by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Author, Attorney, Podcaster, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, and Creator of the World's Most Successful Breakup Program. 

  • Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
  • Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
  • Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
  • GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019) 

Backstory to this post:  I wrote this post right after  Getting Back Out There was published as a preview to the GBOT section on communication.

One of the most corrosive forms of unhealthy communication is BLAMING.

Blaming is something that goes on in dysfunctional relationships and has no place in a healthy life. As I have stated several gazillion times, this is another reason why GBOT is NOT a dating book. You have to review your modes of communication and the traps you’ve been in long before you’re ready to date and you MUST review them in ALL your relationships.  

In GBOT and in the GPYP workbook, there are sections on healthy and unhealthy communication.  These sections are very important parts of the program. You can’t be healthy without healthy communication and recognizing unhealthy is the first step. 

The Blame Game: Help Yourself Out of It

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

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 someone 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 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. (a perfect human is imperfect, but that is not allowed in Dysfunction Junction). 

A person who has been 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 throws up the hands and escapes, usually in dramatic fashion.

It takes a lot, an awful lot, to break the cycle of blame.

Both Michael and I were the black sheep in our families of origins and both had been in relationships where we were the blamed partner. It was a lot of work for both of us to not blame or assign responsibility. Whenever we heard “Well, you…………” we say, “You’re going to fall down that well…” as a code word (phrase) because we both recognized how hard it is to stop doing it even if you’ve been the victim of it. 

I clearly remember, when we were first married, he pointed to the dining room chair and said, “Who broke this?” and I said, “Maybe no one broke it, maybe it just broke…”  We had to discuss (and we did) the tendency to look for someone to blame.   You do need to take responsibility for things you did do wrong, and it was something we were huge on teaching to the kids, but no one was getting waterboarded over a broken chair rung. We were also big on punishments fitting the crime and other things that create healthy, functional children turning into healthy, functioning adults. There are many facets to blame and responsibility. It’s not an easy subject to teach or to learn. 

In my first marriage, 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. I would immediately go on the defensive, believing that if I offered an explanation, I would be exonerated. Wrong. Exoneration or getting to the bottom of things was NOT the agenda of the blamers. It’s just making you feel small and stupid and unworthy – so they are never going to buy what you have to say. You’re talking in apples and they’re hearing (purposely) in oranges. 

Their agenda is not to resolve anything. Their agenda is to make you look and feel stupid and horrible.  And it’s useless to try to stay ahead of them – as you do when you’re raised in this nuttiness – because you just become a hypervigilant crazy person whose entire life is about not being a target of someone else’s insane agenda. It took me months in therapy to realize that I was never ever ever going to win anyone’s approval.  Both my family and my ex-husband had one plan: to place blame on me no matter what. So long as I was dancing like a puppet on a string, they could feel high and mighty and superior. 

I have told the story on here, and on the podcast, many times, about the house keys and the gaslighting lightbulb moment of mine. The article is here: 10 Ways To Tell If You’re Being Gaslighted

To beat that horse quite dead, it was not my fault. I repeat, it was NOT my fault…but to him, it was apparently my fault in a big way…in a way to make him scream at me and no one else said a word to him. However, 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 was too shocked at having been blamed for this…too shocked at all the memories that were coursing through my head about all the things I HAD been blamed for that, in that light bulb moment, I realized were not my fault.

So I just stood there, mouth hanging open.  The brother continued to chuckle and make his way into the house. 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. I could SEE, because of the insanity of the situation, what had always been going on…I was being blamed for things I shouldn’t have been blamed for.

The WORST kind of blame is when someone is blaming YOU for their bad behavior. I was so convinced everything was my fault (his cheating/his abuse) 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, from my therapist, 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.

We broke up about 6 months after the keys incident. A newbie to therapy and a new way of thinking,  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 would stop speaking to me and I would have to guess what I did wrong. He was angry with me when my mother was ill because I didn’t clean the cat box “right” (we were taking turns caring for her animals) and his way of showing me his anger (though not what it was he was angry about) was to walk out of my mother’s hospital room  when I walked in.

My sister once sent me a birthday card (which I recently found) for my birthday in November that said, “I had gall bladder surgery 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 thought how dysfunctional is this? A birthday card with a zinger in it. Screw this.

Our relationship eventually severed by lack of communication but I’ve assumed all these years that her phone had buttons on it too. I assumed her phone doesn’t JUST receive incoming calls. I had also had it with my brother’s “guess what you did wrong?” nonsense and his passive aggressive triangulation of other family members against me. I had enough. No more.

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 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.

Responsibility 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. Other times it is necessary to say, “No one is at fault here.” or “Shit happens.” Even when someone is absolutely to blame many times it’s enough to talk about it and discuss how to prevent that from happening in the future. Many times miscommunication is the issue. Stepping away from having to defend yourself or being busy blaming or being blamed is important to resolve it. Screaming and blaming and defending and explaining isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. 

Another way to evade responsibility is to muck up the focus of the conversation. A couple of years ago I had mentioned to someone that our give and take was a bit slanted in his favor (meaning I gave much more than I took or was given.) It was something that was bothering me and I had to say something because I was becoming resentful.

I said there were things I really needed done that were n  ot done and it was frustrating. The person said, “All you have to do is ask.”  Which was not true. And I mentioned a time when I did ask and was told no. He said, “I KNEW you were holding that against me!”  Okay, no I was not. In fact, I brought this whole thing up to AVOID becoming resentful about the imbalance of the give and take between us.

I only brought up the time he said no to refute his statement “All you have to do is ask.” I gave an example of a time I did ask and was told no. I had NOT been holding it against him, but now I was being blamed and thrust into a situation where I had to defend myself against this “holding against me” accusation instead of discussing this “being there for each other” situation.

Turning the conversation to whether or not I was “holding this against him,” was a whole other thing. It moved me into a defensive position where I should not have been. It also caused me to lose track of the subject.  My ex husband did this to me ALL THE TIME and we went down so many rabbit holes, I had no idea what it was I was originally responding to. Turning a direct “let’s try to settle this disagreement” conversation into a murky string of nonsensical twists and turns is not how you take responsibility for working things out.  It’s just not.  It’s all brain spaghetti.  I spent years trying to undo the brain spaghetti and I refuse to go back there with people who still do that toxic mind fuckery. 

It is important to know when you have to take responsibility for something that was your fault and/or went wrong and when you don’t. It’s VERY tempting when you’ve been blamed 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.  In the above scenario, I was NOT holding anything against anyone and did not like the accusation. But other times I am wrong and I do acknowledge it, apologize and work on changing that. It is refreshing and wonderful to be able to do each of these things. 

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.

Saying “It’s my fault” and the response is that the sky doesn’t fall is healthy, loving, and real life.

There are other forms of blaming and being blamed (feel free to send me email or a PM on FB if you want me to address a specific behavior/communication not covered here or in the book or workbook and I will do it).

Getting out of the blame game is very hard but not impossible. It takes constant vigilance.  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.  If it’s a family member, it’s time to set boundaries.  

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.


The Voice of GPYB

The Mean Lady Talking Podcast

ALL GPYB Resources

GPYB on Social Media

Pins, Memes, Audiograms

GPYB Quotes on Good Reads

GPYB Newsletter

If you think this post would help someone,

please use the Social Share buttons below to share: