Oh, how we love to blame. It's our favorite and most often used emotional defense. When something goes wrong, we blame. When we feel unhappy, angry, or upset, we blame. When we're scared or uncertain, we blame. When someone blames us, we try to deflect the blame by blaming them or someone else in return. When we feel bad about the direction in our life, we blame. Surely, it must be someone else's fault that we're unhappy, discontent, and concerned about the direction of our lives.
While blaming may feel good in the moment, it eats us alive over time. Referring to blame as "the essence of neurosis" is no exaggeration.
Why Blame is Unhealthy
Whenever we revert to blaming, several mental processes kick into action. This psychology then works against us, trapping either ourselves or our children in a negative emotional state:
1) Blame gives the key to our emotional happiness to others. So long as you blame, you're powerless to change anything about your life or the current situation, since it's always their fault and their actions that cause your unhappiness. You've locked yourself out of your own castle. Blame kills a person’s only chance of healing. By its very nature and definition, it puts ones mental health in the hands of others. If it's always their fault, then how we feel is never of our doing, so our well-being will always be yanked around helplessly like a puppet on a string to the whims and trespasses of others. Blame is the process of placing one's happiness in the hands of the very people who are your perceived oppressors.2) Blame requires us to assign malicious intent to the action that probably wasn't there, which makes us feel worse about the situation. After all, if people were merely imperfect people acting according to their own imperfect nature (which is indeed what they are actually doing) blaming would be relatively pointless (which it is). In order to justify blame we must manufacture all sorts of other negative beliefs about why this took place: he should have known better... what an evil thing to do... only a bad person would do such a thing... they had the gift of foresight and knew exactly the harm this would cause beforehand, and on and on. These are all false beliefs and assumptions, and when we believe them, it causes us to view the situation with more maliciousness than was actually there. As Ellis & Harper (1961, p. 202) point out, "people...practically never think they are wrong when they make their mistakes. Later, perhaps, they realize it. But not at the time they make them." Blame, however, makes no such distinctions. It assumes that people who behave badly at times must be bad people who meant to behave badly and therefore need to be punished. Such beliefs are inaccurate, and they create greater social injury.
3. Blame, like anger, is one of the self-righteous emotions. In order to blame or condemn, we must first convince ourselves of how horrible and inhumane the wrong we received was, and how victimized and devastated we are to have received it. The person we blame has to be "blameworthy," which is really just a fancy way of saying that we choose to believe that what this person did was horrible and unforgiveable. So when we attempt to justify our negative emotions through blame and condemnation, we trap ourselves in a state of exaggerated, self-created despair. By choosing to blame we are tricked into attempting to justify our negative emotional states. We therefore put our higher reasoning areas (our brain's emotional immune system) in charge of reinforcing how awful and terrible we should feel. The best weapon we have towards a quick and complete recovery instead becomes part of our illness.
4. Blame ALWAYS impedes more productive and healthy means of resolution. Because of this it provides a superficial short-term boost (it's not my fault, it's theirs) at the expense of better, long-term, productive resolutions. Blaming makes others feel hurt and puts them on the defensive, which only escalates conflict and blocks reconciliation.
5. Blame is judgment, and harsh judgment towards others always incubates harsh criticism and self-loathing of ourselves. Judgment breeds judgment. The more damning a person is towards others, the more internally damning they'll become of themselves. As Rusk & Rusk (1988, p. 146) point out, "blame is toxic to the spirit of the one who blames as well as the one who is blamed." We may pretend that the deeds of others are so much more wicked and horrible than our own, but the subconscious knows better. The more you blame, the crummier you'll feel about yourself.
6. Blame attempts to ignore the first rule of life: pain is a part of living, and sometimes it's our human duty to endure bad things. Blame tricks us into thinking that the inevitable bad situations that come our way are somehow 'unfair' or 'unjust.' We should all try to be nicer to each other; on this much we can agree. But blame traps us into unrealistic expectations that are bound to be continually broken. Spare the blame and you'll spare the feelings of injustice and despair when things go wrong.
7. Blame is part of its own self-reinforcing cycle: