Blame versus Accountability

For most adult individuals, blaming someone else for their problems has been a long standing cultural tradition. As children, we learn by example from our parents, relatives, school peers, and society, that blaming is a way to explain how an unpleasant situation occurred or how unsatisfied we are in our life. We choose to believe that it’s someone else’s fault that we are unhappy, poor, mistreated, in legal trouble, or in an unhappy marriage. If only other people would change, understand, agree with you, behave better, act mature, be fair minded, have morals, be kind, not be so harsh, etc… then we’d be happier, richer, less depressed, less anxious, have fewer problems, etc…

When we blame other people for our problems, we are in fact not taking responsibility for our part in the couple, marriage or family system. Is it possible to be in a an unsatisfying relationship with someone, and not be at least a little bit of the cause of the dissatisfaction? Can families honestly blame all of their woes on a single member of the family? Family systems are like theatrical plays: there are people with different roles, who act and behave in synchronicity with other members of the family, with everyone acting connectively to produce a story and sub-stories of their family life. Everyone has an influence on others, and how they react, such that no one family member can behave in a vacuum and not affect other family members. The same applies to couples.

If we want the dynamics between us and our loved ones to change, then we need to first stop blaming others, and then examine our role in the relationship. How does my behavior, my style of communication, my non-verbals, my expression of feelings and thoughts, my choices, influence how my partner or my family members behave, think and feel? This is called taking responsibility for ourselves, and being accountable for how we affect others. This is not to be confused with co-dependency, where we are changing our behavior and feelings to please others. When we look at ourselves, and become aware of our behaviors and feelings, then we can make the changes we need to better our life.

The antithesis to blaming is holding ourselves and others accountable, and setting boundaries that are healthy for us. Accountability empowers us, and allows us to move in a healthier direction in our life, whereas blaming bogs us down into more of the same behavior from other people and from ourselves. A spouse who continues to blame his/her spouse for their dire financial situation because of her/his compulsive gambling, isn’t going to change the situation; but a spouse who sets boundaries, takes responsibility for her/his part in the relationship which enabled this situation and the relationship, and then sets boundaries so that he/she can become more differentiated and healthy, will provoke the kind of changes that are needed in the relationship.

Blaming is a shaming and damaging act, that we’ve learned from generations past, and that we can fortunately change in our lifetime. It is a choice that we make: to continue pointing our finger at others, or to embrace accountability and transformation for ourselves. Experiment this week by not blaming the person you tend to blame the most in your life. Instead, every time the urge bubbles up to blame, examine from where you are coming, your part in the issue, your family’s generational patterns, and what you can do to change the situation. You might just discover that you have more power and resources than you thought!