Psychology of blaming

If an unexpected, bad or tragic thing happens in our life, we start to look for its cause. Often we don’t want to know just its cause, also we look for who caused it. “Whose fault is it?” “Who is the responsible for it?” Why is it so important to blame someone for what happened, looking for the scapegoat?

Principle of causality

Looking for the guilty one has few very simple and obvious reasons. One is the characteristic of our way of thinking, like we interpret our world in a relation of cause and effect. It’s clearly visible in children. The principle of causality is a very important element of our socialization and education, part of our motivation to understand our world. Also psychological factors are behind.

What is in the focus of attention?

The other simple reason is the focus of attention. If we are in a situation like actively, then our focus is on the outside world and on other people’s actions. Since mainly just external factors are in our focus, almost natural to see that the cause of our current situation is caused by an external factor. In an experiment psychologists asked people to talk about their own life stories. The subjects attributed more responsibility and attached more importance to themselves when they told their life stories when they sat in front of a mirror. Why? Simply because in this case they got into their own focus of attention.


I’m a good person!

The background of blaming doesn’t consist of just mental and perception factors, also consists of emotional factors. The most important of them is the protection of our self-image and self-esteem. The principal of causality would automatically make a question that how we are guilty or responsible for this situation or happening. Did we make a mistake? If the answer is yes, that would debase our self-esteem and this is when the well-known cognitive dissonance is starting to work. We are motivated to maintain our – positive or negative – self-image. If this self-image is positive, the consideration of doing something bad can cause tense inside. We can reduce this tension on a several way, like shifting responsibility upon another and blaming someone else is guaranteed as a successful solution of reduction this tense. Of course these kind of solutions don’t support our personal growth. We also can amplify this kind of exemption to our family, our working place or to our community or even to our country members. They get exemption to take responsibility. We truly believe when we say, someone is an adult, that is automatically means that person takes responsibility for own actions. If we start to observe truly ourselves we will see, how many times actually we don’t take responsibility for our actions. It requires a proper self-knowledge which allows and supports to see ourselves as we are truly and after recognition we are able to change.

Why is blaming others so dangerous?

Shifting responsibility upon others to protect our self-image keeps us from learning from our own experiences and mistakes which is one of a requirement of personal growth. It’s the same for those people who have a negative self-image, who always blame themselves for everything because this is in tune with their self-image. This negative distortion keeps them from growth as well. Finding the guilty means we found a scapegoat, we hold the scapegoat responsibility for bad things and we are able to overwhelm with them our negative feelings and anger. Making scapegoats also a very strong cementing force of a group. Like, “together we hate the boss”. Image of the enemy increases a group cohesion which usually doesn’t end up on a positive way, we already have experienced it from our history.

Faith in the righteous world

Why do we look for a scapegoat even if bad thing actually didn’t happen with us? When we are not involved. Like when we see an accident on TV. “Why did he go there?” “Why didn’t he take care of himself?” Or “He must have been drunk!” We say these things without knowing exactly what happened. This kind of behaviour protects our belief in the righteous world. To admit that bad things or tragedies happen with good or innocent people that would shake our belief which is us and our beloved ones are safe. This is the same heart breaking feeling like an attack against our own self-image since the world image is also part of our self.

Instead of looking for a scapegoat we can try to observe ourselves, understanding our actions and take responsibility for them. It’s emotionally challenging indeed but we will be able to see our real self instead of a fake picture what we paint day by day to others. The real danger is when this self-image is quiet far from the reality and nothing sticks. If blaming is permanently present in a relationship that is a real toxin, drop by drop everyday which is a staright way to suffer loss. Here it comes a great book which popped up in my mind while I was writing this post. I recommend it! Oscar Wilde: Dorian Grey


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