Your co-worker is constantly blaming his boss for his 80+ hour work weeks. You are blamed by the project chair for the missed deadline although they were responsible for the delay. Your partner blames you for the cold dinner, after arriving thirty minutes late. You end up embarrassed. Dumbfounded. Sometimes seething. These destructive feelings, when ongoing, cause irreparable damage to the relationship and your self-esteem.
Blamers are everywhere. I see blamers as those who have external locus of control. As defined by Psychology Today, “The belief that events in one’s life, whether good or bad, are caused by uncontrollable factors such as the environment, other people, or a higher power.” If you feel as though everything is out of your control and out of your realm of responsibility, you’re going to have lost that responsibility elsewhere. This is what blamers do. “A person with an internal locus of control believes that he or she can influence events and their outcomes.” Odds are that if you are suffering from the blamers around you, you have an internal locus of control and are feeling responsible for the blame that is heaped on you. Fear not! There are ways to cope with this.
Coping with Blamers:
- Own your piece. Everyone has at least 2% of the truth. This is a tenet of CRR Global. So does the blamer. If you get defensive and start arguing with the blamer, it is discounting the 2% of truth. Maybe you were late with one little piece of the project, maybe you didn’t answer the email by the deadline, maybe your ideas weren’t well fleshed out. I’m not suggesting you be a doormat, but acknowledge the 2% that is correct. It’s not “I completely blew this, I’m sorry” but “I can see that responding faster to that email would have impacted the outcome.” Everyone is right…partially.
- Find the brilliance. A lot of people rarely compliment the other folks in their lives. Whether at home or at work, we don’t try and catch people doing something right. But everyone does something right every day. Even if it’s brush their teeth or complete the monthly report on time. Look for the positive. Hunt for it. I was working with a narcissist once. She didn’t like any of my ideas for a project. She showed me one of her ideas which I sincerely thought was innovative. I said, “This is brilliant.” She did a 180 degree change on the project. Now she was onboard. If I had held my tongue, we would have remained at logger heads. Look for the brilliance. Then broadcast it.
- Listen with empathy. When someone is blaming either someone else or you, be sure to actively listen with empathy. This can be difficult. It can be painful to hear someone trash your best efforts. It will help to focus on your breath so that you can stay out of going to your lizard brain and activating your limbic system (the fight or flight response). It may even take returning to the topic later after you’ve had a chance to cool off. My son was upset with me a few days ago and asked that we talk about the topic on Wednesday morning. This was really effective. I had time to reflect and he had time to reflect. We were in a better space to listen and be empathetic. Make space to listen.
- Respond looking for solutions. Aja Frost wrote a great article called “7 Perfect Replies to (Politely) Shut Down Negative People.” My two favorite for coping with the chronic blamer is, “Is there anything I can do?” and “I’m sorry to hear that. Did anything good come out of the situation?” This can shut the blamer down because it is focused on forward positive motion. Blamers typically want to dwell on how bad everything is. I have asked clients who are focusing on blame, “What 2% are you responsible for?” This is a proactive approach. It focuses on what can be versus what was.
- Come from a place of love. As Kelly Smith wrote for Tiny Buddha, “Remember, all actions are based in either fear or love. Base yours in love. Realize their actions are based in fear. Often, these fears are ones that no one can reach because they are too deep-seated for the person to acknowledge. Accept that, and continue to operate from your own base of love.” I personally have been meditating on loving kindness for months. My mantra has been to be the “Love and light” in my life. Having an open heart and compassion for others helps me see the good in all people regardless of the facade they may be exhibiting. We all want to be loved, happy and at peace.
- Let go. As Kelly Smith wrote, “It’s not worth your constant wondering and worrying. It isn’t good for you to hold onto it and over-analyze it. Let it go; visualize yourself blowing it all into a balloon, tying it off, and letting it drift away. Feel lighter because of it!” I love the balloon metaphor. Another practice is to clench your hand in a fist with your anger towards the blamer, and then release. Let the blame dissolve into the ether.
Sometimes your best efforts can’t change or pacify other people’s behavior. There may be a difficult decision in front of you. Chronic blamers can be toxic for an organization or family unit. If you’ve tried these coping mechanisms and you still feel like your self-esteem is being affected, you might need to move on.