More PsychNotes: Anger, Conflict, and Forgiveness
Why People Blame Others
by Monica A. Frank, PhD
I'm sure you have experienced a situation (or two) when someone's description of a mistake or a disagreement was completely opposite of what you observed or remembered. Perhaps the person even blamed you for something they did.
A classic example is a mother spills the milk while pouring it for her child and yells “Look what you made me do! If you hadn't been distracting me by arguing with your sister, I wouldn't have spilled the milk.” A simple thing, but so many repercussions. She is distorting the situation, not taking responsibility for her own mistake, and blaming the child for something the child didn't do.
Self-esteem is a fragile thing for many people. Instead of being based upon an internal sense of self, it is based on the perceptions and opinions of others. It is based on what a person thinks others would think of them if other people were fully aware of all their thoughts and actions.
Being so fragile, such people need to play tricks on themselves so they can believe they are okay. Instead of accepting their own mistakes, flaws, and imperfections, they focus outward. They blame others or think the world should change to conform with their perceptions and beliefs. And they fully believe they are right.
Their sense of “rightness” is what is confusing to other people. When you are harassed by such a person, you may come away from the experience thinking “How can they believe that? I was there, too, and that is not what happened.”
How a person creates an inaccurate belief of blame
1) A plausible reason
. A person who is protecting their ego finds a reason, no matter how inaccurate, that can explain their belief. Recently, for instance, a reader of this website described how her husband blamed his affairs over many years on his loss of illusion about her because she had been molested as a child. To him, this may seem reasonable but it doesn't take into account his responsibility for having an “illusion” in the first place, or his responsibility for not talking to his wife, or his responsibility for acting out his disappointment through having affairs. But he probably believed his reason.
. Once a person has a plausible reason, s/he creates a picture in his or her mind. We tend to remember what we rehearse. So saying something out loud or writing it down (in a text, on the internet, etc), no matter how untrue it is, creates the image in a person's mind so that s/he is more likely to believe it is true. These rehearsed images can become very powerful so that a person believes it is a true memory.
Most of us have done this in simple ways. For instance, have you ever told a story about something that happened to you and included something you thought as if you had said it or did it? By repeating such a story at some point you may even come to believe that you said or did what you had only thought. Although most of us have done this, some people build elaborate scenarios that they come to believe as reality.
3) A sympathetic ear
. Having someone support the inaccurate belief strengthens the belief through the rehearsal process just described. For instance, many times I've seen clients who tell me when having a argument with their husband “All my friends agree with me that he's being a jerk.” Of course the friends agree. We tend to choose friends who are like us, who will agree with us and even then we are only telling one side of the story. But having others agree is a sure-fire way to reinforce an inaccurate belief.
What I just described is for the purpose of helping you understand why others may blame you for their failings. Be careful, however, and don't use it as a way of blaming someone else! For instance, showing this article to someone and saying "See! This is what you do!" If you do that, then you are falling into the same trap of creating a perception that is outwardly focused rather than taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions.
Your life is your responsibility. You give up control when you blame others. Taking responsibility means you can change yourself, try to change the situation, or accept. But it is your choice. Blame is for those who don't take responsibility for their lives.
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