Here’s the classic blaming situation: being blamed for taking the cookie out of the cookie jar. Regrettably, in some work places every employee is either blaming or being blamed. The same is true in other relationships such as families, faith organizations and even friendships.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary’s definition for blame is to find fault with or hold responsible. It is similar to the word criticize. But when we are blamed there is a sense that there is something wrong with who we are, in addition to doing something wrong.
When we are blamed for a problem and we are indeed guilty of the deed, we need to accept responsibility. “Yes, I did that or said that.” We also need to make amends for our mistakes that caused others harm or inconvenience. But, it is important not to accept any suggestion that we are flawed beings.
Oftentimes being blamed is about others’ hang-ups and little about us. We might become triggered into feeling guilt or shame. Here is a story of how one woman handled a blaming situation.
Carmine’s Story of Being Blamed
Let’s call her Carmine. She phoned me in tears feeling demoralized. She loves talking about her passion of personal awareness. So does her friend of over twenty-five years. But one day on a girlfriend trip Carmine’s friend criticized her for enthusiastically describing a concept in too much depth. Her friend rolled her eyes and said, “You go on and on.“ Carmine felt as if she was being treated like a two-year-old. From her perspective, she was being blamed for being naughty. She was judged for talking too much. She replied, “OK, I get the message.“
But her friend seemed determined to repeatedly make it a problem. Her friend told Carmine, “There you go again“ or “I have to tell you again. I do not like how you don’t stop talking.“ Ridicule in public places began. “Carmine doesn’t know when she is boring the rest of us.“ Now the blaming had become shaming. Shame means to not be ok with self. Feeling guilty signals, “I did something wrong.” Feeling shame signals, “I am wrong.”
Carmine told me “I’m a grown woman and I don’t have tools. How do I deal with people who after I agreed with them and I hide my enthusiasm, I still get blamed? What should I do?”
To Carmine’s credit, she originally began by hearing the complaint and said, “I got the message.” She could have become a Blame Thrower and told her friend to “Back off! You are the problem in our relationship with your complaining, blaming, and criticizing. It’s your fault we’re not getting along.”
Or she could have been a Blame Owner and added to the shaming comments by telling herself, “I’m a bore and I will not say anything anymore. I am worthless.” The blame game can become nasty either way.
How much of this blame and criticism is about the other person and how much is about me?
Oftentimes people blame out of their own hang-ups and it has little to do with us. Carmine did a reality check. She asked other trusted people if they noticed her enthusiastically taking over conversations. That informal research was helpful. She received affirmation that she is good company and does not hog conversations.
Sometimes we do have inappropriate behaviors that need change. As my friend, Reverend Diane Edwards used to say
If one person says you look like a horse, laugh and walk away. If two people say you look like a horse, you might want to consider the idea. If three or more people say you look like a horse it might be time to research the price of a saddle.
Carmine still needed a strategy for the next time her friend blamed. I suggested three questions that Carmine could ask her friend.
Graciously Disarm the Blamer
- What do you want from me?
- How can I help you get what you want?
- What are you willing to do to help get our friendship back on track?
Some people have become habitual Blame Throwers. They believe their unhappiness is in the power and control of others. The simple and calm question, “What do you want from me?” stops blame throwing and invites others to do an internal check-in.
For example, perhaps Carmine’s friend wanted to share in detail some of her perspectives. Perhaps she wanted to be invited to speak up more herself. We can only guess. Consequently, asking the what do you want question can clean up the dialogue dynamics.
Carmine did use those questions the next time she was blamed. She reported that respectfully asking that one question made a positive difference. She felt sane and wise in seeking to understand her friend’s needs while maintaining her own dignity.
This question, when asked gently but assertively, tends to help those who are inappropriately blaming, to slow down. They will typically reflect and ask themselves, “What is this really about? What is it I really want?”
Ask the one, two or three questions above the next time you feel inappropriately challenged, blamed, dumped on or criticized. They invite a shift in perspective. You will find that it builds resilience to your relationship and your personal well-being.