Peace Partnership

Why We Blame & How To Do It Better

Posted by on Mar 1, 2019

“It was the dog, mom. I swear.”
“Me?! You’re the one who’s always messing around!”
“It’s not my fault you can’t get your facts straight.”

There are lots of “low level” reasons people blame. We blame to avoid consequences. We blame to make ourselves look better. We blame to make other people look bad. The list goes on and on. But once we get past the surface reasons for blaming, things get a little more complicated.

When others point out our less-than-stellar choices we often become defensive.[1] Our behaviors might have the positive intent to protect, provide or prevent, but blaming rarely has positive outcomes.[2] These unhealthy behaviors work for us in the short-term so we continue to do them, but they’re destructive in the long-term. We blame because we’re afraid of being overcome by the second most powerful emotion in existence: shame.[3]

We blame because deep down we’re afraid something will trigger our deepest fear that we’re not enough. We know we’re capable of better, but the fact is that we didn’t do better. When people point this out it’s painful. In an attempt to avoid the pain, we blame.

If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother

Like all of you, my parents weren’t perfect. Neither was I.[4] When I was in my teens and 20’s I blamed them for everything bad in my life. But everything good that happened was because of something I did to create that positive outcome. Isn’t that convenient? I had devised a slick system of offloading everything bad onto my parents while taking credit for everything good. My parents didn’t really love me and they were the source of all my problems in life. Everything was ultimately their fault…

Or so I thought.

I started seeing a counselor when I was 19 years old. I continued seeing a counselor for a few years. About 6-8 months into counseling my counselor destroyed my one-sided blame game with a single question. There I was, sitting in his office complaining about my mom. He interrupted me,

“Jon, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but it sounds like you’re going to start talking about your mom again. Am I correct?”

“Yeah,” I responded in an irritated tone. Duh. What does he think I’m here for and why is he interrupting me? Some counselor he is.

“May I ask you a question?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“When are you ever going to give up the possibility of having a better past?”

My heart began to pound. I got light-headed. I felt nauseous.[5] My mind began racing at warp speed. In an instant I knew exactly what he was saying. I was blaming my parents for all the bad stuff in my life, while telling myself they weren’t responsible for any of the good stuff. To say I wasn’t ready for that question is a major understatement.[6] It completely destroyed me. Everything I’d blamed on my parents instantly melted. I was holding myself hostage by lying to myself so I could continue to play the victim, so I could continue to wallow in my unique wretchedness, and my counselor knew it.

I didn’t realize the bad stuff I blamed them for was equally responsible for making me into the man I am today. The stuff I thought was bad is what makes me a good counselor. I have been blessed to have an unusually high success rate with the people I work with. Part of the reason for my success is that I genuinely care – I blame my mom for that. I have an uncanny ability to connect with almost everyone. I blame my dad for that. I have to make a difference in the lives of the people I work with. I blame my mom for that. I want to help the underdog. That’s also my mom’s fault. As I think back on my childhood, I remember my mom and dad always helping people: branding calves, vaccinating cattle, working on cars, helping people catch up on their laundry, cutting firewood, taking care of animals, and repairing fences. The list goes on forever.

Is it any wonder why I enjoy helping people!? I’m a good counselor because of my parent’s imperfections. How would I be able to relate to all the pain and suffering in people’s lives if my mom and dad were perfect? It seems so obvious now but I didn’t see it at the time. I didn’t see the connection because I didn’t want to see the connection. My error illustrates an important concept:

You get what you look for in life.

If you look for fear, that’s what you’ll find. If you look for joy, that’s what you’ll find. I looked for someone to blame, and that’s what I found.

When you stop believing that life happens to you and start believing life happens for you everything will change.

I’m not asking you to stop blaming. I’m saying that if you’re going to blame people for everything that’s wrong in your life you better blame them for the good too. I’m asking you to blame intelligently. I’m asking you to stop blaming like a 5-yr old: blaming everyone for the bad things in your life and taking credit for all the good things. I’m asking you to start blaming like a thoughtful, responsible adult.

In order to start blaming intelligently I had to start thinking about my past in different ways. I had to change my beliefs and values about what I thought was important. So I did. When change becomes a necessity it produces emotional leverage. If you develop it, that leverage produces emotional muscle. Emotional muscle allows you to alter your perspective. That perspective shows you a different way. That different way will lead you to a different destination.

Do you want to change something in your life? What belief or value would you have to change in order to begin that process? You can make your own meaningful, life-changing choices. I’m proof, and you can be too.

That’s my story. What’s yours? When will you stop believing that the things in your life happened to you, and start believing they happened for you?[7] Who do you need to start blaming?


[1] Defensiveness: a dedication to protecting every aspect of the self – even the parts that need improvement.
[2] Most problem behaviors have positive intent. These behaviors are trying to protect, prevent, or provide for you in some way. This doesn’t mean the behavior is healthy, it means the intent of the behavior is healthy.
[3] The most powerful emotion is Love. Here’s how we know shame is so powerful: of everything available to Satan, he chose shame to create separation between God and humanity immediately after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. When God confronted Adam and Eve about this separation, the blame game began, and we’ve been blaming each other ever since.
[4] I know, I know. It’s shocking.
[5] I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was experiencing was called an “existential vacuum.” An existential vacuum can happen when you are suddenly ripped from your current way of understanding something and forced to acknowledge the way something works isn’t at all how you thought it worked. It often causes physical symptoms.
[6] That single question changed the course of my entire life. (I blame my counselor for that!)
[7] That isn’t just clever wordplay. I’ve helped many child abuse victims and rape survivors overcome what’s been done to them and this idea is at the center of my work.


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