A lot has been written about the behavior of blame in significant relationships. An anonymous quote says, “Blame is a cognitive distortion,” which is an interesting concept. The kind of blame I am addressing is not the kind that involves conflict that ends up in a courtroom. I am addressing the kind of blame that occurs in conflicts in personal, sometimes professional relationships that can be worked out without lawyers. Indeed when lawyers become involved differences are rarely worked out positively. Couples who have come to the brink of a divorce can actually repair with the help of a good couples’ therapist. Unfortunately when one partner involves a lawyer the end of the relationship is certain.
Once we have become adults and begin to consciously work on maturing it is vital for our health that we learn how to accept responsibility for our part in a problem. One of the biggest problems with blaming others is that when we blame another person we don’t learn how to accept responsibility for our part in the problem. When we can’t accept responsibility we can’t mature.
The theory of systemic therapy was formed in the early 1970s and moved our thinking away from linear causality and understanding reality as objective, to the understanding that reality is socially constructed. The goal is to identify difficult patterns of behavior between people in families and other social systems and encourage individuals to relate to others differently. A systems therapist does not assign blame. As a clinician I have practiced systemic therapy for many years and my way of thinking about relationships has changed. The result is that I cannot blame one person or another. I encourage clients to recognize their part in the problem and decide if they can change themselves in order to work with the other person to resolve problems.
This change in my thinking includes children who blame their parents. Yes, I firmly believe that parents need to approach their job as a parent with unconditional love, great sensitivity, understanding, and care. And I firmly believe that all kinds of abuse are wrong. I also recognize that parents were children once themselves and many were abused by their parents. It’s the cycle of abuse that is now well documented but has not ended. I am not excusing abusive behaviors. What I am trying to do is to understand the cycle of abuse so we can develop ways to end it. And I believe that is possible.
When two people form a relationship each person brings with them the thinking and perceptions of the family system they grew up in. Any time one or both people have experienced any kind of abuse their personality is affected. Together both people create another system between themselves in which their personalities will interact well at times and create problems at other times. If all they do is blame each other their relationship will fail. When each person can accept responsibility for their part in a problem each person will be able to decide if they can change their personality a little bit in order to fit better with their partner.
Understanding each other can lead to the ability to change. Understanding is NOT excusing or rationalizing. There is a very fine and important difference between understanding, excusing or rationalizing.
Adult children can also learn how to accept responsibility for their behaviors in their adult relationship with their parents. When an adult child sinks into blaming behavior he or she begins to develop victim type thinking which can result in serious lifelong depression. Adult children can become capable of understanding their parents when someone respects them enough to encourage them to do so. If an adult child is not expected to be responsible for his/her behavior in her/his relationship with his/her parents she/he may never mature enough to have an adult to adult relationship with his/her parents.
Many families have difficult experiences in which people blow up at each other. In situations like that it is valuable for every person who took part in the situation to accept responsibility for their own behavior. Blaming one person is an act of scapegoating that does not help anyone, it changes nothing. If someone else is always blamed, who can stop a problem? How does anyone heal? How can the relationship improve? Who matures?