The Blame Game

The Blame Game — blaming situations or others is a great way to live a small and meaningless life. Things change when we accept responsibility for our lives, and then do something different.

blame game

My analogy of choice these days is this: once you get past the age of 16, ‘the cosmos’ hands you a rubber mallet, which is normally used to knock furniture together without marring the wood.

The cosmos then offers you this strange deal.

You can accept complete responsibility for your self - for your choices, for your thinking, for your actions — or you can blame the situation or others. If you pick the former, you get to drop the mallet. If you choose the latter, you begin, with rhythm and verve, to smack yourself in the forehead with the mallet. On and on. For the rest of your life.

Often, having described this to clients, I invite them to drop the mallet and stop hurting themselves. This usually elicits a smile, a rueful nod of the head, and then some story or explanation or request that shows they’re still swinging the hammer.

The cause of Blaming


We blame because it’s easier. A feeling of discomfort arises in us (usually in the chest or belly) and rather than explore our creation deeply, we look around for an external.

Since we are surrounded with “stuff and others,” there’s always something.

And the mallet swinging commences

We either pick a fight, or run away. (Classic fight or flight.) In either case, all we are doing is causing ourselves pain by keeping ourselves caught in the imaginary drama we ourselves created!

Here’s a rule for you: all internal discomfort is self-created.

From Shambhala Sun’s Heart Advice comes this quote from Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala Library).

There’s a slogan in the mahayana teachings that says, “Drive all blames into oneself.” The essence of this slogan is, “When it hurts so bad, it’s because I am hanging on so tight.” It’s not saying that we should beat ourselves up. It’s not advocating martyrdom. What it implies is that pain comes from holding so tightly to having it our own way and that one of the main exits we take when we find ourselves uncomfortable, when we find ourselves in an unwanted situation or an unwanted place, is to blame.

This slogan is a helpful and interesting suggestion that we could begin to shift that deep-seated, ancient, habitual tendency to hang on to having everything on our own terms. The way to start would be, first, when we feel the tendency to blame, to try to get in touch with what it feels like to be holding on to ourselves so tightly.

One of my clients says she wants to “make a contribution.” Whenever something arises to give her a new opportunity to stretch her wings, she runs home and hides under her bed. Rather than confront her desire to “mallet beat” herself, she starts into a litany of stories designed to keep her stuck under the bed.

I recently had a client tell me that his wife left him because of: the Women’s Movement, her having too many choices, her hating where they lived, and the lack of family values in the world. I suggested we talk about his part in the breakup, and said that perhaps he sucked at relationships. He didn’t disagree, but immediately went back to his list. I then pointed out that his list contained no items he could do anything about, (or was willing to change), so he was really setting up a system to be alone. He spent the rest of the session sighing and telling me, colourfully, that I’d missed the point.

me too
As my supervisor used to say, “Cute, but stupid.”

Last night, I got a call, and the caller asked me to do something I’d rather not do.

Not something awful, more of a stomp your foot, “I don’t want to!’ kind of thing. It also is scheduled for next February, and Darbella and I are seriously thinking we will no longer be in Ontario then.

I told Dar about the request, and asked her what I should do. Dar just smiled and handed the ball back to me.

Now, Dar has done this for 30 years… handed my responsibilities back to me. And often, like last night, I anger myself.

We really haven’t made any firm plans for February, so I started in on that. Pretty soon, I was getting “intense,” and Dar was getting quiet. And at that point, I had a choice.

OK, all of it was a choice, and I initially picked trying to pass the buck. (The Loonie, actually, but it doesn’t sound as good…)

The choice? To blame Dar, or to have a breath, express my frustration (without blaming the caller either,) and decide what to do about February.

All of this was me setting me off, by not wanting to say “no” directly. And, another part of me wants to do it, because the people involved are friends. AND, I want to figure out what we’re doing next year, but really, I don’t want to do the work to make it happen.

Poor me, eh?

So, up comes the mallet. My initial reaction is: I’d rather be stuck, in pain, whacking myself. And trying to get Dar to pick up her mallet and play along.

Fortunately, after 30 years of this, I can see myself and my games, and choose to stop myself. So I had a breath, and stopped. Dar and I then had a conversation about the request, and had a brief look at our February plans.

In that instant, I felt the weight lift off my chest.

In each of these examples, the hammer swinging is being done by the hammer holder.

There is only one time when this is not the case, and that’s in terms of physical violence. If someone else is literally wielding “a hammer,” then the other person causes the wound. In every other situation, in every other relationship, in every other case, the hammer is being swung by the same person that is being hit.

Thus, “Virtually All Wounds are Self-Inflicted.”

A lot of this goes back to childhood, when we had an expectation that our happiness and well-being was in the hands of others — we were “right” to the extent that we were kept alive by others. The jury is out as to the happiness and well-being part.

Despite the fact we’re no longer children, we often want to be looked after, amused, made happy, and given a guarantee that “Everything is going to work out just the way I want it to!”

People tell me that’s why they are in relationship. It’s funny, though, how once the novelty wears off, “He makes me so happy,” becomes, “He makes me so angry. He’s changed!”

A friend was bemoaning her fate the other day, describing her husband thusly: “He hates his job, is good with the kids, but fights with my son, and never wants to do anything. He’s really quite boring.”

The interesting piece, to me, was that I’d asked her how she was doing.

I asked her again, and she reluctantly described her own quite boring life.

Now, this is not to say that her husband might not be boring. It’s to say that her boredom is not caused by or about him. She’s boring herself, and blaming him for not making it “more fun.” Which, when you think about it, is the perfect game. When she’s happy, she can say “I had a great time!” When life sucks, its, “You’re so boring!”

Often, the power struggles that appear to be about who is right are actually about who is responsible.

Each person blames the other for the problem. “If only you’d get it!” (Like my first client story: he wants me to “get” how powerless he is, and also how powerless “everyone” is. But it begs the question: why would I want to be powerless in regard to my own life?) “Why can’t you see?” “You’re not doing it (fill in the blank as to what “it” is) right.”

As I play this game, I let myself completely off the hook for the pain I am feeling. I’m not doing this to me, you are. In my example above, I didn’t want to choose, so I blamed the caller for asking, and Darbella for not telling me what to do, without telling her what I wanted, of course.

Blame. Excuses. “I can’t!” “I’m scared!”

off chest
Bodywork can be used to help release emotions locked in the chest

We need to learn to have a breath, to grow up, and to take responsibility. The life you have, right now, is solely what you created. Solely. You don’t like it? Change something! No whining about how hard it is, no, “But what if it doesn’t work out?” Nothing changes until you do.

It’s time to notice and admit to the games you’re playing. Time to let go of the tightness and lack of fluidity that comes from blaming.

No one is doing stuff to you. No one is making you miserable. No one is trying to hurt you. All that stuff you’re stuffing, all those emotions, are yours. They’re yours to deal with, let go of and move past.

No one owes you different behaviour. You owe you the ability to claim and own your behaviour.

In short, you could choose to put down the mallet.

Otherwise, you’re the helpless victim of your self-inflicted wounds. Sounds like a screwy way to live your life, if you ask me.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

6 thoughts on “The Blame Game”

  1. Agreed. You have a knack for saying what we dont want to hear, but we only dont want to hear it because its right — and its hard to change to think that we are responsible for the way we feel and the place we are right now, when it is so much easier to say its because of someone else. We can’t give that responsibility to anyone else, without giving away all our power to fix the situation. Hence, us ending up helpless and stuck. I’m done being helpless and stuck, and re-reading all of this has concreted that for me. Thank you very much for your objectivism, it helps me to realize I am in control of my life, and no one else interacting with me or the situation can change that. No one can make me unhappy without my permission, and if I dont like the way something is, I’ve got to work to change it. I’ve got to see that my actions are important and that I can “escape” my current situation, if thats what I want to do. Its not about making the best of a current situation, its about coming up with the cajones to change it if I dont like it, and take responsibility for where I am instead of blaming it on everyone else so i dont have to do anything but sit here and blame and whine about how stuck I am.

    Thanks Wayne!!


    • You’re welcome!
      It really is all about taking control of what you can, which is your own side of things — perspective, stories, and behaviours.
      That’s how we learn to live our lives fully, as opposed to thinking we have no choice.
      Warmly, W

  2. Wayne, so in my first marriage of 26 years I told myself I can only change and fix myself–so when my wife started spending 75% of her nights on the sofa downstairs, I said I will work on myself, I can’t change her. Of course once a month I’d get angry and storm out of the house then apologize. My desire to take responsibility meant I didn’t share in an adult way my concerns. So taking responsibility for fixing me ended up with me stuffing my emotions. I know this isn’t what you recommend but I have trouble knowing how I engage my wife if I can only work on myself.
    I love your articles–thanks!

    • Your answer is contained in your message… “share in an adult way my concerns.” Working on yourself includes elegant use of the communication model, not losing it once a month, and leaving relationships when they are over.
      But mostly, learning to talk using the model, despite what your partner is doing.

      Warmly, W

  3. Beautiful article, and exactly what i needed to hear this morning. … Your wisdom is much appreciated, sorry for my story-telling. I do believe that part of this is me not letting go of the stories and taking the discomfort and internalizing it and there’s plenty of “stuff and others” in my life to pick up that mallet for. Its just not worth it for my health to constantly be beating myself over these things that don’t matter. I know I am making myself miserable over this, I know what i am doing. However, in the face of everything, I just don’t know any other option. I can stop blaming and just live life, which i have tried consistently, but I’m constantly interrupted by her and her drama. How can i maintain — and keep others from blaming me? Or keep myself from caring that they blame me?

    I’d love to just deal with it and move on, I’ve been stuck in this far too long.

    Thanks Wayne. For all your help.

    • Hi Sarah,

      The key is always to focus on what you have control over, which isn’t ever other people. You do have control over where you live, for example. In a sense, we’re always “helpless by choice!”
      Warmly, W


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