortable. When we blame someone for a mistake we made “That wouldn't have happened if you...” we don't feel the discomfort of being wrong or being responsible. When we can attribute blame for a problem that exists in the world, we are granted a sense of comfort.

So, you might ask, if it makes us feel better, why shouldn't we continue to ascribe blame to someone or something else? Because blaming doesn't allow us to pursue real solutions. Instead, we pursue the straw man of the object of blame which creates a lot of finger-pointing but nothing is achieved. Maybe, instead, we need to look at reality even if we might feel uncomfortable. Sometimes reality shows us other solutions such as taking personal responsibility. Other times it may show us that things happen that are beyond our control. But at least we are examining real possibilities for solutions.

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