Blaming

Blaming.  We have all done it at some point in our lives. As kids we blame our siblings for any number of things we were supposed to do and didn’t.  We grow up using blame when something goes wrong in our lives which we didn’t see coming.  As adults, particularly in divorce situations, we blame the ex-spouse for any number of things which may or may not have caused the divorce. In divorce we are lonely, hurt and frightened of what  the future has to hold. “Blaming triggers anger by making your pain someone else’s responsibility.  In intimate relationships, blaming leads to the development of negative cognitive sets in which you begin to label, classify, and interpret a person’s behavior in consistently negative ways. He is controlling, or uncaring, or selfish, or insensitive.  And as this negative cognitive set hardens, so do your assumptions about the other person.”*

Blaming denies reality in two ways.  First, blaming assumes that you are not responsible for your pain because someone else (e.g. your ex-spouse) is.  Secondly, blaming constructs a world where people are deliberately doing bad things. Here you need to regroup and ask yourself: how is it that I allow the other person to hurt me? Is he/she really doing “bad” things, or am I just over reacting because I’m not used to the solitude of divorce? So blaming doesn’t make sense.  It labels people and behavior as bad when in fact each person makes the best choice available.  By blaming,  you end up punishing people for actions they could not help performing.*

Once you start labeling people as bad, you develop a kind of tunnel vision  that blinds you to every behavior that doesn’t fit your assumption of “badness”. “You simply don’t see the things that are kind or generous or loving. Jim very often sees Martha as selfish and uncaring.  Even though she frequently gives him little hugs, does his laundry and invites his friends to dinner, he fails to notice those as loving or generous acts. Jim is missing a big part of the relationship because his cognitive sets blind him to seeing the way Martha expresses her caring feelings.”*

Blaming usually involves a lot of “mind reading”, where the person in pain tends to make inferences about how the ex-spouse is really thinking and feeling.  The person in pain truly believes that the other person (in divorce the ex-spouse)  is deliberately trying to them harm.  There are several problems with assuming intent.  It is very difficult to accurately asses the true motives of another person.  The word “assume” means that you think you know, but never asked. “Mind reading is so often dead wrong, yet it is probably the greatest source of anger.”*

Two exercises to alleviate “Blaming

  1.  Write a complete description of someone you know well, and with whom you feel angry.  Read over your description. How many of the items are judgments, implying  a good/bad description?  Now try rewriting the description without any hint of judgement?*
  2. Make a commitment to yourself that you will absolutely make no assumptions about the motivations of others unless you check out your assumption with the other person.*
*Mckay, Matthew (et. al.) When Anger Hurts (Oakland, CA, New Harbinger Publ., 2003)