Things go wrong, we make mistakes, accidents happen, and life may not pan out the way we hope.
But is your default reaction to find somebody or something else to blame for your problems?
A lot of things that happen to us are the result of multiple contributing factors, and can be caused by a mix of our own actions and those of other people.
For example, if you were to hit a pothole in the road and fall off your bike, it was probably partly due to the fact that the road has been poorly maintained, but also that you were cycling too fast or not looking where you were going.
If that were you, would you be ranting and raging about what your taxes are spent on these days, or would accept the part you played in it and vow to learn from your mistakes?
If you find yourself trying to pass the buck for every mistake you make, then it’s probably gotten you into trouble in the past…
…especially if you try to shift the blame onto your partner, family, best friends, or people you have to work closely with.
No matter how much people love us, there is only a certain number of times most people will tolerate taking the blame for something that genuinely wasn’t their fault.
As well as weakening our relationships, being unable to take responsibility for our mistakes can damage us in other ways.
Life is all about making mistakes. It’s only through getting things wrong that we learn how to do them right.
If we never accept that we’ve made a mistake, how can we ever learn to do things better?
With that in mind, let’s have a think about some of the reasons why we can be tempted to blame others, followed by a look at how to kick the habit of shifting the blame for our problems.
Reasons We Blame Others For Our Mistakes
1. To explain why something happened.
As humans, it’s our default to always look for a cause for something.
We like to have narratives that explain why things happened so that we can add these to our mental story of life.
Rather than turning the light on ourselves or looking at the bigger picture and context, we can explain things more quickly and easily by attributing them to others.
2. To attack someone.
Shifting the blame onto someone else is a subtle way to attack them.
We might do so unconsciously, but if we hold a grudge against someone for some reason – perhaps we feel they’ve wronged us or blamed us in the past – then if an opportunity to blame them presents itself, it can be very tempting to take it.
Blaming them for something is also a tactic we might use to hurt our partners, whether we’re aware that we’re doing it or not.
3. It’s a great defense mechanism.
Shifting the blame directly onto someone or something else is the perfect way to avoid having to reflect on your behavior or delve deeply into your own psyche.
That way you can remain blissfully unaware of your own shortcomings, which can help to maintain a fragile ego.
4. It’s easier that way.
Why would we bother doing all that tricky self-analysis and taking steps to fix a situation if we can just take the blame off our own shoulders and place it down on someone or something else?
Sometimes we convince ourselves that it really is someone else’s fault, but sometimes we know we’re lying.
But we often decide on the spur of the moment that it’s easier to tell a lie than it is to deal with the consequences of the truth.
We learn to lie early on in life and most of us get pretty good at it. We weigh the possibility of people finding out we’ve lied against the consequences we’d have to face if we own up, and often take the easy option.
5. It removes inhibitions.
Blaming other people can provide us with an excuse to act in a hurtful manner.
It’s a way of justifying our actions to ourselves to remove our brain’s natural inhibitions that are there to prevent us from behaving poorly toward others.
It means we can build a thought pattern that allows us to act in a way that our moral compass would normally prevent.
Did any of the reasons listed above ring true for you?
If you’ve come to realize that you’re a serial blame-shifter, then I’ve got good news for you.
The first step to changing your behavior is to recognize and accept it, so the fact that you’re reading this article is a fantastic sign.
It means that you’re keen to make changes and become a better person, for your own sake and the sake of those around you.
But how can you start to alter your patterns of behavior?
How can you kick the habit of a lifetime and start accepting the blame for things when appropriate?
Remember, I’m not advocating blindly accepting blame for everything, but merely realizing when things genuinely are your fault and acting accordingly.
Here are a few helpful steps toward breaking the habit of shifting the blame onto others.
1. Take a deep breath.
When something happens that you know would normally trigger a negative, defensive reaction from you, try to catch yourself in that moment.
Before you react or say anything to anyone, take a deep breath – or several – and identify the feeling within you that makes you want to shift the blame.
Is it embarrassment? Fear? A feeling of inadequacy?
By taking just a few moments to assess the situation and ask what your knee-jerk reaction would normally be, you can, instead, choose to respond in a way that will help everyone involved, including you.
2. Re-frame it as an opportunity to learn.
No one has ever gotten anywhere in life without experiencing some major failures along the way.
Every single mistake we make, from the tiny ones to the big ones, teaches us life lessons and allows us to grow.
So, next time you mess up, fight the urge to blame others for your failures by thinking about what you could learn if you owned up and accepted responsibility.
You can then reflect on why things happened the way they did, and decide on ways to stop it happening again.
3. If you shift the blame, apologize.
Whilst you’re still learning to accept the blame for mistakes you make, you’re undoubtedly going to slip up… repeatedly.
Your first instinct will still be to direct attention away from yourself, so you’ll probably have shifted the blame before you’ve consciously realized what you’ve done.
When that happens, make sure that you face up to it after the fact. Apologize to your partner, friend, family member, or colleague.
Katie splits her time between writing and translation. She writes about travel and self-care and never stays in one place for too long. She’s currently based in beautiful Cornwall, England, after long stints in Brazil and Mexico. She spends her free time trail running, exploring and devouring vegan food.