Blame is one of those complicated concepts that is often misused. We humans frequently want to identify who is to blame when bad deeds are committed so they can be appropriately punished. Supposedly, it brings great relief to the injured to determine which individual or circumstance is to blame for their predicament. This also supports a fantasy that correct blaming and punishing protects us from future injury–nothing could be further from the truth.
People often use blame to justify their feelings, rather than knowing that they are entitled to any feelings they have, no matter what “caused” them. Couples who are blaming are continually striving to prove to their partners that they have a right to their feelings.
During our childhoods, learning the difference between right and wrong, being held accountable for our misdeeds, and suffering the consequences of our mistakes are essential experiences in the growth of a moral human being. But the trouble with the assigning of blame is that it can lead to shaming. The idea of blame often carries with it an assumption of negligence or malice and a denigrating of the “perpetrator’s” character, all highly unsafe in an interpersonal relationship.
Blame is a trick that our brains have learned to attempt to avoid focusing on our own pain. Safety in treatment requires that couples learn to hold and manage their own pain that may have been triggered by an incident between them. Continually focusing on who is to blame for the upset feelings they are experiencing prevents them from moving on into using an opportunity that their brains have created for them to heal their past wounds.
Learning to stop blaming encourages both partners to take charge of the part of recovery that they actually control–their own thinking and feeling. Couples who get adept at not blaming and instead taking responsibility for their own feelings can genuinely care about each other’s feelings without getting mired down in guilt or shame that they have created the other’s bad feelings. In a later post, I will discuss how this leads to a productive curiosity about each other’s feelings, instead of a cyclical morass of determining who should “pay” for what they have done.
Stopping the blame should be extended to the partners’ childhood pasts, as well. All parents do the best job they can with the knowledge they have about parenting and with the psychologies their parents created. Discovering how the parents’ acts produced emotional wounding is essential for couples to gain a visceral understanding of what it has been like to be them, but stopping the process at blaming the parents does not heal the pain. A safe treatment helps a couple take responsibility for dealing with their own feelings through safe conversations with each other rather than getting stuck on blaming anyone.