Blaming is a cognitive distortion. Meaning, it’s a thinking style common among those with depression and anxiety.
Blaming is when we:
- think other people are responsible for our emotions; or
- think outside factors are the cause for our stress/failure/etc.; or
- take on responsibility for other people’s emotions or things outside of our control.
Blaming and Low Emotional Intelligence
When you blame others, you get stuck in finding where to place blame instead of focusing on growth and achieving goals.
When you blame outside factors, you limit yourself instead of focusing on what you can do to get a better outcome.
The two examples above are how blaming is tied with low emotional intelligence.
Blaming can also occur when you take blame that is not yours to take. As a result you end up feeling shame, guilt or feelings of self-hatred.
This would not be a sign of low emotional intelligence, but could be a sign of low self-worth, lack of a support system, invalidation and/or not establishing clear boundaries.
So while both those who assign blame and those who take on blame may not know any better, the reason for assigning blame and taking on blame stem from different causes.
If you haven’t guessed, blaming is counterintuitive to mental and emotional well-being.
Stop Blaming to Build Emotional Intelligence
We need to be aware of blaming and what it is in order to correct it. So below are 3 examples of blaming to help you spot it.
There are tips to stop blaming at the end.
Example of Others Wasting Time Trying to Place Blame
I worked at a law firm early in my career. A few months in someone found a mistake. A filing was sent to the court incorrectly and it needed to be resent—a ten minute fix.
The attorney and his paralegal were hyperfocused on who was to blame.
Understandable, they want the person who made the mistake held accountable.
However, the attorney and his paralegal were going in circles. They couldn’t find who to blame. It was a conversation all throughout the day, and the filing became a hot potato.
Finally, I took blame, said it was my fault and that I’ll fix it. We all moved on with other topics.
A couple seconds later the attorney said, “Wait, the filing happened in June, you didn’t even work here then.”
At that moment I could see the realization on his face. He realized the blame game they were playing all day was unproductive.
In this instance, taking blame had minimal to zero repercussion. Even if I had made the mistake, I was new and the mistake was a small one.
Taking blame for things that hurt us is when we get in trouble. And now we land on example number two:
Example of Taking on Too Much Blame
It’s common play in our culture to blame others for our actions and emotions.
An ex of mine would constantly blame me for his actions and emotions. To him, he didn’t get mad; I made him mad.
And when I would ask him to not yell he would say “you made me yell.”
It was confusing, if I have the power to make him mad and mean, why don’t I have the power to make him kind?
Then, after realizing the blame he was trying to give wasn’t mine to have, I stood up for myself.
The next time he blamed me for him being mad. I responded, “I’m not your puppet master.”
He looked shocked and confused.
“I’m cutting the strings.” Holding my right hand in the air as if it was holding strings of a puppet, I used the index and middle finger on my left hand to mimic scissors. My hand scissors cut the the imaginary puppet strings.
“I’m done. No longer your puppet master. Take responsibility for your actions. Take control of yourself. What you say and what you do is on you.”
It was hard to tell if the look of shock on his face was due to me standing up for myself or because he was realizing he had ownership of his own feelings. Whatever the case, it felt great!
He responded, “ha, puppet master.”
I said, “yup, no more.”
A couple days later he tried to belittle me and make fun of me for saying, “I’m not his puppet master.” It didn’t work, I responded, “yup, that’s right, I’m no longer in control of your emotions, you take em!”
He stopped blaming me for his feelings. More importantly, I stopped taking on blame that wasn’t mine. I stopped allowing someone to justify their mistreatment of me.
Example of How I Learned to Blame Others
No one inherently blames others. It’s a learned habit. We are taught by influences in the environment. I remember a time I was taught.
Sixteen years old, I worked at a pizza place. The owner was a young guy in his early 30s.
One day I was arguing with a boyfriend (we’ll call him Jay) and Jay called me crazy. The owner of the pizza shop said, “you’re not crazy, he made you crazy.”
My boss put emphasis and encouraged me to blame Jay for my actions.
Being a typically well tempered person, I agreed! It was Jay; it wasn’t me! I blamed him. It was easy, and it felt good!
“You made me this way.” I said to Jay. And that is when I took a step back from growth and stopped myself from building emotional intelligence.
Ya see, because had I instead focused on the fact I was dating a guy who thinks it’s ok to call me crazy.
I would have broken up with Jay.
If he really thinks I’m crazy, why would he want to date a crazy person? That would make him deranged. I don’t want to date a deranged person.
And, if I was acting in a way outside of my normal temperament when I was around Jay, then that’s a cause for concern. Instead of blaming him, I should have wondered why I was feeling high emotions.
If I reflected instead of blaming, I would have realized that Jay was not a good fit for me and I would have stopped the relationship much sooner than I did.
To stop the harmful blaming habit, and to build emotional intelligence we can take ownership of our thoughts, actions and emotions.
No one can make you do or feel anything without your permission.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get mad. It means that if you feel mad, question why.
Maybe someone is disrespecting your boundaries, and they aren’t a good fit. Maybe you are triggered by something else and need to work through those emotions. Or maybe you just had a bad day.
Whatever the case, when we stop blaming others we stop limiting ourselves and we build emotional intelligence.
This is the same with when we stop taking on blame that isn’t our to carry. Unloading blame and the shame that comes with it can literally feel like a weight lifting off your shoulders.
Just like others are not responsible for our feelings, we are not responsible for theirs.
So if someone says you made them do something remind them kindly that: You are not the puppet master.
A note about abuse:
Victim blaming is prevalent in our society.
Victims of abuse typically take on blame that is not theirs to carry.
This not only perpetuates abuse, it compounds the trauma resulting from the abuse.
Which results in abusers getting away with abuse and victims feeling unsupported and alone.
Demand change, rise to a higher level of consciousness and stop blaming victims.
It’s not the clothing that turned him into a rapist. He is a rapist. It’s not the drinks that made him do it, he did it because he chose to do it.
People control their own actions. There is no excuse. There is no “unconscious” abuse.
And if they did it while they were drunk or high, they actually chose to do it before they got drink or high.
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Photo by Michael Dziedzic