The Need to Blame

The need to blame (ourselves or others) runs so deeply at times that it can feel like a basic necessity.  Part of the need arises as a defense against shame.  As shame encroaches, fending it off requires that someone else be proved the villain.  And it is not enough that we protest what they’re doing, that we have our say.  We have to nail them to their crimes, make them confess, make them feel bad and promise to be better.  Only then can we finally have the satisfaction of being free of the denunciation we direct at ourselves….

Knowing oneself is integral to growing up.  But, to the extent that we live in a blaming system, we do not want to know the truth about who we are and, therefore, resist growing up.  We don’t want to know our own murderousness, selfishness, greed, envy, because all of these very human feeling states have been made a source of so much guilt and shame that they lead at once to total condemnation and self-rejection.  We can’t know them, and we can’t know how we came to them.  As a result, we miss out on the experience of self-empathy and self-care, which might be the basis for doing something new, for beginning to emerge from these things we don’t like in ourselves but which hold us prisoner.

Some of what we do is bad and should be changed — the way we bully, deny, manipulate, shirk, indict…. But if we make every misdeed or character orientation into a capital crime, into evidence that our very being is worthless, we will not be able to let ourselves know the full complexity of who we are.  If there can be no mercy, no leniency, no understanding, no forgiveness, no simple tolerance for the magnificent complexity of being human — if we face every flaw or disliked quality as evidence that our blackened souls require rejection and banishment — we will not be captured by our own awareness and motivated to change.  The blaming system, therefore, puts a brake on a fundamental area of growth….

Blame is very absorbent.  It soaks up sadness.  It dries the tears.  It provides an opportunity and a target for fury which is felt as preferable to experiencing pain or loss — whether the loss is a cat, a spouse, an aspect of physical health, a loved object, a piece of work, a good night’s sleep, an election, a colony, or a war.  Blaming and vindictiveness are ways of not feeling one’s sorrow or shame and, by corollary, of not caring for oneself.  Blame is the anti-mourn and, hence, the anti-self.

— Robert Karen, PhD, The Forgiving Self, p. 110-112

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