“I can’t be wrong all the time,” laments a woman who needs counseling for her troubled relationship. After some probing, I discover that her partner is controlling and blaming is one of the tactics he uses against her.
If she disagrees with him, he retaliates with anger or silent treatment that can last for days. If she takes the blame even though it’s not her fault, she feels bad about herself and estranged from her partner. She’s often confused about who is at fault.
The woman hasn’t yet realized that chronic victim blaming is a key symptom of her partner’s inability to have a healthy interpersonal relationship. His behavior is an obstacle to deeper emotional connection in their relationship.
Blamers often have a fragile self-image that must be constantly fed with feelings of power and success. Taking the blame, even for a simple act, taps into their painful feelings of inadequacy. They must avoid personal shame and humiliation at all costs.
They also may struggle with emotional intimacy, so their unconscious minds drive behaviors that sabotage the relationship rather than face potential rejection. It’s hard to feel close to someone who is constantly passing judgment. Victims of their partners’ chronic blaming are preoccupied with feelings of shame and defending themselves.
Hypersensitive to any interaction they perceive as criticism, blamers must constantly feel they are in control. As a result, they reject their partners’ attempts at rational discussion. Resolving even the smallest dispute can be an insurmountable challenge for a blamer’s partner.
An emotionally mature person with a stronger self-image can admit wrongdoing and accept responsibility without letting it affect their sense of self-worth. Unlike blamers, conscientious partners respond with self-reflection and an open mind as to who is at fault.
Here are some common behaviors that blamers use to give them a sense of control:
- Shifting the focus by putting their partners on the defensive. Characterizing a partner’s normal behavior as despicable.
- Justifying their blaming behavior by taking on the role of victim as if they have no choice but to defend themselves against those who are constantly trying to hurt them.
- Citing all the wonderful things they have done for their partners. Claiming their partners are ungrateful and exploitive. This is an attempt to make their partners feel obligated to submit to unreasonable judgments.
- Insisting their partners’ feelings or opinions are intentional injuries toward them, rather than expressions of individuality.
- Feigning compassion and understanding for their partners, but claiming that their partners’ “selfish, crazy or irrational” behavior exceeds the blamers’ otherwise huge capacity to forgive.
- Going on about misplaced rights and wrongs while avoiding resolution.
It’s an enormous challenge to try to reason with a blamer because of their distorted mentality. Here are a few ways to avoid getting drawn in to an irrational argument with a blamer. I use the acronym BREAK to help victims keep in mind that they must break the habit of responding in a dysfunctional way that enables the blamer and damages their own self-esteem.
Believe in yourself and your intuition. When something feels wrong, it is wrong. Work on building trust in yourself. Distinguish between your true thoughts and the thoughts the blamer has implanted in your head.
Resist trying to defend or explain yourself. Doing so implies the blamer’s actions are okay.
Don’t Engage in the discussion. Observe what’s happening from an objective perspective. Realize that your partner is being irrational and controlling. Walk away and say something like, “I’ll talk to you when you calm down.”
Avoid taking the blame to appease the blamer when it’s not your fault. Compromising yourself will weaken your self-respect and leave you susceptible to further emotional assaults.
Know when to practice compassionate detachment. You can care about your partner and not take responsibility for or handle the consequences of his or her poor choices. Understand that your partner has a serious psychological condition that likely developed from adverse childhood experiences.
Blamers’ victims will have to deal with the fallout from their blaming partners when they don’t get their way. Here are some typical reactions of blamers:
- Have a tantrum. Slam doors, throw things, yell, name-calling, threats, accusations, the silent treatment, or leave abruptly.
- Prevent you from talking by stepping over your words or twisting your words and using them against you.
- Cry and claim you don’t love them anymore, that no one loves them.
- Resist you by going into a long, involved and fictitious explanation of why you are at fault. Attempt to belittle you by tapping into your shame from past mistakes or secrets you’ve told them in confidence. Cite things they coerced you into doing but now blame on you. List what they have given you and all they have done for you. Blamers will stop at nothing to convince you that you are wrong and they are right.
- Involve your children by lying and telling them awful things you have done in an attempt to hurt you further and get support for their demands.
- Attempt to enlist support from other people by distorting the facts about what happened.
- Punish you by cancelling plans, interfering with your work or activities, withholding things you want or need.
- Apologize and beg for forgiveness. Promise to do better, but keep repeating the same upsetting behavior.
It’s never easy to handle someone who has a deep-seated need to create distance in the relationship. Even when victims don’t enable their partner’s blaming behavior, they must let go of unrealistic expectations that the blaming will stop.
Having a deeper awareness of the psychological issues driving their partner’s blaming behavior – and how to react – will help victims respond in a calmer, more self-assured way. They will walk away from a blaming incident feeling better about not giving in to demeaning treatment.