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The Blame Addiction
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION from the Florida Jewish Journal, p. 14
“It’s your fault!” Robbie screamed. “Do you understand what you did? Do you understand what a terrible loss this means?” His screams filled the air with a sick, heaviness, a light and bright afternoon immediately transformed. Sarah felt weak at the knees, unable to breathe. And for what?
What, indeed. What purpose is ever served by blame?
If you are one of millions of people addicted to blame, know that it’s a great way to shoot yourself in the foot. Rather than accomplish something by it, you ruin more than was ruined already by the problem for which you are blaming somebody. Here’s why:
1. At the very least, the air of attack causes the listener to shut down. Therefore, the person you’re yelling at can’t take in your point.
2. Usually, it also causes the listener to become defensive. This means there will be an escalation of bad feelings—still with nothing accomplished.
3. If the listener is a certain type, it will also cause him or her to counterattack. Now we have two adults acting like kindergarteners: “No, it’s your fault!” “No, it’s yours.” Which generally leads to utter nonsense like, “And what about that time your mother…..” “Oh, you want to talk about my mother? Well, let me tell you something…”
4. Just in case the original screamer was justified in his or her assessment of having been damaged, he loses that hallowed “victim” status by having been a mongrel in dealing with it.
5. The listener will, if this happens with sufficient frequency, eventually come to hate him. At that point, there’s very little in the way of hearts and flowers, chocolate boxes and diamonds that can make up for having deeply injured someone by blaming.
In light of how utterly purposeless and totally destructive blaming is, why do people keep on doing it? The simple answer is that they are addicted to it. Let me explain:
An addiction, by definition, is something one does that is bad for oneself, but one does it anyway because, in the short term, it feels good. Every addiction, from shopping, to gambling, to drugs, to exploding at others falls into this same pattern. What’s more, that good feeling is not merely something psychological, but actual. There are chemical and neurological changes in the brain that correspond to that good feeling.
The high of drugs is only partially caused by the drugs themselves. A certain amount of the pleasure is caused by the relief from pain that any escape mechanism entails.
That escape mechanism does not have to be complicated or deep. When young children get a “boo-boo,” why do they think the kiss we give them made them feel better? The answer is that the kiss took away their attention momentarily from the pain. In the same way, when you get a burn or a bang in the kitchen, do you really need to jump around like a jack-rabbit? Yes, actually. That moment of jumping buys you time for the pain to diminish and distracts you, too.
Studies of the brain done on people with chronic pain show that when they are distracted, their perception of pain decreases. A small interruption of their involvement with their pain is all it takes to get some relief. In fact, this is the basis of hypnosis for pain, and it has been found to be more successful at times than medication. Distraction actually causes brain changes.
With that in mind, let’s look at the opening scenario: Robbie is angry at Sarah because, in his eyes, Sarah made some kind of costly mistake. He is suffering at the thought of the ramifications of that mistake. He is in emotional pain. He is too troubled at that moment to think clearly about how to undo the mistake. But if he yells and, in particular, if he yells at someone who he thinks caused the problem, for those few minutes he is not suffering from his loss. True, he is all worked up and may end up with blood pressure problems or a stroke, but for the moment, he feels relief; his mind is off the problem itself and on to the presumed perpetrator. That’s why blame is addictive.
If you combine it with yelling, it’s really powerful in its drug-like attraction. The yelling discharges all that nervous energy and exhausts the yeller in the process. In other words, it’s a really backwards way to calm oneself down. By the way, that’s also the reason why yellers—no matter what their reason for yelling—always feel better afterwards and can’t understand why the recipient doesn’t.
The short term gain?—Robbie’s mind is off his financial beating. The long-term loss?—His relationship with Sarah.
Some fascinating research just came out which doesn’t surprise me: People who have had various forms of stomach bypass surgery have substituted their addiction to food for addictions to alcohol or non-substance addictions. It’s always best to see a behavior for what it really is. Blame is an addiction, one that, just like the “worse” addictions of drugs, eating, or gambling, not only hurts oneself but those one loves as well. If you can’t get past it, treat it as you would any other addiction: Get help.