Let’s face it, we live in a world that loves to find blame. And we all do it.
A quick look at social media, blogs and advice columns confirms our collective, societal view that someone is to blame for everything. But then as adults, we face intensifying pressure to be resilient, be kind, be flexible, to have social-emotional health, to have self-esteem, and the list goes on because these are things we are supposed to model and impart on the next generation. Sadly, the standard sends a pretty mixed message this way. We preach kindness and yet we subtly or not so subtly use blame or criticize others.
I know just this week I blamed several people for things that intellectually I know can’t be their fault. I judged a friend of mine for a parent decision she made. I blamed my daughter’s teacher when the blame should actually have been with my daughter. Blame is an easy crutch. But then there are times when someone is actually to blame. Take cheating on a test, the cheater is actually to blame, right? Or telling a lie, easy to blame the lier, right? Look what is going on in the news right now about college admissions. Who really is to blame? Or should we ask how many people are to blame? One doesn’t accidentally pay off a coach, right?
In a not so extreme example, what if I fell out of a tree and broke my leg – am I to blame if it was just an accident? Or what if I ran over a pothole and the tire on my husband’s car blew – am I to blame? Reading this you may say yes if you swerved around the pothole you wouldn’t have blown his tire. Ok, what if I said I couldn’t swerve because of other cars? It does get tricky.
Now take abuse or violence – if you pick up a gun and shoot someone, you are to blame. When I use the gun example I imagine as a reader you are nodding saying “yup, that person is sick and should be in jail.”
Blame has its place. Difficulties and challenges are part of life though and blame isn’t always justified when we look at the bigger picture. Moreover, the effects of blame are universal. On the plus side, blame separates us from the hurt. Blame explains the unexplainable. Blame reassures us that we can be protected still. Blame re-establishes control where control was lost. As I said, blame has its place.
On the negative side, however, blame marginalizes people. It places a “less than” label on the person suffering and is often a tactic used by an assailant to manipulate a victim especially in cases of sexual violence. Worse, blame leads to shame. If this wasn’t a problem, I’m not sure we would need the research surrounding it. Yet the uber-popular, Brene Brown, a shame researcher, goes as far as to say shame is contagious. She describes shame as the feeling of, “I am bad.” This feeling promotes secrecy, silence, and judgment which she says unspoken will grow inside a person.
Blame can be subtle but shame can control lives in toxic ways. Examples of harmful blame:
- “She must have asked for it.”
- “Boys will be boys.”
- “What was she wearing?”
- “What did he drink?”
- “She must have been flirting too much.”
- “I’m sure he was just expressing his manhood.”
- “They must have been playing around, they are just kids.”
Sadly, far too many victims hear these statements and remain isolated by shame. Surrounding themselves in secrecy only to avoid hearing societies shame statements. I once had a mom reach out to me and say, “I would rather be alone than misunderstood.” That statement breaks me. Would we ask a gunshot victim why they were standing in the way of the bullet?
No one at any age asks for abuse. The personal consequences of abuse are great. We don’t have to make the consequences greater with our response. It is time for us to erase the narrative of blame and come together as a community BUT let’s be real. This isn’t going to be easy. Empathy – the antidote to shame, reports Brene Brown, is a far better way to be a friend. Start by opening your heart and mind to things that you might not understand. Listen rather than solve. Learn rather than teach. Support by just being there without judgment. We are not going to solve blame (or shame) overnight but we can certainly do a little better in ourselves each day.
Do you have a friend who needs empathy or support? Help us support victims thrive. Join the #IamBrin movement. #IamBrin is a statement of commitment to living your life without shame. When we own and share our stories we realize others have had similar experiences. I am Brin is to say we all can live openly, educate our kids early and often, help friends in crisis and not be alone. Share a photo for our wall or use #IamBrin on social media. Join the growing community or resilient, strong, real and reflective people.