The Psychology of Blame
Have you ever wondered what is behind the phenomena of blaming? What’s in it for the blamer? What does it do for them?
I must admit that I was curious about this, and now that we are about to begin Le Grande Blamerama, (What Happened?), I thought others might find it interesting.
Being a teacher of interpersonal communication, I have a good working knowledge of attribution theory. I knew this was probably a good place to start my research.
I’m going to simplify this considerably, but attribution theory says we tend to ascribe negative motives to others, while perceiving ourselves as having purer, more noble motives.
I was telling the class about attribution theory. I used the example of what happens when a class member walks in late. I said, “The thoughts going through all the seated, on-time students might be ‘he’s so undisciplined; he never can make it to class on time;’ ‘he needs to leave for class earlier;’ or ‘this guy doesn’t take his education seriously.'”
However, I told the class, if YOU are the one arriving late, the train of thought in YOUR mind goes like this: “Traffic! Rush hour is a horrible time to travel to class.” Or “This campus needs to provide better parking for students.”
Note how YOU don’t need to leave earlier. Note how YOU are the poor soul who has to travel during rush hour.
What does this have to do with blame?
First, the blamer feels bad. He/she feels bad because of DACA. This person feels bad because Trump is obviously inadequate for the presidency. He or she feels bad that other countries are laughing at us for having such a buffoon in the White House.
To alleviate these negative feelings, this person blames. He blames the Bernie supporters. He blames Jill Stein. He blames Bernie himself.
But really what is going on is this: The person is feeling guilty: guilty about not donating more money to the campaign. Guilty about not contacting more people to get out the vote. Guilty for, perhaps, supporting the wrong candidate. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Unable to acknowledge that “I could have done more” or “I could have made better choices,” this person blames others. By focusing on the other, he/she can avoid facing up to one’s own responsibility in this debacle, the election of 2017.
Tonight I was at a small gathering and there were some Hillary supporters there. Most of them are in therapy, I kid you not, over this situation. They are–again, I kid you not–taking medication prescribed by their various shrinks. I decided to question what the content of the therapy sessions was, and the person I asked gave me some information that sounded like the therapist was trying to get them to focus on what they could control. Well, the only thing we can control is how we feel or act: certainly not how others feel or act. Accepting that we cannot control the actions of others precludes blame.
And that, my friends, is my little adventure into figuring out why people blame others.
Oh, there’s one more thing I’d like to add: I have been watching this over a period of time, and just like clockwork, every time Trump does something particularly egregious, I see and hear more blaming. Of course, this is not a scientific study; it is just first-hand observation.
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