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The problem of Blame

Updated: Mar 29



 

 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Genesis 3: 11-13

 

Refusal to take blame

One of the very first effects of “The fall” written about in Genesis is the inability for Adam and Eve to take responsibility for their actions. When God confronts them with eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the Serpent.

And then they passed down the inability to take responsibility to the next generation.  Cain was not able to see that he didn’t do what was right in giving of his sacrifice so instead of seeking to do what was right, he murdered the source of his jealousy, his brother who received God’s blessing. This propensity to blame another for the problems we face seems to be encoded in our very DNA.

 

From a psychological perspective there are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that we have a hard time seeing things outside of the lens of our own experience. I believe that as a result of the fall, we lost not only our unhindered intimacy with God but with one another. We became very separate and disconnected.  Stepping into another’s shoes and seeing what they are experiencing is not always easy. We like to tell people what they are doing from our perspective rather than remind ourselves that this is our own personal version of the story.  Brene Brown talks about a tool she uses in her book “Rising Strong.” She uses the phrase “the story I am telling myself” When experiencing conflict with her husband as a way to tell him (and remind herself) that she isn’t blaming him but is expressing how she is personally experiencing a situation. If we start a difficult conversation like that with “the story I’m telling myself…” we are giving someone else the opportunity to correct our version, fill in the blanks of what we don’t see, or at least giving the other an opportunity to see how we may be seeing a situation without the flash of defensiveness that would come if we were to outright blame them for something. 

 

The other thing that seems to make it difficult to take responsibility for our part in a problem is the shame that can often accompany the feeling that we did something wrong. I can imagine that for Adam and Eve, to be confronted by their beloved creator who warned them not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, to hear the sadness of being betrayed in His voice and the fear of consequences would have caused such emotional pain that they couldn’t tolerate the experience of that shame so they projected it on someone else. Much like the game Hot Potato. The pain was so intense they tossed it to the next individual down the line. Friends we do this too. To know that we’ve caused someone to hurt or to suffer, to fear the consequences of our actions, to see clearly that we have been part of creating a problem can feel so unbearably painful that we deflect that feeling in order to gain some distance from it. If we can learn to tolerate that feeling in order to allow us to humbly acknowledge it and seek both forgiveness and do what we can to try to repair any damage and accept the consequences of our actions then we perhaps begin to participate in the wonderful effects of healing. Unfortunately for some, the pain of recognizing and owning their wrongdoing feels too intolerable to admit and they spend their lives in a position of blaming others and miss out on the healing that can come from accepting responsibility. But please be aware, when others are the source of the responsibility for the pain we experience, we have no power of changing it. We are the victim and we relinquish the power to make any change.  We become a prisoner of their choices and forfeit our own.

 

This is one of the reasons I believe that steps 8and 9 of the twelve steps in AA is for addicts to make amends with those for whom the addict has wronged.  The theory is that when we don’t deal with our shame, we may find that we need to use something to numb the shame we feel.  I think we all have our coping mechanisms for unresolved shame. We may not be alcoholics but we may have adopted some other form of maladaptive coping strategies to cope with the pain of shame. It never goes away on its own without being dealt with.


 When we take responsibility for someone elses behaviors

On the other end of the spectrum are people who take the blame for other peoples behaviors. This could be a maladaptive coping strategy from childhood where the only way to feel safe and in control is to take responsibility for problems. This is common with children whose parents are going through divorce. The child often feels responsible as if they caused the problem. The purpose of this logic is to have a sense of control of an "out of control" situation. "If I caused it by being naughty, then I can fix it by being good" The problem with this strategy is that children sometimes don't outgrow this faulty belief and find themselves in relationships where the only way to feel in control of being safe and making everything ok is to take full responsibility for everything and never hold anyone else accountable.


There are some situations however when people take responsibility for blame when they in fact are a victim of someones abuse. For instance, where there is a power differential and the person with more power abuses or causes harm to the other without the power to do anything about it, such as when children are abused or harmed in some way, then the responsibility for the wrong doing does rest with the abuser and not the victim. Unfortunately, the victim often does absorb the blame, spending their life trying to make sense of how they made someone hurt them, coming to the conclusion that there is something very wrong with themselves that would cause another to hurt them so badly. In these cases, it may be necessary to find a therapist to focus on helping the victim to release the belief that they had any control over the situation and to put the blame squarely on the abuser and in this way releasing themselves from the unnecessary shame that self-blame causes. 

 

Blame has been around since the very beginning. We all are susceptible to the seduction of putting responsibility for our actions onto others based on the legacy that our earliest parents passed down to us. Or maybe we take on more than our share of blame because we've learn to survive that way. We are not without power over the impact of both blame and shame. If we can remember that a humble and contrite heart will not be despised by God. He hears us and He provides the help we need when we stop blaming ourselves or others and start owning and confessing what belong to us And then he will “heal our land” and I believe our hearts and our relationships too. 


This post has been written as part of 5 minutue Friday writng prompt. You can join th FMF writing community here.

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so much insight and wisdom here. The blame game is certainly tied to our sin nature in several ways, isnt it. Visiting from FMF#16

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Thank you Kym, We as humans do have a tendency want to assign blame. I hope this post was encouraging!

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A very perceptive and thought provoking post.

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Thank you Sandra! I appreciate that.

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