I love playing games. One of my favorites is the Blame Game. Even though any couples therapist will tell you that you’re not supposed to do this, I’ll use every piece of evidence of every argument I can remember to prove that it’s not my fault. I have no doubt this has contributed in part to the demise of some of my relationships.
However, even though I don’t like being at fault, I also blame myself for everything. I’m one of those people who takes too much responsibility for problems. Maybe that’s why I am also willing to do more than half of the work to try to “fix” the relationship.
The whole blame and responsibility thing is even harder to sort out when you throw in mental illness. Lets say, for example, that you have an abusive alcoholic father. Is it his fault if he hits you while he’s black out drunk? Is it his fault that he has an addiction-prone brain and can’t just have one drink? What if he had been sober for a year but relapsed because a buddy guilt-tripped him into going to a bar to celebrate his new job? What parts of the alcoholism are his responsibility?
In my work, the Blame Game is the most problematic in a sexual assault. It is often the case that both parties were drinking. However, when friends are assigning blame, the perpetrator is seen as being less responsible because he was black out drunk. The victim is seen as being more responsible for allowing herself to get that drunk.
And when the victim comes to therapy, she also believes it was her fault because she had been drinking. The perpetrator usually doesn’t come to therapy. In rare cases, the victim will bring the sexual assault to our judicial system to get the perpetrator to take responsibility for his behavior. And the victim almost never wins.
The two most common disorders we see in the Counseling Center are depression and anxiety. These are disorders where the person takes too much responsibility for their problems. If they can’t will themselves to get out of bed and go to class, it’s their fault for being lazy. When I suggest that a client try meds for her panic attacks, she often says no. That’s a cop out. She should be able to do it on her own.
I don’t claim to know the answers for how much blame a person should assume. I do know that the split in assigning blame is rarely 100% to 0%. There is always some part of the problem that we can take responsibility for. And when we take responsibility for our part, it usually makes things better.
Sometimes no one is to blame. This one is really hard for people to accept. How can you play the Blame Game if it’s no one’s fault? But let’s say a typhoon hits the Philippines and causes mass destruction. Whose fault is it? There is power in blame because it gives us the illusion of control.
But there is also power in forgiveness. We can forgive the other person for wrongdoing, even if they haven’t accepted any responsibility. And we can forgive ourselves for our role in the problem. And forgiveness is much more freeing than blame, regardless of whose fault it is.