Why People Blame Others Instead of Taking Responsibility

Dear Dr. Deb, I have been following your columns for a while now and I have to say, they are a little bit “fluffy.” I don’t mean to be rude, but you make everything come out so easy, as if all problems can be solved in the course of one column. And life just isn’t so simple. For example, my husband actually went on Amazon (at my urging) and bought your book, The Healing is Mutual: Marriage Empowerment Tools to Rebuild Trust and Respect—Together. He tends to blame others instead of taking responsibility so I thought reading your book would help. He read it, or says he read it, and didn’t like it. He didn’t like the idea that you mentioned the word, “abuse” somewhere in there. He said the following: “Anyone can say they’re abused. Maybe they are just too sensitive.” How can you help someone like me who is knocking my head against the wall trying to get through to my husband? —Frustrated   Dear Frustrated, You are correct that my columns can’t tackle the essence of individual problems. All I can do is write general principles that seem to work for many people. The same would be true of reading self-help boks. They are good for some people; others need a therapist. In the case of my book, I’m guessing that your husband didn’t actually read it because there is a chapter in it called, “My Partner is Hypersensitive.” Had he read that, he would not have made the comments about people being “too sensitive” since that is the very thing that chapter addresses. Had he...

Why People Don’t Apologize and What to Do About It

It’s amazing how many people can’t seem to apologize. Here are some reason that this might happen: They grew up in homes where people were blamed whenever things went wrong. Therefore, apologizing is not only an admission that they did something wrong—which they probably heard too much of in their lives already—but it’s opening themselves to being the target of blame. Would you start lacing into them? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter; they’re just afraid of it. Even when their logical mind knows better, people like this don’t want to put themselves in a place that feels icky because of past associations. They grew up in homes where they were perfect; they could do nothing wrong. Now, you know that can’t be true; no one is perfect. But some people were never told that. This can happen because parents are genuinely afraid to discipline their children or because they honestly don’t see anything wrong with the behavior. Either way, the child honestly doesn’t know that he or she did something wrong. To educate a person of either type in trying to help a marriage is very challenging. When you try to explain that the person in Category 1 did something wrong, they automatically slide into victim mode; they feel like they’re being blamed. This makes them defensive and sometimes they pre-emptively attack you, adding more injury on top of whatever it was in the first place. A person in Category 2 is just as difficult to teach. Such a person has no comprehension of what you’re talking about. They are likely to say, “No, I didn’t” when you...

3-Step Formula When Abusive Parents Visit for The Holidays

We were making progress, this new couple and I. Eli was getting it. He realized that his sarcastic remarks, his put-downs, his glares, and his barely-controlled anger all constitute verbal abuse. He was starting to work effectively with his tools, too. He had downloaded the mp3 file from my website and had burnt the relaxation disc. He was listening daily and taking the deep breaths that I recommend for slowing down his autonomic nervous system so as to engage his brain and not just react. He was practicing assertiveness to make his points effectively in a non-threatening way. Perhaps most important, he was working hard at catching himself falling into the trap of victim thinking. That means, just by catching himself, he would prevent many awful fights.   His wife, Andrea, was starting to see a difference. She was still nervous, hurt from the past, and unsure of the future, but the good part is that she understood that healing takes time and she was giving this process the time it needed.   All well and good.   Until Thanksgiving approached.   If Your Spouse Is Abusive, His Parent Probably Was, Too   Thanksgiving meant that Mother was coming. His mother. The person who taught Eli every dirty trick he knows and remained clueless of the pain she constantly inflicted. So instead of preparing for a lovely family visit, Andrea’s nerves were tuned to a high pitch; she found herself yelling at the children more, dropping things unexpectedly, and in a near-collision on the highway. She most definitely did not want his mother to come. But Eli’s mother is...

The Blame Addiction In Relationships

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.   Why Blame Ruins Relationships   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.   Usually, it also causes the listener to become defensive. This means there will be an escalation of bad feelings—still with nothing accomplished.   If the listener is a certain type, it will also cause him or her to counterattack.   Now we have two adults acting like kindergardeners: “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…”   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.   The listener will, if this happens...

Blaming Boomerangs in Relationships

Nothing drills down another person’s happiness like constant blame. “The sun rose so it’s your fault. There was an earthquake on the other side of the world, so, again, it’s your fault. Everything is your fault. In fact, I don’t know why I married someone with so many faults.” Blame is verbal abuse. The most fascinating thing, to me, is that when I confront all these blamers, they tell me that they love their spouse, child, etc. So what gives? What in the world do you love about them if they are responsible for every problem you have? Now you’re going to ask me, “Well, DrDeb, if they upset me and I don’t tell them, aren’t they going to keep on doing it?” Great question. The problem is that if you do keep piling blame and accusation on them, I guarantee they’ll keep on doing it. After all, you’re making them feel miserable, so what is their motivation to be nice to you? Ever hear the old expression, “You get more bees with honey than vinegar”? Think about it. Bottom line: Your relationship will fall apart, if it hasn’t already, if you feel a need to rehash every thing that went wrong with blaming. You can’t rewrite the past by rehashing it, and you definitely don’t create what those in the business world call “good will.” So put the brakes on that behavior. Pronto. How Did You Start The blaming Thing, Anyway? It started three ways: One: Your parents did it to each other and to you. Two: You thought as a little kid that somebody has to be...
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