Blame, forgiveness, compromise and working it out

I wrote this last year on blame and some of the comments this week brings it back around…

Dad would start blaming, as if it were important to establish once and for all who was responsible for every peccadillo.” ~ Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse

Needing someone to blame whenever something goes wrong is a hallmark of a dysfunctional family. People who want to blame others do so to shift the focus onto someone and lay the responsibility for whatever went wrong squarely at someone’s feet.

It doesn’t matter if someone really IS to blame or not (sometimes stuff happens and that is life), someone WILL be blamed.

Usually the family has elected the most culpable person to the role of black sheep. This person will be blamed whether or not they had anything to do with it or whether or not ANYONE had anything to do with it. This person will be blamed for both commissions (“you did this”) or omissions (“why didn’t you do something about this?”). It doesn’t matter.

A family system based on blame and guilt is very destructive and difficult. What’s more is that it sets people up for their future relationships….dragging the corrosive behavior into relationships and by the very fact that blame is a hallmark of the relationship, the relationship is doomed from the start. Usually when blame takes center stage in a relationship two people come from backgrounds that have set them up to blame or be blamed. The couple does an awful, destructive dance where many accusations are made, tears are shed and resolution simply doesn’t exist.

It is impossible to co-exist or to have a healthy relationship when BLAME and finding someone responsible for every little thing is a large part of the relationship. Healthy relationships simply are not about laying blame on someone’s shoulders.

In blaming, unhealthy relationships no one is allowed to be human or imperfect or there is ONE partner who is not allowed to be human or imperfect.

This partner, usually the scapegoat in their family of origin, becomes the scapegoat in the relationship. He or she then reacts in one of 3 ways: 1) try to please the partner and avoid blame (the “turn yourself inside out” response) or 2) begin to put the partner’s behavior under a microscope to assign blame to the blaming partner (a variation of “gotcha!”) or 3) rebel against the blaming partner and blow up and go their own way (the “I’ll show you response”).

Sometimes the blamed partner cycles through all 3 responses. Tries, most of the time, to please the blaming partner but when that doesn’t work go tit for tat (“you’re not perfect either”) and when that doesn’t work either just throw up the hands and escape, usually in dramatic fashion.

It takes a lot, an awful lot, to break the cycle of blame. Both my husband and I were the black sheep in our families of origins and both have been in relationships where we were the blamed partner. It is work for both of us to not blame or assign responsibility. Whenever we hear “Well, you…………” we say, “You’re going to fall down that well…” because we both recognize how hard it is to stop doing it even if you’ve been the victim of it.

But one of the defining moments in my first marriage (or one of the defining moments for me as to why I had to LEAVE my first marriage) was being blamed for something I did not do.

I had been blamed, all along, for the random and strange happenings in life and had spent most of the relationship on the defensive as I had spent in my family of origin. I was always explaining and trying to avoid blame…just like at home.

Then one day (I think I wrote about this on here already) we were all outside and a friend of his closed the door behind him and locked us out of the house. No one had keys…not him, not me, not his brother who was staying with us, not his friend who was staying with us, not even his grandmother who lived next door and had a spare set. Even her set was inside our house.

I had been out walking the dog. I was probably the ONLY person in the group with a legitimate reason for being outside. The rest of them were just hanging out and talking. But I was the one he yelled out when I didn’t have keys.

He was standing there screaming at me that I should have had keys. Me. Not his friend who locked us out and had been TOLD that if you pulled the side door shut it would lock automatically. Not his brother who had keys and not his grandmother who had keys to our house in case this very event occurred. No, it was MY fault.

And not my fault in a little way…in a big way…in a way to make him scream at me and no one else said a word. His brother climbed to the top of the second floor to go through one of the open bedroom windows and said to me, “If I fall off the roof and die, it’s your fault.” It was meant to be a joke, but I didn’t think it was funny. I had seen, too clearly, that the blame was being laid at my feet entirely too often and without any basis in fact. For the first time I wasn’t on the defensive, instead I was so angry.

The WORST kind of blame is when someone is blaming YOU for their bad behavior. I told my therapist I had created a monster. It was my bad behavior that made him abusive, that had made him a cheater and a liar. My therapist said, “You cannot create a monster who does not want to be created.” WHAT? How many times had I heard it was MY fault he cheated, he was physical, he didn’t come home, he didn’t act like a husband, he didn’t want me. How many times?

According to him, I was to blame for his behavior. And because of how I was raised, I believed it. It was AMAZING to hear that he owned his behavior and that nothing I did was an excuse to cheat or hit. He had the option of leaving but did not have the option of being unfaithful or abusive. That was news to me. I had been raised and conditioned to believe I caused all of this.

After we broke up about 6 months after the keys incident, I had to work hard to break out of my “blamed victim” mode. I had to learn what I was responsible for and what I wasn’t responsible for. I had been blamed, all my life, for things I didn’t do. My mother would accuse me of doing (“Look what you did.”) and not doing (“you just sat there while I swept the floor and you knew I had a bad back”). But other family members seemed to blame me in some weird non-confrontational way.

My brother, sister and I threw a 70th birthday party for our dying mother. My sister and I assumed that my brother would tell us what we owed because he was having it catered. He never told us, telling other family members it was up to us to ask. On the day of my mother’s big party, not only wasn’t my brother not speaking to us but half the family wasn’t speaking to us. He was a master of triangulation. Rather than confront us and/or ASK us for money, he chose my dying mother’s last birthday party as the time and the place to not only not speak to us, but ensure that half the family wasn’t speaking to us.

We both were of the mindset that if he wanted money, he needed to ask us…once he stopped speaking to us (and in the beginning we had NO idea why he wasn’t talking to us, we thought we’d settle up after the party), we were not really interested in what he had to say. He liked to play the martyr and he liked to play the victim and he really liked getting the whole family to side with him. And by the time I ended my relationship with that entire family, I had had enough of all of it. That is not to say I never did anything wrong but this way of handling it is wrong and stupid. I had had enough of wrong and stupid.

My sister once sent me a birthday card for my birthday in November that said, “I had gall bladder surge
ry in September and you didn’t even know about it.” That was her passive aggressive way of telling me I had not been sufficiently in touch. Unfortunately for her I had been in recovery several years at the time and thought, “If you wanted me to know you can pick up the phone too.” I was working full time and going to school and had 3 kids. She was just working with no kids. But of course it was my role to call her. WRONG. When I received the birthday card with the zinger in it, my first reaction was “F U”. Seriously. I thougth how dysfunctional is this? A birthday card with a zinger in it. Screw this.

Another time I was staying in a hotel and she was going to come and visit me. I had a friend with me as did she. She couldn’t find the hotel and when she finally arrived she burst into the room and said, “Why the HELL did you pick a hotel all the way the hell out here? How the hell am I supposed to find the place?” Both my friend and her friend just stood there looking at her. It was a ridiculous display. I had found the hotel with no problem but it was inappropriate for her to show up and carry on in front of our friends. I was having none of it that day either. I just let her settle down and then we went on our way. I resisted the urge to explain or be defensive. Her inability to find the hotel was not my problem and not my fault.

Our relationship eventually severed by lack of communication but I’ve assumed all these years that her phone had buttons on it too. I assume her phone doesn’t JUST receive incoming calls. I’m sure she would have loved to place the blame on me as she did about the surgery but I’m not having any of it.

If you want me to know something, tell me. Otherwise go pound sand. Life is not a game of 20 questions so don’t act like it is.

There are so many different way to blame people and put them in a no-win situation. You can do what my family liked to do and WAIT until the person has failed to respond in the correct way to let them know or you can do what my ex husband did and blame someone for everything that happens whether it’s their fault or not. Blame takes many different forms. Most of them corrosive and destructive.

My husband Michael comes from a similar background and family. Both of us have had to use the expression, “It’s nobody’s fault” with each other when one of us is rushing to place blame on someone for something that just happened. We don’t do it often and it’s not destructive in our relationship because we’re both too smart to let it be, but we can see how without work and vigilance it can be destructive.

We each take RESPONSIBILITY for our actions and that goes very far to keeping blame out of it. Responsibilty is a BIG factor in keeping blame at bay. Each person must work hard to keep their side of the street clean and be responsible for that.

It is VERY tempting when you’ve been blame a lot to try to get out of responsibility for everything. You’ve been conditioned to be on the defensive, to make up excuses, to figure out a defense on the fly and on the spot….you’ve been GROOMED to try to wiggle away from taking blame because you’ve been blamed for EVERYTHING. But you must start taking RESPONSIBILITY for what you really do.

I LOVE being able to say, “Oh that’s my fault, I’m sorry…” because it means I’m out of “knee jerk reaction” mode.

I try not to do things that REQUIRE an apology very often but when I am wrong, I admit it and we all move on. We don’t wallow in blame, accusations or endless finger pointing. Saying “It’s my fault” and the sky doesn’t fall is healthy, loving, and real life.

Getting out of the blame game is very hard but not impossible. It takes constant vigilance. But it’s possible. Don’t let people blame you for stupid small things or not accept that you are human and you make mistakes. At the same time don’t keep score and constantly try to assign blame to someone for something. Just tackle the problem, not each other. If you’re with someone who must blame you for things going wrong, you might want to rethink the relationship. It’s not worth it and it doesn’t usually change.

Take care of you. Part of taking care of you is to not be a victim or perpetrator in the blame game. Stop blaming…stop taking blame….start healing.

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