Blame: The Experts Break It Down

According to psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Psychology Today, there are five main reasons blame occurs so often:

  1. Blame is an excellent defense mechanism.
  2. Blame is a tool we use when we’re in attack mode.
  3. We’re not very good at figuring out the causes of other people’s behavior, or even our own.
  4. It’s easier to blame someone else than to accept responsibility.
  5. People lie.

Harvard professor Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar proposes that blaming is often committed by perfectionists. “As Ben-Shahar explains,” states Neil Farber in Psychology Today, “their rejection of failure and painful emotions leads to anxiety and even more pain. As they reject real-world limits and set unattainable goals, this is a perfect set up for blaming.”

Ben-Shahar also differentiates between Perfectionists and Optimalists, who are both in possession of high standards. The type not so likely to inappropriately pin blame on others is the latter. Farber elaborates:

…Optimalists base their perspectives on reality. They are more willing to accept failure, accept emotional discomfort and recognize success. Optimalists actually view failures as part of the journey and opportunities for improvement. In this way, as mindful Harvard psychologist professor, Ellen Langer has taught and professed in several books on mindfulness, apparent mistakes and failures are often positive steps on a successful journey. In contrast, Perfectionism (previously called negative perfectionism) is unhealthy and maladaptive. Perfectionists replace reality with a fantasy world in which there is no failure and the highest standards for success are reasonable.

As Brené Brown stated in The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (2010), “Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” Related to this, falsely imagining the ability to avoid being the target of blame can lead to the increased likelihood of perpetrating blaming when things aren’t indeed so perfect.

Similar to Ben-Shahar’s teachings is Brown’s own model, which differentiates between unhealthy perfectionism and “healthy striving.” She points out that while the former involves focusing too much on what others will think, the latter is more about internally based desires for self-improvement.

Below, Brown provides a cute and brief animated feature about blame that’s really worth seeing. After owning up to her own tendencies, she explains where her research has taken her: “Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Accountability by definition is a vulnerable process.”

Watch the video. If you don’t appreciate it, however, don’t blame me.

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