It is all Gods fault that I lost my job. I prayed to Shiva every day for a whole month and still I did not get the promotion. Why did Jesus not heal my mother and save her? Where was the Tradition when my relationship broke? I offered a coconut and kumkum to Devi every Friday and still I did not pass my exam. Mohanji did not save me from the accident, could he not predict it? He is so spiritual, but see how he is suffering?
During these uncertain times with covid changing the entire dynamics of the world, we seem to want to blame God, Guru and Tradition for everything that is happening in our lives. After all, no God or Guru is curing us from this disease, right? This seems to be a general sentiment all over social media and a theme that is emerging from all the communication I have been receiving from from over the globe. People want to blame God or Guru for everything, and that too in the most maliciously way possible. Infact, not just God or Guru, but they want to blame everyone-else for the difficult times they are going through. This blog delves a little into the phycology of blame. It is not meant to shame anyone but to give us all an opportunity to identify why we blame others and attempt to fix what is truly wrong. It is meant to show us what we lose when we persistently blame others.
The Cambridge dictionary defines blame as “the situation in which people say or think that someone or something did something wrong or is responsible for something bad happening”. But blame is not that simple. Malle and Manroe (2014) conducted an indept study published in the scientific journal called Psychological Inquiry, and defined blame as “a unique moral judgment that is both cognitive and social, regulates social behavior, fundamentally relies on social cognition, and requires warrant” (Malle, Guglielmo et al. 2014). This gives a fuller understanding on the phycology of blame. Firstly, blame is based on a moral judgement made by a person. There are many theories regarding “moral judgement”, but one of the more interesting one is called self-serving bias. This means that our moral responses to various circumstances is partially based on the tendency of people to interpret and explain outcomes in ways that have favorable implications for the self (Blaine and Crocker 1993) . This means that we will take the credit for ourselves when things go well, but blame others when circumstance go wrong.
The definition of blame is also a social and self-cognitive construct. In order to defend and bolster their self-images because of poor self-esteem (Fein, Hoshino et al. 2013) and general desire to avoid negative social evaluation and disapproval from others, people will try to save face when things go wrong, and people will sometimes shift blame away from themselves by bringing attention to external causes (Peterson and Barrett 1987).
There are some of my thoughts regarding blame that I would like to share:
Blame is one of the best defense mechanisms
Blame is one of the ways that a person can preserve their own sense of self-esteem. People do not want to admit that they are responsible for what happens in their life, instead they want to play the victim so that society perceives them as innocent. In today’s world, it seems that the opinion of others matter more and one’s social status is dependent fully on how one looks on FB, Instagram or by work colleagues and family. There are many ways in which this happens. The most common is to blame people who tried to help. For example, Mohanji may have given you advice about your relationship but the relationship still breaks. It looks better to the outside world to blame God or Mohanji than for you to be take responsibility of your actions. It’s a defense mechanism to shift the blame, instead of honestly asking yourself if you applied the advice given, to determine if you were considerate to the other person, did you drive the other person away etc.
The same idea applies to Covid-19. I see so many people asking why the Gurus of this world are not getting rid of the virus. The question I have is, did we take their advice when they warned us about how we are isolating ourselves from nature? Did we heed their warnings when they said we are becoming insensitive to the other animals and living beings in this world, or did we greedily do as we pleased just to amass wealth and power. If we did not listen and take heed to their advice, what right do we have to ask why they not saving us? Karma has also been trivialised to an excuse when things don’t go our way. How often have we heard – Don’t blame me, “it is karmic”, “it was fate”, “God was working through me” etc. This is not expressed with a sense of awareness, but a mechanism to blame something subtle. Who can go and take karma to court? Who can get an audience with God and ask what the correct details of the situation are? Which Guru has the time or inclination to worry about blame when they have other important work to do? Which God will send a lawyers letter defending his position?
We need to clearly define what the responsibilities of God and Gurus are towards us. It is the responsibility of a Guru to help grow your spiritual awareness, and not protect society’s opinion of you. Anything else but teaching you how to see the world with more awareness, is a bonus that we should be grateful for and not have an attitude of expectation. Everyone in this world faces challenges. It is not logical to go through life without challenges. The strength of being spiritual, having a Guru, or being connected to God is that you are given tools that will allow you to deal with the difficult situation. It is the responsibility of teachers to show you how you can deal with difficult situations, and not to take the situation away or completely mollycoddle you and deal with the situation for you. Think of our own parents. What happens when parents over protect kids and do not let them face any challenges? How do these spoilt kids deal with the world?
There is a great danger in becoming a slave to one’s defense mechanism. You lose the positive influence you have on others and yourself. No one will like being around you because everything is an issue. Positive life-affirming people stay away from you, and only people that love negativity and gossip surrounds you. Eventually, you only exude negativity.
Blame prevents you from having to become vulnerable
Shifting the blame onto someone else means that you do not have to become accountable for your actions. The whole process of taking responsibility for something is a very intimate and vulnerable process. When you become accountable you have to admit to yourself that you are wrong and that you may have hurt someone. This is a very painful thing to do. That is why we so readily express how hurt we are, but rarely express how we hurt other people. This is not just an exercise with the tongue. It is easy to say the words “I hurt you, Im sorry”. But it is a whole new ballgame to actually feel it and own it. People don’t like to feel vulnerable, because they are afraid of feeling the pain, shame and hurt.
This stunts your personal growth. People grow and evolve when they are put into difficult situations and not when they are in comfort zones. If you do not allow yourself be vulnerable without making excuses, there is no chance you will grow. At best, you will remain stagnant your entire life. Constantly sidestepping this powerful, vulnerable process of negotiating and communicating means you are not likely to develop empathy for others. In fact research shows that it’s narcissists, with their self-obsessed attributes, who are prone to blame more than others (Peterson and Barrett 1987).
The illogical anger and attack mode
Many people blame others because they are angry and they do not know how to deal with their anger. They feel frustrated and confined, and just cannot get themselves out of that dark space. So their response to their own anger, is to hurt the other person by blaming them. This is called destructive conflict resolution. The other way this plays out, is that they make a concerted effort to associate with people they perceive as being at odds with the one who they blame. This is normally done in a way that the person they blame notices it and sometimes even trying to convince others to do the same. This is an expression of not accepting the emotions that are erupting inside them.
This type of constant anger and attacks, whether active or passive-aggressive, breaks relationships. Blaming others is a way of putting people down so naturally it is also a great way to instead push people away, or create a dangerous environment where there is no trust and the other person can’t relax as they always feel judged and devalued. Blaming leads to a cultivation of victim-hood that increases the likelihood for anger, which perpetuates a dangerous cycle.
Blaming others allows one to feel in control
When we try to blame someone else, implicitly it means that we may have behaved in a way that we are not proud off. This also means that by blaming people we don’t have to listen to their side of the story, thus you have complete control of what message is being sent. People that have a hard time letting go and people that want to be in control of everything are normally the ones that blame others incessantly.
By itself, and through diminishing the openness for reflection and understanding that we are not in control, blaming others contributes to feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. This can lead not only to anger, but to depression as well. Blaming others can also be viewed as deriving from as well as contributing to dependency, thus we lose more control over our life.
Blaming others allows for the expression of suppressed emotions
Many times people cannot express how they truly feel because they are afraid of been perceived as the wrong on or afraid of been criticized. As soon as an opportunity presents itself, the person then blames others with venom transposing all the pent up emotions on someone else. Brain research increasingly emphasizes that the more frequently we have certain thoughts and behaviours, the more strongly they become embedded in the neuronal pathways of our brain. Consequently, regarding these suppressed emotion-provoking situations for example, the more frequently we blame others for how we react, the more likely we will continue to do so. The more we respond aggressively and with outburst of suppressed emotions, the more such behavior becomes the “go-to” reaction
I we identify ourselves with the dangerous cycle of blaming, there is still hope:
- One of the most important things to do, is to exactly see what blame is: The expression of pain and hurt.
- Awareness is always the first step. Becoming more aware of how you talk to others will help you realize if you are blaming (or not).
- Move ones mind-set towards what one can control. Instead of blaming others, look at what can be controlled to change the situation. If one begins concentrating on improving what one can control, automatically the feelings of victimhood begin to diminish.
- Always focus on learning. Creating a culture where learning, rather than avoiding mistakes, is the top priority will help to ensure that one feels free to talk about and learn from ones errors.
- Reward yourself when you learn a lesson from a mistake.
- Surround yourself with positive non-judgemental people
- Tell yourself everyday that you deserve to be the best you can be. Grow your confidence in yourself.
- Understand that everything that you are going through is an opportunity to grow and evolve. Ask yourself: “what’s the lesson here?” Embrace the uncomfortable experience of challenging yourself. See what you’ve learned. The pain will go on; the lessons will be with you forever.
- Focus on understanding the other person you may want to blame. Walk yourself in her/ his shoes before taking a ‘im right and you wrong’ approach.
- If someone causes you harm, was it on purpose or just an accident? Are you feeding other people to ‘attack’ you, even if you don’t notice? Self-pity is a character we play: we believe our suffering makes us special and deserving of more attention.
- “Next time, before you react, pause. Think of incidents as an empty boat crashing against yours. Rather than finding whom to blame, realize that the vessel was adrift. Is there something you could have done differently to avoid the crash? Or just accept things as they are. Move on; keep rowing. And smile.”(Razzetti 2020)
- There is ancient Tibetan saying “Seeking happiness outside ourselves is like waiting for sunshine in a cave facing north”. Stop looking outside for happiness. Your happiness lies inside you and not with someone else.
Blaine, B. and J. Crocker (1993). Self-Esteem and Self-Serving Biases in Reactions to Positive and Negative Events: An Integrative. Self-Esteem. The Plenum Series in Social / Clinical Psychology. B. R.F. Boston, MA, Springer.
Fein, S., E. Hoshino, P. G. Davies and S. J. Spencer (2013). Self-image maintenance goals and sociocultural norms in motivated social perception Motivated social perception: The Ontario symposium. S. J. F. Spencer, S; , Zanna, M.P.; and Olson, J.M., “Lawrence Erlbaum Associates”.
Malle, B., S. Guglielmo and A. Monroe (2014). “A Theory of Blame.” Psychological Inquiry 25: 147-186.
Peterson, C. and L. C. Barrett (1987). “Explanatory style and academic performance among university freshman.” J Pers Soc Psychol 15(1): 16.
Razzetti, G. (2020). “How to s top playing the blame game.” from https://liberationist.org/how-to-stop-playing-the-blame-game/.